I had the great privilege of serving in youth ministry (high school and college) for six years in Wheaton. And then working in campus ministry at Princeton University for another two years. All before stepping into my first senior pastor role about a year-and-a-half ago. Now, as a youth ministry...
The Zika virus has been a popular topic in the news lately. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that, if contracted, the virus causes a fever, rashes, even joint pain. In addition, infants have acquired deformities, citing the virus’ strain in their systems. This is horrible!
Yet, the destructive nature of the Zika virus is no different than the Authority Virus that Jesus warned about in the realm of Christian leadership:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Matthew 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-43).
The Authority Virus is often masked under the coy language of a leadership style, but the leader uses their title and power over people, which is often rooted in sin. This kind of virus is carried by a self-centered leader, and it does not flow from the gospel. Such behavior is worldly and a fleshly response to sinful power that can hinder biblical leadership.
Five Gospel-Centered Leadership Characteristics
People, churches, and organizations need gospel-centered leaders. Here are five ways the gospel acts as a vaccine in leaders to wage war against the Authority Virus.
1. A gospel-centered leader clothes the mind in Christ’s humility (Colossians 2:18, 23).
If I lack humility, I am tempted to use my title and power inappropriately. I end up hurting my team, family, and friends. In addition, legitimate title and power is rooted in Scripture: “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). The gospel-centered leader recognizes that the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1) is an appropriate use of title and power when under his Lordship.
2. A gospel-centered leader is an imitator of God (Ephesians 5:1).
We imitate God’s nature in our leadership, which means responding to others with kindness, gentleness, and compassion (Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12). We seek to communicate with those under our care (1 Peter 5:2-3), laying aside personal agendas for the Lord’s agenda.
3. A gospel-centered leader does not fan a resume of accomplishments and experiences (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
I am often asked to supply a biography when I speak at churches, and this is something I dislike. I never want to become boastful or self-righteous in the things I have done. Jesus tells us that such high thinking is contrary to kingdom leadership. Jesus taught his disciples, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14:10).
4. A gospel-centered leader recognizes that there is one superior Rabbi or Master (Matthew 23:8-10).
Jesus reminds us that we should call no one Rabbi or Master. We are to avoid superior titles among the body of Christ. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates the beginning of Matthew 23 in The Message:
[The scribes and the Pharisees] love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called “Doctor” and “Reverend.”
Jesus is concerned about the pride that comes with “high ranks” in his school of discipleship. Gospel-centered leaders avoid this, as well as using superior titles.
5. A gospel-centered leader seeks to be low in this life (Mark 10:44; James 2:3).
Taking a low position is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. Yet, Jesus wanted his disciples, and wants us, to approach leadership from service, rather than kingship. Great leaders serve first, rather than demanding to be served.
Five Characteristics of Authority-Virus Leaders
What about leaders who have become infected by the Authority Virus? What are some of their characteristics? Here are five signs of the infection.
1. Pride and self-righteousness
These sins often mirror each other. They are twins, infecting a godly leader. Pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Self-righteousness means boasting in one’s ability, rather than in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
2. Being first rather than last
The Authority Virus spread rapidly in Jesus’ day, and even so in our institutions. Jesus confronted this within John and James’ mother because she wanted her boys to “sit at the right and left” of Christ (Mark 10:37). I see the disease everywhere. I am grieved by how leaders treat fellow leaders, and those under their authority. The disease spreads so discreetly that some leaders don’t even know they have the virus. A self-serving leader focuses on internal motivations and seeks to take the first-chair position.
3. A lack of peacemaking
The leader says they are a peacemaker, but their actions do not describe a sower of peace (Romans 12:18; James 3:18; Hebrews 12:14). The leader jockeys for position and often pushes back because their agenda must win. The leader is unable to keep a team together and, thereby, disrupts stability in the organization. They use words to fight, and in their speech, they lack grace-filled words (Titus 2:11).
4. Power words
The Authority Virus is often masked by power words. These words do not indicate leadership style, but sin. So, Jesus warns us, “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:2). Again, Jesus says that we must avoid the Authority Virus by not becoming hypocrites (Matthew 23:13-29). Hypocrites are “blind guides” (v. 16) who keep the kingdom of heaven from men’s faces (v. 13).
5. Lack of genuine repentance
Genuine repentance is not just emotional outbursts of sorrow, but a real recognition that my sin offends God and betrays others. I must not be like Esau in my response to sin. Esau forfeited God’s blessing by a lack of genuine repentance (Hebrews 12:16).
A Spiritual Fight against the Gentile Virus
The Authority Virus plagues our churches, mission organizations, homes, and even Christian higher education. It can spread from one leader to next (Matthew 20:25-28), so it needs to be treated early. A correct diagnosis to the virus is essential to fighting it; the appropriate treatment to fight sin is through the gospel. In order to fight the virus, we must go to Jesus for help. We must learn from him gentleness and lowliness in Christian leadership (Matthew 11:29).
Authority-based leadership is oppressive and powerful. The virus spreads and infects others just like an infectious word spreads like fire (James 3:6). The only option we have is to be submissive to the life-transforming power of the gospel, which raised this dead body to a Spirit-filled life of righteousness (Romans 8:11).
Gospel-centered leadership is based in Christ. We need to take Jesus’ words seriously: “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11-12). In order to fight the spiritual fight against the Authority Virus leadership, the godly leader must heed Christ’s words:
But go and learn what this means: “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,” for I did come to call the righteous, but the sinner. (Matthew 9:13)