Tuesday, November 21, 2023

When You Can’t Step Down

The secular world doesn’t require moral authority to lead. It helps, sure, but it’s not a stopper if you can’t manage to project it; more of a “nice to have”, really. Luck, slickness, charisma, raw power, a media propaganda machine, a dad with name recognition, or some combination thereof will generally get you into a leadership position even if you’re otherwise horribly unqualified.

Ask Mr. Biden if you doubt that one. If soundness of mind and coherent speech are not obligatory to serve as President of the United States, I doubt self-restraint is anywhere near the list.

Leadership in the Church

On the other hand, biblical leadership absolutely requires moral authority. “An overseer must be above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” I’m leaving out a few qualifications there, of course, but all the qualities I’ve listed for service as an elder in the local church are moral, and consist largely in impulse management of one sort or another. They are not optional: “An elder must be …”

No “nice to haves” there.

The qualifications for deacons in scripture are likewise mostly moral. In fact, the moral authority of all who teach the Bible in the churches is also contingent on their own personal practice. Paul may not have had a list of moral requirements for teachers as detailed as for overseers, but he writes, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Hey, if even Paul could be disqualified, lesser servants of Christ can hardly complain about high standards for their behavior. So then, like these New Testament saints, a preacher of the Word today must be “self controlled in all things”. If he isn’t, he may not be hurled off the platform bodily, but nobody who knows him will pay any attention to what he has to say. The moral authority of the Lord Jesus was absolute, because nobody could ever bring a charge of any sort against him, and he confidently said so. The moral authority of those who presume to speak on his behalf should be of the same sort, though of course not to the same impeccable degree.

Leadership in the Home

Likewise, a husband’s biblical authority over his wife may not be conditional on his moral fiber, but its effectiveness certainly is. “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” When your own boss stops taking your calls, that’s a big hint you’ve lost all effective authority even if you still have the title. In fact, you may not have that for long either in the event your “slip” involves the sin of πορνεα. Sexual immorality triggers what most Christians regard as an exception clause to the Lord’s rules concerning divorce, and gives your wife the option to end the marriage and your God-given authority in the home permanently.

Even a father’s authority over his children is effectively conditional. Sure, it’s “Children, obey your parents” and “Honor your father and mother”, but Paul warns against provoking your children to anger. This presumes that the leadership of a father who lets self off the leash in his dealings with his children will ultimately be less effective than the training and instruction of a father who himself submits to the authority of Christ with respect to self-control.

In short, if you want to lead (or have the job of leading, whether you wanted it or not), you need to cultivate and maintain the type of behaviors that project moral authority.

Caught, or About to Be

So tell me then, what do you do if you’ve lost yours?

I’m not talking about a little impatience expressed now and then, the occasional slip of a tongue or even a few pounds of serious excess around the beltline. Such things can be managed with a timely request for forgiveness and a little more care about what goes on the plate at dinnertime. Besides, both Christians and even the Lord himself look at what is characteristic in a man rather than the rare exceptions, as we should.

No, I’m talking about having engaged in a regular pattern of behavior while in a leadership position that impairs your fellowship with Christ and your service to others and, if detected, would absolutely void your moral authority in the eyes of everyone: pilfering, sexual immorality, unhinged ranting, drunkenness or an addiction to the trappings of affluence that drives you to make sinful, self-indulgent choices. Maybe it’s over now, or maybe you think you’ve got it in check, but for a while there … if anybody had called you on it publicly, it would have been game over.

Hey, somebody out there knows it. Probably more than just one or two. And even if they don’t, God is the great revealer of secrets. “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Whatever it may be or may have been, so long as your sin has not been confessed and repented, there always exists the very strong chance it will come out. Be guaranteed it will be at the worst possible time. Even if, like Ravi Zacharias, you manage to sneak into your grave with reputation intact, God is not mocked, and he will have the truth out in the open whatever the cost.

So then, what do you do if your moral authority is undermined by secret sin?

