What are Warning Signs of a bad Spiritual Leader?

My anger burns against your shepherds, and I will punish these leaders. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has arrived to look after Judah, his flock- Zechariah 10:3 NLT

Bad leadership is a booming problem in our world. 

However.

I believe there is a huge difference between an ineffective leader and bad leader. Ineffective leaders are seldom terrible people.  They simply lack the knowledge, skills and/or personal appeal necessary to lead well.  They have the best of intentions and try their hardest but they just can’t get the job done. 

Conversely.

 Bad leaders are typically quite capable. They tend to have a great deal of personal appeal and they understand how to get things done. However, because they are also oblivious, prideful, manipulative and self-absorbed they do a great deal of damage to those unfortunate enough to be led by them. 

Regrettably, bad leadership is not limited to the secular sphere.

 After nearly thirty years in all sorts of different ministry situations I feel I can say with some authority that American Christianity is infested with bad spiritual leaders. Bad spiritual leaders do far more damage than bad secular leaders. This is because spiritual leaders are the mouthpieces of God in the body of Christ (2nd Peter 1:21, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11). Moreover, many mistakenly see spiritual leaders as God’s mini-me or stand-in.  As a result, many people (saved and unsaved) are incapable of separating the actions and attitudes of a spiritual leader from the will of God. It is not uncommon for individuals who were treated badly by spiritual leaders to erroneously believe it was God’s will for the leader to mistreat them. Consequently, they blame God for the hurt they experienced at the hands of a bad spiritual leader. 

Sigh.

 God will not bless sin, therefore bad leaders are a principal reason why even many “successful” churches are powerless to convert sinners and make disciples. It’s one reason American Christianity losing people like rats fleeing a sinking ship. 

Satan is real (1st Peter 5:8, 1st Timothy 5:15, James 4:7) and not everyone who says they are a Christian really is (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 7:21).  Moreover, Christians are not robots who do exactly what God wants them to do all the time. Due to these and other factors, problematic leadership has been an issue in the Church since the dawn of Christianity (Acts 15:1-2, Acts 20:28-31, Jude 1-25). Additionally, the Bible warns us, as we approach the end bad leaders will become common in the Church (2nd Timothy 3:1-9). It is our responsibility as believers to be on the lookout for spiritual leaders who give indications of being bad leaders (2nd Timothy 3:5, 2nd Peter 2:1-22). Judgment is God’s responsibility (Ecclesiastes 3:17). However, it is our job to exercise discernment and protect ourselves and our families from the damage these leaders do.

 Bad Christian leaders are as diverse in personality as any other type of leader. However, there are certain hallmarks of a bad spiritual leader we can all look out for. Those hallmarks are:

They universally misunderstand their role- 

Contrary, to popular belief a pastor’s primary responsibility is not to deliver a well-prepared message on Sunday mornings. The primary role of a Christian leader is to equip and prepare Christians to do ministry and serve others (Ephesians 4:11-12). Good spiritual leaders empower the people around them to become the best version of themselves. They value every person for who they are not just what they can do. Conversely, bad spiritual leaders view people as a means to an end. The end is always making themselves popular and influential.  

They tend to isolate themselves from those they lead- 

Bad spiritual leaders are frequently AWOL at church events and rarely interact socially with people in their congregations even though the Bible clearly commands them to do so. (1st Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8). Some isolate themselves out of pride. Others just don’t care enough about people to get past their own awkwardness in social situations. Yes, there are introverts and extraverts and there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Furthermore, it is the height of emotional and spiritual immaturity to think a leader can or should be besties with everyone in a congregation.  That said, every Christian should care enough about others to go out of their way to make them feel comfortable in social situations. This is especially true of spiritual leaders. 

They demand blind obedience- 

Christians are called to a life of obedience (Deuteronomy 6:25, 1st Samuel 15:22, 2nd John 1:6).  Christians ought to obey leaders who are doing their level best to fully obey God. However, no one is commanded to obey a self-serving or evil leader living in contradiction to scripture. 

They are faultfinders- 

Bad leaders will read a great book like The Emotionally Healthy Leader or Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and immediately weaponize it to assess unhealthy or unspiritual attitudes in others. Bad spiritual leaders don’t self-reflect. This creates a situation where they can only see the sins of others, never their own (Jude 16).  

They don’t apologize- 

Even when it’s evident they should. An inability or unwillingness to admit wrong and apologize is an obvious indicator of a bad leader. 

They don’t have their own junk under control-

All humans struggle with sin; however, bad spiritual leaders are fleshly and carnal at heart.  Consequently, bad leaders struggle to keep their worst impulses in check. This leads to problems with sins like boastfulness, control, anger, greediness, lust, pride and dishonesty.  (Jude, 2nd Peter 2, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9, Matthew 23:23-33). 

Christianity is in crisis. 

