What To Do When Leadership Sins (Part Two)

This post took a long time to write because it is painful. I am years removed from my own head-on experience with devastating sin in leadership but it remains painful to reflect on it. Most will go a lifetime without personally confronting morally comprised leadership but others will not. I write this from my own personal experience.

Don’t Compromise Scripture

If the Bible forbids something, it is forbidden. If you are under leadership that tells you to participate in or overlook something illegal, immoral or un-scriptural, do not do it.  When a leader is stressing that “You are under my covering”, yet is covering up evil, remember that evil is something we don’t cover up. Many a fallen man has cherry picked the verse, “I will not touch the Lord’s anointed”, while ignoring the fact it refers to David’s refusal to kill a man in cold blood while we went to the toilet. That does not justify protecting sinful leadership. Any leader who identifies with Saul should cause you to follow David’s example: do no violence, pray, and go far away.

Don’t Be Shocked

For some reason, when leadership sins, we are shocked. The scriptures warn of false shepherds and wolves in sheep clothing, ‘super apostles’ who live to exploit and all other manner of deception. Jesus forewarned us that there would be leaders who sin and everything Jesus said is true.

Don’t Be Confused

Invariably, someone will suggest you need to be passive in the face of leadership sin. The mantra will be that you must watch, pray and trust God to deal with the situation. Like all half-truths, it is 50% wrong.  You watch, pray and trust God but you do not need to be passive. Jesus was not passive about the Pharisees. The New Testament writers address corrupt leadership, sometimes by name and not very gently either. (Examples: 2 Peter 2, 3 John, 2 Corinthians 9-11). Do not accept in the church that which you would never tolerate from the secular world.

Don’t Answer Fools According to Their Folly

Read Toxic Faith. You are not crazy. The authors point out that corrupt leaders normally attack those who are trying to help them. It will happen. Do not waste time defending yourself. The leader hiding wrongdoing is creating the proverbial smoke screen and you are in it.  You can fight fires but not smoke.  A person committed to a destructive and foolish course of action can only exhaust and damage you if you try and engage them on their own terms.

Years ago, after privately addressing an issue with a leader, I learned that the man accessed my private medical records. I was stunned. Within a month, he went even further and issued a letter of reprimand that detailed a series of fabricated events. He created detailed descriptions of my anti-leadership “offenses” but got so lost in the minutiae that he didn’t check my travel schedule. Providentially, he fabricated offenses on three dates when I was not in the country where he claimed I was at the time he claimed I had said or done X, Y, Z.  Although he lied and I had the boarding passes to prove it, this had no bearing on the outcome. Moral of the story: you cannot rationalize with irrational people and the scripture tells us not to do so.

Don’t Neglect Matthew 24

The instructions given in Matthew 24 are meant to protect us not only from sin but also from slander. If you address sin and are not heard, bring someone with you. If there is no response, bring the matter to the church, or, if that avenue is closed, to the larger church leadership. Likewise, if you are falsely accused insist that there be witnesses and the accusations made public. In the situation mentioned above, I was confident no rational group of people would believe I could exist simultaneously on multiple continents. The leadership’s response when I asked for scriptural treatment was, “We would never do that so we don’t embarrass you and your family”.  Refusal to follow scripture proves the lack of integrity of the charge.

Don’t Go Herd

People like to stay safe and in areas that touch our spiritual life, we are very vulnerable. Never compromise your integrity for the sake of playing it safe and going with the large body of believers. Avoid the ‘herd mentality’. If you can get 100 people to participate in 1% of a wrong, they will feel 99% justified and 100% of a wrong can be completed. Don’t overlook an evil because you can see the good you can do if you don’t rock the boat.

Part of our ministry is to model that which is healthy and right. If that includes facing evil, calling it by name, suffering as a result and seeing the bigger picture, accept it and do so for the honor of Jesus.  He has done this all before us and so obtained His crown.


What To Do When Your Leaders Are Wrong: Part One

Several years ago, I read the book Toxic Faith. It sounded like the organizational handbook of the para-church ministry from which I had just resigned. While I wish my situation were unique, it was not and books are written because bad leadership does exist. Having said that, truly ‘toxic’ situations are not the norm, so this first blog is meant to address the more normal situational conflicts that arise when ‘your leaders are wrong’.

It’s important to define terms. Someone is “wrong” when their actions are contrary to that which is moral, ethical, and biblical.  There’s a myriad of things your leaders can do that are not, in your opinion, good judgement, but they are not “wrong”. It not morally wrong to be outdated, disorganized, inexperienced, non-intuitive or culturally naïve. Being any of those things will hinder the effectiveness of a ministry but it’s not morally wrong to be ineffective. This is not to raise inefficiency to a virtue but suffice to say it is not a moral vice.

Most of the time, if you have a conflict with a leader there is a difference of opinion, personality or generation, that is of no moral consequence.  I know that I make decisions that appear as though I am shooting from my aging hips when in fact I am making a decision based on more factors than I can reasonably articulate. Leaders should expect to answer reasonable questions, asked at a reasonable place and time. If you see your leader make a significant choice with which you don’t agree, make note of it and ask him or her about it, privately, at an appropriate time. Pick your topics wisely. If you don’t like the color scheme of the church nursery, get over it. If you lead youth group and don’t understand why certain activities are not permitted, ask those in authority in a private context. Questions asked publicly are often perceived (and subliminally intended) as a challenge to leadership. If you are asking in an appropriate way but get a response that is demeaning, and such responses are the norm, you have a real problem. (Be sure to read the next blog.)

But what do we do when leaders we love make poor choices?  How do you respond when your pastor is discouraged that people don’t participate in worship but you realize that having a music team that consists of a tambourine and zither player has made congregational participation difficult?

Step One: Talk to your leader.  In a healthy situation, you can probably talk most things out with your leader.  Maybe your pastor does not realize there are affordable alternatives to a live worship band. Maybe he secretly has nightmares about the zither, too. Most leaders are approachable if you are respectful. Be nice. Buy his/her coffee. Listen to your leader as much as you want him or her to listen to you. Maybe your pastor will be thrilled if you take ownership of the solution.  Give it a shot.

Step Two: Ask yourself why you are serving where you are. If you know the Lord called you to a certain ministry, stay where you are and wait until the Lord tells you to go. If your leaders are making poor choices that are not “wrong” perhaps your faithful service will win the right to be heard so there will be a change. Renting an inflatable castle for VBS is not an issue of right or wrong. The decision may not go your way, but if you are not the final authority for the church, remember that Christians in the world suffer fates worse than outdated VBS choices.

The bottom line is most issues are not issues of right or wrong.  Sadly, some issues are, when your leaders are truly wrong you will be on track for a very difficult road. That is why this is a two-part blog.