Strong leadership doesn’t have to become abusive and arrogant; but, sadly, that’s what sometimes occurs. Let’s all strive for, and grow in, strong and humble leadership.
As a student of Christian leadership, it deeply troubles me that we tend to move from strong leadership to abusive leadership. We then make the mistake of assuming strong leadership is always dangerous and gravitate toward weak, apathetic and indecisive leadership as a reaction toward abusive leadership.
Strong and decisive is not the problem; arrogant and abusive is. What we need to do is move from strong and abusive to strong and humble, which is what the Bible clear demonstrates in leadership from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus was, without a doubt, the strongest and most humble leader who ever lived!
So how does biblically and appropriate strong leadership morph into unbiblical and inappropriately abusive leadership?
As noted, the Bible clearly teaches that leadership can and should be strong and decisive, not fearful or hesitant; and certainly not abusive. But we know of many strong leaders who, nonetheless, become abusive in some way or another. Peter warns us of this:
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly as God would have you, not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” I Peter 5:2,3 (ESV)
I have worked with churches that once had abusive leaders and seem to have never completely gotten over it. In overreacting to this, they are understandably very careful (too careful) in their leadership to not be overbearing or domineering in any way. But this has also affected their ability to be confidently strong in making the difficult decisions they need to make and which inhibits them from growing and making the difference they could make.
I have also seen the opposite, where a church has a strong leadership vacuum (due to passive or hesitant leadership in the past) and tries to fill it with a strong leader who over time, unfortunately, becomes abusive and is asked to leave, or stays and splits the church.
We can vacillate between abusive and apathetic. The Bible clearly advocates for strong and decisive leadership that is not afraid to lead and make the tough calls.
The great need today in the body of Christ is to raise up strong visionary leaders who are anchored in Christ, secure in their calling, solid in their convictions, and bold in their decisions for needed changes; all without being abusive, bullying, arrogant or domineering.
It has been both my experience and observation that sometimes when leaders see success early in their tenure, it goes to their heads, leading to pride and a domineering leadership style that doesn't honor Jesus and his gospel. This is why Paul warns us in 1 Timothy 3:6 that a leader should not be a recent convert so he doesn’t become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil?
Mark 10:42,43 in The Message is very instructive on this issue:
"You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, he said, and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you."
In today's leadership world, sad to say, it's not only godless rulers (leaders) who throw their weight around, but Christian leaders as well. And not only does power go to their heads, but acclaim, accolades, popularity, book sales and hits on their blog site also go to their heads.
Jesus has a good word for all of us: It should not be that way with you. Rather tenderness, sensitivity, humility, kindness, etc. Exactly what Galatians 5 and I Timothy 3 spell out for us.
Jim Collins, in his excellent book, "Good to Great" refers to these humble leaders as level five leaders. We need many more of them.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God…” I Peter 5:5-6
Pray for strong, decisive, visionary and humble leaders to lead his church! And do be ever so careful and prayerful for yourself. Have others hold you accountable for your leadership style and attitudes (I Timothy 4:16.)