Much of the crisis is directly due to the excess of bad spiritual leaders in the fold. Christians must protect themselves and their churches from these men and women. In order to do this Christians must lead themselves well and understand what the Bible says about life and leadership. Bad leaders flourish in the midst of immature followers who lack the wisdom and spiritual sensitivity to see a bad leader or the moral bravery to walk away from one.  

For more on this subject…

Surviving an Unfair, Unjust or just Plain Horrible Situation-

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account– Hebrews 4:13 NIV 

Fairness, justice, equity are more than just woke talking points. 

They are a really big deal.

They are a big deal in a global sense. Every human being, no matter who they are or where they live wants the world to be fair and just. Civilized people want evil to be punished and good rewarded. No decent person wants anyone to be denied a fair shot at life. All people want the same rules to apply to everyone regardless of gender, race or social status (Proverbs 21:15). It’s simply how humans are wired (Genesis 1:27). 

Fairness, justice and equity are also a big deal from a personal perspective. We all want to know when someone harms us or treats us unfairly some authority somewhere will see to it the wrong is righted and the wrongdoer is punished. We all want to be treated equally and fairly. We want to be judged by the content of our character rather than by our age, the color of our skin, our gender, marital status or job title.

For Christians the longing for fairness, justice and equity goes beyond the global or even the personal. These issues are deeply spiritual. We serve a God who describes Himself as both the architect and the ultimate champion of equity, justice and fairness (Psalm 11:7, Psalm 50:6, Psalm 103:6, Psalm 67:4). As God’s people we want to know God sees us in a personal way. We want to know He is aware of the wrongs committed against us. We want God to care enough about us personally to punish those who sin against us (Deuteronomy 32:43).  

Christians rarely discuss it, but most go through a season where they struggle to see and experience the goodness of God in a personal way. Due to painful circumstances these folks can’t help but wonder if God really does see them and if He really does care about what they are experiencing. 

Doubt isn’t always simply due to lack of faith. 

Sometimes doubt is due to what feels like a tardy response on God’s part (2nd Peter 3:8). Times of doubt tend to occur when we really NEED to know God is attentive to our situation and cares about the details of our pain, loss or the oppression we are dealing with. I call these times “seasons of silence”. A season of silence is a time when God feels far away. Because God feels far away our pain or loss feels utterly unbearable.  In order to survive a season of silence a Christian has to have a theology of pain. We have to understand what the Bible says about God so we are not left to rely on our feelings without the guidance of His word (Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 119:105).  

Anytime God feels distant and uninterested in our problems it’s critical we remember first and foremost, we are not the only people to feel the way we feel. Some of God’s best and brightest, including David, Elijah, Daniel, Moses, Mary Magdalene and even Jesus went through an experience or season where they felt God had abandoned them, hadn’t heard their prayers or was simply inattentive at the point of their deepest need (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46, Daniel 10:1-18, Exodus 5:1-19, John 20:11).  We are fortunate to see those stories in the rear-view so we know God has never actually abandoned anyone in their greatest need.  

We also need to remember we live in a world broken by sin (Romans 5:12, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:1). On a practical level this means evil, unjust and unfair things happen all the time.  People lie, take advantage of others, oppress people and cover-up their own sin at the expense of others (2nd Timothy 3:1-4). Sometimes it appears God has chosen to overlook the sin of those who willfully do wrong. 

Justice delayed does not mean justice will be denied indefinitely with God. He promises there will come a day when every wrong will be righted and every sin punished (Hebrews 12:23, Exodus 32:34, Leviticus 26:27-29, Isaiah 13:11, 1st Thessalonians 4:6). God is so not okay with sin, evil and disobedience He punished the Israelites for their idolatry and sexual sin by sending them into servitude and exile for seventy years in the country of Babylon (Isaiah 5:12-16, Jeremiah 29). God is also not okay with injustice and the mistreatment of His people, He later punished Babylon for the sins committed against Israel while they were in exile (Jeremiah 25:12). Babylon was a very short-lived super-power entirely because God cannot bear to see injustice go unpunished. It is wisdom to remember there is nothing in all of creation that goes unnoticed or undealt with by God (Hebrews 4:13). 

 God often defers justice simply because He is merciful and good (Genesis 15:16, Exodus 34:6, Nahum 1:3, 2ndPeter 3:9). God graciously gives sinners time to get their heart right and repent before judgement comes. Our responsibility during a season of silence is to remember the goodness of God, to be merciful just like God is merciful and to pray for those who have sinned against us as we wait on God to do what he promises to do (Matthew 5:44).   

Wisdom: What it is, why you Will Literally die Without it and how to get it-

Wisdom along with an inheritance is good, and an advantage to those who see the sun. For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of knowledge (wisdom) is that wisdom keeps its possessors alive– Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NASB

Wisdom and folly.

Everyone understands folly. 

Folly is easy. Folly is stupidity and absurdity. Folly is knowingly doing the wrong thing because it feels good or appears to be advantageous or expedient in the moment. Folly is willfully ignoring the obvious, especially when the obvious is clearly not okay. Folly is rebelling against common sense or acknowledged facts in favor of feelings. Folly is not difficult to grasp (Ecclesiastes 10:3).

