LESSONS ON LEADERSHIP: ABUSING BIBLICAL POWER
Leading people is never an easy task. It takes great skill and character to lead people effectively. It also takes time, effort, and patience to work with people and to lead them well. All of this is part of building a relationship. Unfortunately, many leaders take “shortcuts” in trying to work with people especially in the church. These leaders are not so concerned about the well-being of the common good but may be more bent towards controlling the people with biblical power sources such as the Bible. This entry will explore and potentially warn against these misuses and will respond with appropriate biblical refutations.
Why and how is it that leadership in the church is often twisted and distorted in such a way that it does not resemble biblical leadership from the Scriptures? The probable answer to the question “why” is that people want to control others even in a church. This is unfortunate but also a reality in many cultures, circles, and churches. People like to control others. But the more important question is “how do they do this in a church?’ I’d like to offer different ways that I’ve seen leaders attempt to control others and it involves crucial components of the Christian faith that become “twisted.” The goal of this blog is raise discernment in believers and to warn them of possible abuses found in leadership in the church.
The main way that leaders attempt to control people is through the inappropriate use of the Bible. For the person who knows the right verses to use out of context can be a very manipulative leader. This is done through the practice of proof-texting verses to carry out a personal agenda. This can be coupled with the Old Testament declaration of “thus saith the Lord” as an authoritative prophetic voice that represents God Himself.
An example of this can be seen when leaders try to impress a top-down hierarchy that requires that the members of the church submit to them unconditionally. They could cite a passage like Matt. 10:24 that states “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.” Another passage may be Hebrews 13:17a that says “obey your leaders and submit to them.” These verses certainly seem to indicate an unconditional submission and obedience to leaders. It is contained in the Word of God and it does seem pretty clear. But wait, it is a hermeneutical trick!
Whenever a person uses the Scripture to prove their own point or agenda, they typically do a little twisting of the text to make it support their own personal agenda rather than God’s agenda. The simple way to check on the proper use of the Scripture is to look at the context of the verse. What this means is that one needs to examine the entire paragraph or unit of thought from which the one verse is quoted. Through this, then the actual meaning of the passage comes out. In the first case of Matt. 10:24, when one looks at the previous context going back to vs. 16, we see clearly that the entire passage is about persecution and suffering due to the relationship of the disciples to Jesus Himself. In this way, the disciples are not “above their master.” They will suffer in the same way as Christ if they continue to follow Him! Matthew 10:24 has nothing to do with hierarchical obedience within the structure of leadership and authority but rather shared suffering and persecution.
The Hebrews 13:17 passage is also quite interesting in that only a portion of the passage was quoted. Although it does say to “obey your leaders and submit to them,” it also gives the reason for this. The rest of the verse says “for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” The burden of responsibility is placed more on the leaders and how they lead rather than on the followers and how they respond to the leaders. It even says that the leaders will give an account to the Lord. How amazing how the context changes the whole meaning of the verse!
The Bible certainly is one of God’s greatest gifts that He has given us. It is His revealed will for us on how we are to live. Unfortunately, leaders can and do sometimes misuse the Bible for their own agendas. The best way to guard against this is to employ proper hermeneutics with the Bible. Hopefully, with this agreed practice by the leaders and members of the church, the Bible will continue to be the proper authoritative guideline for the church. This in turn will then lead to a healthy church leadership and community.