In times of flourishing conspiracy theories many people are misled and accuse each other of the same foolishness. Jesus began His prophecy about the end times with a warning, “See to it that no one misleads you.” (Matt. 24:4; Mark 13:5; Luke 21:8) So, it’s important to consider why we choose the leaders that we do, and how to recognize a bad leader.
Almost no one has a formula for choosing a leader. Usually we acquire them through relationships, either by recommendation of a person we trust or through personal experience of the leader’s care, character or competence. Once trust is established we rarely reevaluate. The worst leaders mix charisma with coercion. They convert people to their cause and weave a web of rewards, threats, peer pressure and shame to keep them. In the context of exposing some negative leaders, Jesus said,
Do not be called leaders ((Kathegetes is a leader who guides.)); for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. (Matthew 23:10)
This seems a rather pernickety teaching. Today we ignore it most of the time and call many people “leader”. There may be several reasons for Jesus’ instruction.
The scribes and Pharisees used this title (and the other titles mentioned, Rabbi and Father). The basis for their position, the Law of Moses, was sound, but their example was negative. They did not live what they taught. They did not serve people by helping to lighten their heavy loads. They exalted themselves and treasured the responses of people more than their own integrity before God. Jesus called them foolish and blind guides1, who misled people and shut off the kingdom of heaven from men. They either created a false impression of God or they distracted attention from God.
Perhaps the latter is the biggest problem. Central to the gospel message is the fact that Jesus restored our relationship with heavenly Father. It is our inheritance to hear His voice and be guided by Him. When someone takes the position of leader, guide or teacher they run the risk of becoming a substitute for God. Some people become lazy. Instead of seeking truth and direction from God they assign that role to human leaders and simply follow them. It is more comfortable to live under their dull light. It allows people to live the life they choose, claiming, “We’re only human”. To reject substitutes for the bright light of Christ requires a commitment to growing as children of the Father.
So is there such a thing as healthy leadership? Other words are translated “leader” in teaching about the church. Surely a key role of pastors, facilitators, or directors is to train and encourage everyone to hear the Lord for themselves and for the group. Then there is the additional responsibility of discerning and deciding what is biblical, what the overarching message is and how to act on it. Healthy leaders follow Jesus’ lead and always point their followers to do the same. Paul said it: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) Choose leaders who have that attitude; and be a leader who gives deference to Christ.
- Hodegos shares a root with kathegetes. [↩]