However.

Wisdom is more complicated and much harder to nail down, largely because wisdom is multi-faceted and nuanced (Proverbs 8:11, Proverbs 3:19).  Some of the best practical definitions of wisdom are:

Thinking God’s thoughts after Him-

The sum of all learning and knowledge-

Common sense, good judgment- 

The ability to apply knowledge appropriately to a given situation- 

But, by far, my all-time favorite practical definition of wisdom is… 

Drumroll please…

Understanding the connectedness of life-

Wisdom is understanding every single action in life produces a reaction or consequence.  It’s understanding the reaction or consequence is not always equal to or observably related to the action (Hosea 8:7).  Wisdom is understanding the seemingly unconnected things in life really are connected. Wisdom is knowing anxiety is not a freak event or strictly a biological occurrence. It’s the direct result of something else: an unfinished project, a lie we told, control issues or a conversation we’re scared to have.  Wisdom is recognizing the link between pride and abject failure in our relationships and work (Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 11:2). Wisdom is understanding how I live today will impact tomorrow, sometimes in seemingly unconnected ways (Proverbs 20:25).  Wisdom is knowing how I choose to manage my sexuality has the power to dramatically impact not only my marriage but also my finances, friendships, parenting outcome and reputation (Proverbs 5:1-14). Wisdom is knowing sin in one area of my life will inevitably impact productivity and blessings in other areas of my life (Proverbs 5:21-23). Wise people know nothing happens in a void and everything is connected to everything else. Wise people also understand we get to choose our sin but we don’t get to choose the consequences of our sin (Proverbs 1:31).

 One need not be clever in order to be wise (Proverbs 17:28). That being said, no one gets wisdom, unless they pursue it (James 1:5, Proverbs 1:20-23). There are five primary ways a person acquires wisdom, including:

The Bible-

The Bible illuminates wisdom and defines foolishness very clearly in the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1-4). However, there is more wisdom in the Bible than what’s found in Proverbs. The Bible teaches through stories, psalms and commands what will happen when a person chooses to act wisely and what happens when a person chooses to behave foolishly. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Therefore, a wise life begins with making a commitment to Jesus (Proverbs 14:2). Once that is done a person should seek to learn the Bible and apply it their life. Wisdom always follows that course.   

Reflection about life-

Some assume simply living life and attaining an education will make them wise. This is categorically wrong. There are lots of really foolish old people and the world is abounding with educated idiots. Self-reflection is what makes us wise. We become wise and insightful when we take the time to contemplate which actions led to our successes and failures (Proverbs 4:26, 2nd Corinthians 13:5).  When we choose to think through what we did right or wrong in situations and then adjust our behavior accordingly next time wisdom becomes a part of who we are as people. 

Prayer-

Its critical we know God isn’t just wise and knowledgeable. God IS wisdom. God IS knowledge. God is THE source of all understanding about all things.  Praying to the source of wisdom and knowledge does two things: first, prayer allows clueless humans to ASK God for wisdom about life. A prayer for wisdom is God’s favorite kind of prayer. He is always ready to give wisdom to anyone eager to ask for it (James 1:5). However, prayer is not just about asking God for stuff.  Prayer is primarily about connecting with and communing with God. We become like those we spend the most time with. Therefore, if we make connecting with the all-wise, all-knowing, totally-holy maker of the universe a priority in our lives we will become wise just as He is wise. 

From other people- 

God blesses people with wisdom and then places those people in our lives as a gift (Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 13:14). It is our responsibility to identify the wise people God places in our path and learn from them. As with any gift we can refuse the wisdom others have to offer but we do so at our own peril. 

And finally.

No one can acquire wisdom without humility. Period.  To become wise, we must understand and accept our limitedness in every area. Wisdom means conceding that sometimes we get it wrong and most of the time we don’t know what we don’t know. Wisdom is all about having a realistic perspective of ourselves and humbly asking God to give us the insight, wisdom and understanding we lack. 

Then we are unstoppable (Proverbs 21:22). 

What’s the Deal with Generational Curses?

Riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations– Proverbs 27:24 NIV

Some Christians think generational curses are nothing more than voodoo or fake news. Others think they’re an excuse weak people use when they don’t want to take responsibility for their own choices. Some are convinced generational curses are the result of some distant ancestor ticking God off. They think that in His anger God “cursed” the offender and his or her entire family line with a hex dooming them all to generational misdeeds. Still others believe generational curses are real but they only happen in families where people don’t know Jesus.  

 Generational curses are real. 

However, they are not the result of God’s wrath. They are the logical outcome of human foolishness and spiritual rebellion. A generational sin becomes a family trait when a person chooses to sin and then does not confess their sin or repent of it. Some version of that same sin is then passed down to the succeeding generation in the form of a behavior or attitude many members of the family get stuck in. The most common kinds of generational curses in unsaved families are sexual sin, abuse, alcohol, anger, codependence, drugs, stupidity, anarchy and foolishness. 

