One of the most pleasant aspects of my job is meeting people who work in Christian ministry. Many of these are in some level of leadership, and they are very nice people. A well-known truism, though, is that power corrupts. So all these nice people I’ve met, and me too, need to be concerned that we don’t succumb to the temptations of power. I’ve already written about how to avoid losing your integrity, personal accountability, and how to build strong spiritual disciplines to protect yourself, which are all helpful in dealing with temptations.
The temptation to use power for personal benefit must be resisted. You would think that our commitment to living a godly life would prevent us from abusing our power and authority and I’m sure it does in most cases. But it is possible that for a few leaders the positive motivation is not enough to keep them safe from temptation. For those who need some fear motivation, here’s a thought that might bring you back to your senses:
The LORD sent Nathan to David and he came to him and said, “Now a traveler came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.” Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!”
2 Samuel 12:4-7
King David was rightfully indignant at the mistreatment a powerful man inflicted on a man who was weak and defenseless against him. Imagine David’s shock, therefore, when it turned out that he himself was the man! In biblical days, the weakest and most defenseless members of society were the widows, the orphans and the aliens. Search the Bible for “widow orphan” and you will find that God says many times to defend widows, orphans, and aliens, to leave the ‘gleanings’ for them, to give them justice, and to bless them. We are told not to afflict them, not to distort justice, nor to crush or oppress them, mistreat them or send them away empty-handed. Jeremiah is filled with God’s accusations against his shepherds, and so is Ezekiel. God will hold his shepherds to account and therefore pleads with them to perform their duties. This exhortation continues in the New Testament in, for example, James 1:27, which says that “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress…”
So as a leader, who are the weak and the defenseless in your world? By definition, you have power and authority over those who report to you and therefore your team members, with respect to yourself, turn out to be among the weak and the defenseless. They are people you should seek to defend and bless. Jesus contrasted Christian leadership with secular leadership, saying in Matthew 20:25-28:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
The secular world caught up with Christian ideas of leadership when Robert Greenleaf wrote his classic book Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. A whole generation of leaders has been influenced by this book. Christians should applaud and support society when it moves in the right direction, and this is one of those times when it has. So Christian leaders should not be found lagging behind society by power-tripping over their teams.
When you abuse your power and authority for your own benefit, the ultimate defense for the weak and defenseless is the Lord himself, who promised in Malachi 3:15:
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.
Wow! If you abuse your power, you are up against a formidable foe!!! My prayer is that if you have fallen to temptation, having realized what you have done you will now ask God for forgiveness, make things right with others and get on with life.