What Kind of Leader Are You?

What Kind of Leader Are You?

By Tony Cooke

(This article was written in 1988, but we thought it was still relevant and worth presenting here.)

The Bible has much to say about good and bad leadership. It is unfortunately true that both secular and religious history have demonstrated repeatedly that—if allowed to— power can have a very corrupting influence upon an individual. It has been said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It has been apparent in recent years that God has endeavored to restore pastoral leadership to the Body of Christ. However, it must be remembered that even the principles of God implemented and conducted under the dominion of the flesh with wrong motives and attitudes, can result in chaos and destruction. Therefore, it is important that our emphasis be on the quality of leadership we provide and the spirit in which we lead, not just the authority we have and the structure from which we rule. Those who fail to lead in the right spirit often resort to using (or, I should say, abusing) their authority in an attempt to put down the dissatisfaction that is at least partially created by their own improper leadership. I am not trying to undermine the importance of appropriate structure; however, I believe it is more important to have the right kind of spirit, than it is to have the right kinds of structure.

As leaders, I feel that we must be aware of and guard our hearts against the corrupting influence of power. We must challenge ourselves and determine if we are actually providing spiritual substance which prompts and stimulates a positive response and heartfelt submission, or are we simply demanding that people bow down beneath a legalistic structure? Are we really providing for people, or are we simply demanding of them? Are we investing good things into people’s lives, or are we merely expecting an unmerited response from them? If our emphasis is merely on the exercising of authority, and we neglect to provide appropriate leadership, then we are missing the mark regardless of how technically correct we are in our theories and structures. We must also maintain the awareness that God did not place us here to build our own kingdoms and our own empires. We are here to build God’s Kingdom and to build the character and the nature of God into the lives of others. There are danger signs we need to be aware of, which we might call symptoms of perverted leadership:

1. The Manipulation and Intimidation of People.

This can be spiritual, emotional, financial, and in extreme cases, even sexual in nature. This occurs when people are given the impression that their leader is their only link to God, their mediator, and the source of their spiritual life. True leaders, however, cultivate a dependency on Jesus and the Word of God in the lives of their people, not dependency on themselves. Ungodly leaders, on the other hand, are very quick to pronounce judgment, even death sentences in some cases, on people who do not come into immediate compliance and absolute submission. In these cases, anyone who does not unquestionably yield to them is labeled, “full of rebellion,” “a snake,” “a wolf,” or “chaff.”

2. Unreasonable Demands Are Placed Upon People.

People are sometimes pushed beyond reasonable limits to “put God first by putting the church first.” Because of this people have often grossly neglected their families, thinking they were pleasing God. “Give until it hurts” is the motto of some leaders, and hurt is exactly what their ministries produce. In the wake of these ministries, you will find many hurting and wounded people.

3. Seeing Oneself as Superior to the People.

Because of this superiority complex, some feel they are above criticism and reproach. They are quick to jump behind the defense of “Touch not God’s anointed,” when what they actually need to do is face up to justifiable criticism and quit giving legitimate grounds for people to question their integrity. Through their improper leadership, some leaders are actually promoting and fueling the complaints that, by their very authority, they are trying to suppress. Certain leaders feel they should never be questioned: “Don’t question anything I say or do. What I say and do is right because I am God’s man!” Such a presumptuous sense of infallibility is a sure indicator that destruction is near (Prov. 16:18)! These leaders demand absolute and exclusive reign over the flock: “Don’t listen to anyone but me! I have all you need. My revelation is superior to everyone else’s anyway.”

4. Delusions of Grandeur.

These people are consumed with their own importance, seeing themselves as the axis around which the eternal plan of God revolves, and as God’s chief instrument for bringing salvation and revelation to the world. Because of their perceived status, they will not submit or be accountable to anyone. They constantly appeal to divine authority, saying, “The Lord told me…” to get their way – even to justify unethical, immoral, or illegal conduct.

As a word of caution, I should add that there is certainly a bona fide exercising of authority and there are times when leaders need to take strong stands and deal firmly with certain situations; this does not make a leader a dictator or a tyrant. We must judge ourselves based on the overall fruit of what is being produced in the lives of those whom God has given us the privilege of serving. It is God’s intention that our leadership bring out the best in people, not the worst.