Christian families pass on generational curses too. However, generational curses tend to look different in Christian families. Generational curses show up in attitudes and behaviors that dishonor Jesus and hearts that are far from God. Following are five of the most common causes of generational curses in Christian families. 

We cultivate surface-y goodness-  

Jesus warned repeatedly against cultivating a pretense or façade of goodness and righteousness at the cost of authentic heart transformation and change (Matthew 23, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 11:37-54, Romans 12). Sadly, it’s not hard to fake righteousness, except with our kids. Our children get a front row seat to the sin we successfully hide from the rest of the world. When we cultivate an illusion of goodness rather than dealing with our sinful junk honestly, we either pass on the horrible generational curse of spiritual fakery (Acts 5:1-10), or our kids develop hearts of rebellion against a religion they assume is either phony or powerless.  

We hold on to a bitter spirit-

 Because bitterness is almost always the product of actual trauma, suffering and being sinned against, bitterness feels reasonable and justifiable. It’s not. God forbids bitterness because it eventually becomes who we are (Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness saturates our souls, transforms our personality and turns us into an ugly distortion of what God wants us to be. This ruins our Christian testimony and wrecks opportunities for ministry. It also has a defiling effect on our children and grandchildren (Hebrews 12:15). Anytime we choose resentment, anger or bitterness over forgiveness we infect our kids and grandkids with the generational curses of anger and offense. This causes them to become hardhearted towards God and unforgiving towards people (Proverbs 19:11, Proverbs 18:19).

We indulge in too many grey area behaviors- 

Not everything in life is cut and dried or black and white. This is even true in the Christian life (1st Corinthians 6:12). There are things Christians won’t go to hell for doing that also will not help them become better, wiser or godlier people.  The shows we watch, how we treat and talk about people, our church attendance, alcohol use, whether or not we use curse words are all grey areas. No one is going to hell for having a beer, spotty church attendance, being rude or saying a bad word every once in a while.  However, it is also true that how we handle those grey areas will impact how our kids process their faith and live out their Christianity as adults.  If we want to prevent the generational curse of spiritual complacency we must be cautious and prayerful about how we deal with the grey areas of life.  

We don’t honor our parents- 

We live in a culture where even some Christians routinely use almost any excuse to cut their parents or in-laws out of their lives (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). Unless there is a really good reason for doing so, disrespect to parents is a terrible sin guaranteed to reap ugly generational consequences. There are parents who are truly toxic, evil or who were genuinely abusive. The Bible does not command anyone to allow abusive parents to move into their homes or give them free and unfettered access to their grandchildren. Christians should exercise wisdom and discernment in all situations. However, contrary to contemporary thinking, it is not abusive for a parent to be dumb, controlling or less than perfectly tuned into their child’s needs. The command for adult children to honor their parents is the only command that comes with the promise of blessing (Exodus 20:12) and there are no qualifiers given. Adult children are to do their best to figure out a way honor their parents. Period. Even if those parents were less than perfect or the situation is complicated.  The number of generational sins we bring on ourselves and our children when we refuse to honor parents is innumerable. 

A generational sin is easy to break.

All we have to do is recognize it, confess it and change the sinful behavior. When we do that God steps in with His grace and power and does more than we can ask or imagine in our lives and in the lives of our children (Ephesians 3:20) 

How to Make Church a Little Easier for Those who Need it Most-

 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it– Hebrews 13:1-2 NASB 1995

Let’s just be real. 

Church can be really hard. 

Even if you’ve attended church forever and totally “get” church. Church can be hard.  Finding a new church is even harder. Meeting new people is hard. Stepping into an environment where you don’t understand all the rules is hard. Putting yourself out there is hard. Knowing out how to fit in is hard. Making new friends is hard.  

 Church is also important. 

It really is a nonnegotiable for a serious follower of Jesus.  Jesus established church (Matthew 16:18, John 3:3). He told us what it should look like (Matthew 5-6, Matthew 18:15-17). He prayed for it (John 17:1-25). He invested in it (Matthew 11:1, Mark 4:33).  He died for it (Matthew 26-27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19, Matthew 14:22-33). He rose from the dead to redeem and empower it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20. Then He sent His people out to build it (Matthew 28:16-20).  

All that makes church a big stinking deal.  

It also makes the subsequent story super sad. I have a friend who is looking for a church. I won’t share the ghastly details but suffice it to say her reasons for leaving her church were one-hundred-percent valid. She attended four churches in nine weeks. She realized immediately the first two were a poor doctrinal fit. The third was tiny (not necessarily a problem). However, the pastor was also seriously unprepared (a problem). Number four was promising. The size was right, not too big, not too small. It was a healthy mix of age groups (young families, older adults, teens and young adults). The music was beautifully done and doctrinally on point. The sermon was solid and the doctrinal statement was sound. 

One problem. 

No one talked to her. There were greeters and they all smiled politely and made eye contact but did not say anything more significant than “hello” to her. Not once. There was a welcome time prior to the sermon and no one welcomed her. She did all the stuff you’re supposed to do. She showed up early and stayed late. She bathed. She dressed and behaved appropriately. Even with all that, no one, not even a staff member interacted with her.  

Nonetheless.

She soldiered on. A serve day was announced from the pulpit. She knew getting out and serving her community would be a good thing to do. She also knew it would give her a chance to interact with some of the people she was going to church with. 

At the serve day, she was assigned to a team and she tried to engage the other people on the team. She asked good questions, complimented the pastor on the sermon the week before and just generally did her best to be an agreeable, involved and helpful member of the team. To no avail. No one attempted to engage her when she arrived on site. No one asked her questions about herself. No one noticed when she left and went home. 

Two things. 

First.

Not every church is unfriendly. There are churches that do an outstanding job greeting new people and finding creative ways to integrate them into their church family. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If this were the first story I heard about an otherwise solid church where the congregants appeared to lack basic social skills I would cheerfully write it off as an anomaly. It’s not. This stuff is real. Lots of people have lots of stories just like my friends’ story. 

Second. 

My friend is a committed and mature Christian. She gets church. She has social skills. She understands reality. She knows relationships are a two-way street. She did not show up at church and expect everyone to do the work for her. She was more than willing to smile, ask good questions, be friendly and get involved in the activities the church was offering. 

However.

My friend is not the only type of person who shows up at churches. Some people who show up at church don’t know Jesus. Some are clueless about how church works. They don’t understand how to get involved or make friends. Some of have poor social skills or a chip on their shoulder. Some are looking for an excuse to reject Jesus. We give them the excuse they’re looking when we don’t make every effort to engage new people in a meaningful way. 

 Sometimes we become so fearful of rejection we refuse to step outside of our own tiny relational circles.  Or we become so locked into a tight little friend group that we have no room for anyone new. The problem  with letting fear or self-centeredness run the show we give the devil a foothold in someone else’s life and run the risk of running them out of church (Ephesians 4:26-27, 1st Peter 5:8). 

Here’s the thing:

Just because you feel welcome and loved at your church it doesn’t mean everyone who walks through the door feels the same.  Next week when you go to church, say a prayer, look around, let the Holy Spirit to lead you to the person who’s all alone or looks lost. Say hello, ask some questions, maybe invite them to lunch. Love on them. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference for the kingdom. 

Christians Screwed-up Understanding of Authority is Literally Wrecking Christianity-

If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit- Matthew 15:14 NIV

Christianity has a leadership problem.

Accounts of bullying, embezzlement, adultery, duplicity, abuse, control and even pedophilia involving high profile pastors, churches and entire denominations have become routine. The Catholic Church, Jim Baker, Mars Hill, Ted Haggard, Bob Coy, Willow Creek, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Mike Warnke, Hillsong, Josh Duggar and The Southern Baptist Convention are just a few of the leaders, churches and organizations whose names have become synonymous with corrupt Christian leadership.  Leadership problems aren’t restricted to high profile pastors, mega churches or big-name Christian ministries. Many churchgoers have experienced hurt at the hands of insensitive pastors or pastors who acted much more righteous in public than in private. 

Sigh. 

Experts blame the rise of bad leadership on an increase of narcissism in churches and Christian organizations.  A narcissist has a strong sense of entitlement, is extremely self-focused, has an unusually high need for attention, is overconfident and a has profound lack of empathy. Christians can be narcissists. Narcissists have enormous blind spots where their behavior is concerned. Narcissistic Christians can justify almost any action, including actions they know are sinful. Narcissistic Christian leaders truly believe God will overlook their sin because they “do so much for the kingdom”.  Narcissists do not understand how their behavior affects other people. Therefore, they can do a great deal of harm to people without even knowing it. Most experts believe narcissism is a growing problem among Christian leaders. This is concerning considering the contrast between a narcissistic leader and the model Christian leader described in Titus 1:7-9, Timothy 3:1-3 and 1st Peter 5:1-5. 

This begs some hard questions: 

Why is there so much bad behavior in Christianity? 

What does the church do to produce and attract narcissistic leaders? 

How do average Christians enable narcissistic leadership?  

Christianity is plagued with narcissistic leadership because Christians have a flawed understanding of what New Testament authority should look like.

Here’s what I mean:

Most Christians form their views on spiritual authority from Old Testament stories, principally from the system of Kings found in the Old Testament. Old Testament Kings had absolute God-given authority. This is most famously played out in the story of Saul and David. Saul was an awful king. Saul was evil, volatile, selfish, and guided almost entirely by pride and sinful passions (1st Samuel 16:14, 1st Samuel 18:14, 1st Samuel 19:4, 1st Samuel 15:22-24).  

However.

 Because Saul was anointed King, David faithfully submitted himself to Saul’s authority. David did not disparage Saul, physically harm him or challenge his authority.  Christian teachers (including myself) universally applaud David’s submission to Saul’s authority. It’s an example of Old Testament obedience God clearly blessed (1stSamuel 26:9-11, Acts 13:22). 

Many Christians apply the same concept of anointing to present-day pastors. Many deacons, board members and elders flat refuse to question or correct a pastor even when they know the pastor is wrong because they view the pastor as God’s “anointed” and therefore unchallengeable, regardless of their behavior. Many Pastors, especially narcissistic pastors tend to see themselves as having the same unchallengeable authority as Old Testament Kings. The rotten fruit of this understanding of authority is at least partly to blame for the large numbers of people who have left the church in recent years. It’s also literally obliterating the churches ability to do our one job: reach the lost (Matthew 28:18-20). Non-Christians understandably see leadership situations like the ones at the Southern Baptist Convention, Mars Hill and Hillsong as unacceptable, indefensibly gross and entirely inconsistent with the whole notion of a good God. 

Here’s the thing. 

There are to be no human kings in the Church. 

Jesus is the only King among His people. Period. End of story. Jesus is the only leader who can demand or who deserves absolute obedience. Pastors are simply not anointed to lead churches the same way kings were anointed to lead Israel in the Old Testament. The word anointed or anoint in reference to people and/or Jesus is used a total of eleven times in the New Testament. Eight explicitly refer to Jesus (Mark 14:8, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:46, John 11:2, John 12:3, Acts 4:27, Acts 10:38, Hebrews 1:9). The remaining three teach all Christians are anointed for ministry, not just a few specific leaders (2nd Corinthians 1:21, 1st John 2:20, 1st John 2:27). 

All Christians are given gifts to benefit the church (Ephesians 4:11-12, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11, Romans 12:3-9). Some spiritual gifts have a leadership component to them (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, overseers). The New Testament commands Christians to treat these leaders with respect, to make their task joyful rather than difficult (Hebrews 13:17). Christians will be judged for how they treat their spiritual leaders. Therefore, any challenge to a leader’s teaching or behavior must be prayerfully contemplated before action is taken. 

 However.

Pastors simply do not have the same authority as Old Testament Kings. Instead, the Bible promises leaders and teachers will be judged at a higher standard than other Christians (James 3:1). ALL Christians will be accountable to God for how they use or misuse their authority in the home, workplace or church. Christians are called to humble servanthood, and specifically commanded not to lord their authority over others (Matthew 20:25-26). 

Truth-be-told narcissism has taken root in churches because too many pastors have been given unchallenged authority and too many Christians have foolishly chosen to follow human leaders more closely than they follow King Jesus.  

The Surest Sign of Salvation-

The testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

How does God work in a Godless Time?

Our wrongdoings testify against us, Lord, act for the sake of Your name! Our apostasies have indeed been many. We have sinned against You– Jeremiah 14:7 NASB 

A couple of months ago I concluded that I had been spending way too much of my Bible reading time in a few New Testament books. 

It was time to broaden my horizons. 

So, I dusted off the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. The first few chapters of 1st Kings is mostly just palace intrigue. It covers the death of King David and the opportunistic scheming that occurred around his passing. The book reaches a high point early on with the installation of David’s son Solomon as his replacement. Solomon started strong with a heart for God. God blessed his efforts and Israel thrived economically and militarily under his leadership.  

It all kind of goes down-hill from there.

Despite his wisdom and worldly success, Solomon was a dismal failure when it came to all the things that really matter in life. The Kingdom split following his death and both Israel and Judah wandered far from God.  Most of the rest of 1st Kings is just a glum recounting of one bad, evil, idolatrous king after another bad, evil, idolatrous king. The book gets slightly more interesting with the introduction of the prophet Elijah in 1st Kings 17 but then 2nd Kings devolves into a serious of weird and disturbing stories that cover topics as diverse as floating ax heads and cannibalism. The weird stories are interspersed here and there with more recountings of more crappy kings. In chapter seventeen Israel falls and is taken captive by Syria. King Hezekiah begins ruling Judah in chapter eighteen. Hezekiah and Josiah were the last of Judah’s even halfway decent kings. However, their leadership was not enough to keep the country from falling ever deeper into idolatry and ruin. King Nebuchadnezzar makes his first appearance in chapter twenty-four and that ushers in the Babylonian captivity and the end of Jewish sovereignty. 

Sigh. 

I was surprised by how depressed I was when I was finished reading the books. It wasn’t the first time I read either book. However, it was the first time either book hit me in such a soul-crushing kind of a way.  

I did have a couple of realizations concerning the books.

First.

The book of 1st Kings is just a sad recounting of Israel’s long slide into apostasy, unbelief and sin. 2nd Kings tells the story of how God worked in the lives of those who lived faithfully for God when everyone else had turned their backs on Him.  The books hit me hard because I am also living in a season of apostasy. We don’t call it that, that of course, we call it “living in a post-Christian culture”, which sounds way nicer than “apostasy” but it’s the same thing. Whatever you call it, it sucks. It sucks living in a declining culture. It sucks watching the whole stupid world devolve into moral and intellectual chaos. It sucks seeing people degrade themselves with stupid ideas and even stupider behavior. It sucks watching people do everything possible to deny the reality of God. Most of all, it sucks feeling overwhelmed by the darkness and ugliness of a post-Christian world. 

That being said. 

We are not without hope.

We aren’t Israel and God hasn’t left the building (metaphorically speaking of course). He’s still on His throne and He is still working in the hearts of His people, which means He is still working in our culture. Revival could be just around the corner. In the meantime, following are four lessons I gleaned about living in a post-Christian culture from 1st and 2nd Kings.  

Community is critical in a season of apostasy– 

In 1st and 2nd Kings God works most powerfully through little communities of prophets who banded together to support and encourage one another. Community, connection, partnership and close friendship is an ongoing theme throughout the book. The takeaway for contemporary believers is clear. The key to remaining spiritually strong and emotionally healthy while the world is literally going to hell around us is making Christian community a priority in our lives. 

When the going gets tough God shows off– 

All the depressing historical truths aside, one of the high points of both books is seeing God work among the believing remnant in 1st and 2nd Kings. From Mt. Caramel in 1st Kings 17 to the ax head incident in 2nd Kings. God showed His power and provided for His people in fresh new ways. We should have hearts of faith that expect Him to do the same in our time. 

 God works in surprising places in dark times- 

One key theme of both 1st and 2nd Kings is provision for gentiles in general and gentile women in particular (1st Kings 17:9-20, 2nd Kings 4:1-37). Both books make it clear that when previously believing people turn their backs on God, He shows Himself in mighty and life-giving ways to people groups we wouldn’t necessarily expect Him to work through. I believe with all my heart we should expect a movement of God in unexpected places in the coming years. 

And finally: 

Relentless leaders bring hope and healing to a graceless age – 

Two bright spots in 2nd Kings are the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah. Both men were hardworking, tenacious, God-fearing leaders who had the insight to recognize the serious nature of times they lived in and the grit to do something about the problems at the root of Israel’s trouble. They understood it was idolatry and the sinful practices that accompany idolatry destroying the people they loved (2nd Kings 18:1-6, 2nd Kings 23:1-24). Their love for people, steadfast leadership and determination to serve God wholeheartedly resulted in revival that brought social change and kept judgment at bay. 

So. 

All that to say, one of the key takeaways from 1st and 2nd Kings is that God is always at work even in a post-Christian world that feels like it’s going to hell all around us.  Usually in ways we least expect. 

Four Truths Key to Going the Distance Spiritually Even in Hard Times-

Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God– John 3:21 NIV

Okay, so. 

No one just decides to let their perfectly good life spiral into a dark and ugly disaster. This is even more true of Christians. No true follower of Jesus has ever made the willful decision to just let their life dissolve into a chaotic tragedy.

Seriously.

It just doesn’t happen. The hope we receive at salvation simply doesn’t allow for that kind of willful foolishness (Romans 5:5).

However.

There are plenty of Christians whose lives do spiral out of control. Sometimes there is no returning from the dark places they go. Unfortunately, it’s a trend that seems to be growing. More and more people are beginning their spiritual lives well and ending them by rejecting Jesus altogether or telling the world they are “reimagining” or “deconstructing” their faith (Galatians 5:7). When we choose the things of this world over the full life Jesus offers we end up turning away from God. Turning from God never ends well (Hebrews 6:4-6, Matthew 24:10-11). 

The key to evading that fate is found in asking God to empower us to seek, understand and walk in truth (John 8:32, 2nd Corinthians 3:12 Galatians 5:5). Living out the kind of truth that keeps us from becoming the worst version of ourselves is about more than simply learning some Bible verses that tell us how we should live.   In order for truth to become a protective force in our lives we have to seek it purposely in specific areas of our lives (Ephesian 6:14, Ephesians 6:17). We seek truth by asking God to show us truth in the following four areas: 

The truth about who we are-  

It is critical we know who we are in Christ and what that means for us spiritually (Ephesians 3:16-20, Colossians 1:13, Galatians 4:6).  Knowing we are loved by God gives us incentive to grow and protects us from discouragement.  We have to know that even when we fail God is for us. He never stops rooting for us to become the best possible version of ourselves. However, it is also critical we understand no one becomes the best version of themselves without some effort. We must make a practice of asking God to show us truth about the parts of ourselves that still need redemption.  We will never see the areas of our life that are tripping us up without God’s help. We are simply too easily misled by our own desires.  

The truth about the motives of our heart- 

The human heart is the most insanely devious thing in all of creation (Jeremiah 17:9). We are able to trick ourselves into believing our motives are pure and we are good when we are anything but good and pure. It’s possible to do this without even realizing we are doing it. We can easily fool ourselves into thinking we are simply being friendly to a member of the opposite sex when in reality we are testing the waters to see if that person might be open to an inappropriate relationship. We tell ourselves it’s the churches fault we aren’t growing when in reality we aren’t making any attempt to feed ourselves outside of the weekly church service. We fool ourselves into thinking we’ve forgiven someone when in reality we are holding onto a grudge the size of Texas. Only God can show us what’s really going on in our hearts but that only happens when we ask Him to do it. 

The truth about who God is –

People—even redeemed people tend to make God into something much smaller and less powerful than He really is. We are simply more comfortable with a God who is like us. So, usually without realizing it we cast God into the image of a human who isn’t all that different from us. In the process we talk ourselves out of taking God seriously. When we stop taking God seriously we stop obeying Him in any area of our lives that feels hard. The way to end this cycle is to ask God daily to remind us who He is and how worthy He is of our full attention and obedience. 

The truth about other people-

It is all-too easy for us to view other people as our enemies, rather than as people who are made in the image of God and deeply valued by Him. When we devalue people, we tend to overestimate the harm they do us and underestimate their ability to be transformed. When we do this we inevitably end up doing the one thing God doesn’t do: give up on people. Asking God to help us see people the way He sees them keeps us from giving up on people when they disappoint us. As people inevitably do. 

No Christian chooses consciously to fail in the things that matter most. The key to success in the Christian life is knowing the truth of God and then walking in it. But in a world fraught with lies and deception truth is something we have to want badly enough to go after it with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13)

If you Don’t Believe These Three Things You’re not a Christian-

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him– Hebrews 11:6 NASB

I am a cerebral person. 

Sadly, in my case “being cerebral” does not mean I am especially smart. It simply means I get stuck in my own head a lot. I will read an article, have a conversation or hear a news story and then I will dwell endlessly on all the conceivable social, spiritual, and political implications of what I heard, read or talked about.  This past week, I spent a shocking amount of time thinking about what Reverend/Senator Raphael Warnock tweeted on Easter. 

The later deleted tweet said:  

“The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves”

Okay. What?

Reverend/Senator Warnock’s tweet got me pondering all sorts of questions regarding life and faith. Like, Which seminary did this guy attend?  Has this man even read the New Testament? And of course, the always meaningful: “why God why?”. 

However.

Most of my other questions centered on a a subject I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the years. Questions like, what exactly makes a person a Christian? And: what does one have to know and/or believe to be saved?  The quick and easy answer comes from Romans 10:9: confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 

But, 

What exactly does it mean to” believe in your heart”? How does one know if they have believed enough to be saved? What exactly does “confessing with your mouth” entail?  How does one know if they have really believed in their hearts Jesus is Lord? Is it possible to honestly think you have confessed or believed without doing it right?  

I already admitted I get stuck in my own head. Sigh.

Anyway.

These are the questions worth asking because what we believe about life and God and how we get to God has eternal consequences. I don’t know everything there is to know about this subject but I do believe it is essential for Christians to embrace the following three truths at some point in their faith journey in order to be a Christian:

You have to understand you can’t save yourself- 

Human beings cannot save themselves. People simply do not have enough inherent goodness in them to get the job done (Isaiah 64:6) . Period.  Nor, are there enough good deeds in the world for a person to earn their own salvation. Even if there were no one would do those deeds with the right heart attitude because even the best people almost never do the right things with the right motivations. Admitting we are sinners who can’t save ourselves is really the first step in the faith journey.   Jesus is called “savior” precisely because we desperately needed someone to do the work of salvation for us (Luke 2:11). Until we embrace that reality authentic salvation will be elude us. 

You must believe God knows more than you do about right and wrong- 

 Thankfully, God graciously “brings us along” on the moral journey of faith. Few people begin their Christian life in full agreement with God about what is morally good and right. That said, Christians must have a certain level of humility concerning the moral limitedness that goes along with being human. At some point in our spiritual journey we have to stop shaking our fists at what God says is right and true and simply accept His proclamations concerning what is and isn’t morally acceptable (Psalm 7:17, Psalm 11:7). If we don’t our faith probably wasn’t genuine to begin with. 

You believe God is who says He is and will do the things He says He will do- 

  Knowledge of the Bible is not a prerequisite for salvation. However, fear of the Lord is (Psalm 25:14, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 14:27). Christians must believe there is a God (DUH) and that He is vastly superior to humans in every way.  We must also agree God is worthy of honor, worship and obedience. Fearing God simply means we really, truly believe God is who he says He is and He can do the things He says He can do. If we do not fear the Lord it is really hard to be a Christian regardless of what we have declared or confessed. 

Here’s the thing: It is not my place to judge the spiritual journey of Raphael Warnock or anyone else (Matthew 7:1). I don’t know Raphael Warnock and I’m not that smart or that holy. I really don’t know if he is a Christian or an unbeliever or something in between. He eventually deleted his tweet. Perhaps he was having an off day.  I have written things I wish I hadn’t. Maybe he feels the same way? I’m certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. My hope in writing this post is that everyone reading this will examine their own belief system to see if they are “in the faith” (2nd Corinthians 13:5). 

It matters.