The Leader Steps Down

In the local church, the answer is obvious, is it not? If you’re in a church leadership position, it’s time to confess, step down and face the consequences before the truth comes out on its own, if only because it’s the right thing to do. Conscience and pragmatism do not always align perfectly, but they do in the matter of confession. It’s always better to confess before you’re caught rather than afterward, not least because unless your admission is unforced by circumstances, nobody will ever believe you again. Once the evidence against you is out there, the value of confession in restoring lost credibility drops precipitously, maybe permanently.

There is a sad movement afoot in evangelicalism today to prize gift over consistent testimony. No sooner does an evangelical leader confess to secret vices and habits than voices are heard wondering how soon we can get him back in his position so we can all be blessed by his ministry again, especially where he is a big money draw and others depend on him for their own livelihoods. Sometimes, frankly, I wonder if the culprit hasn’t put his would-be enablers up to it. After all, the church “can’t do without” his marvelous gifts.

This is incredibly unwise and short-sighted. God is able to raise up a replacement for the sinning leader who isn’t carrying around his moral baggage. He doesn’t need our help.

As for the man himself, if he has really had a change of heart, the Lord’s wise advice is always on point in such a situation: “Go and sit in the lowest place.” Offer to push the lawnmower or the snowblower. And there’s always plenty of room on the list of volunteers to clean the church building. Nothing allays criticism and suspicion like a consistent, visible pattern of abject humility and hard work. You may or may not lead again. That really doesn’t matter anywhere near so much as maintaining a good conscience before God and man.

A Problem

But what about the loss of moral authority in the family? What about when a husband and father publicly embarrasses himself? Unless his wife divorces him, he doesn’t get to “step down” even if he wants to. What kind of Christian husband would he be if he did? What kind of father would he be if, like Eli, he abdicated his responsibility to bring up his children in the training and instruction of the Lord, even though he is now saddled with a dubious track record in that respect?

There are certain responsibilities you can’t disclaim even if you haven’t been much good at them to date.

A man cannot opt out of leading his family spiritually, even if it might be more comfortable to wash his hands of past failures and say, “I guess I just wasn’t cut out for that.” I think the Lord would agree. Even compromised authority is still authority, and the Lord may choose to stand behind yours once again if you wield it humbly and in submission to him. Remember what Jesus told his disciples about the Pharisees: “They sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.” If you want to talk about bad leadership, the Pharisees were right up there. The average derelict Christian father today would have to work hard to damage as many lives or live as hypocritically.

Like a Pharisee, a father and husband remains God’s authority in his sphere of responsibility even when he is not at his best. The New Testament offers us no other option. From the biblical perspective, even a husband who is not subject to scripture is to be won “without a word”, not overruled by his more spiritual partner. Paul does not commend children to obey their parents because their parents are always right, but because obedience is.

Doing the Right Thing

Some thoughts for the compromised head of the home newly trying to do the right thing:

  • Answer every question you are asked about the choices you made and the situation you created for your family with complete honesty, unless it would violate someone else’s confidence, even if you find it painful. Consider that it’s probably more painful for them than you. There is some (limited) value in serving as a cautionary tale. It’s better than being no kind of example at all.
  • Confess it all, ask for their forgiveness and get it over with. If you leave anything out, expect that it too will come back to haunt you. Once you have done that, don’t grovel, don’t keep saying sorry, don’t even bring it up again. Revisiting the matter every time you disagree about something doesn’t help anyone. If you do it, they’ll probably do it too, and nobody needs the constant reminder of failure when they are trying to move forward.
  • If you don’t receive verbal assurance of forgiveness, stop asking. That’s a matter between your family and the Lord. Displaying insecurity and neediness to them will not inspire confidence in your ability to lead.
  • Don’t ever entertain the idea your family might be better off without you. If the Lord wants to give your family relief from your inadequate leadership and wretched example, he is perfectly capable of doing it without your assistance. Real Christians don’t get to chicken out when they mess up.
  • Consider your wife’s opinion but don’t ask for her permission. It’s not her job to make spiritual decisions for the whole family even if you have sometimes made bad ones. Make better ones instead. Lean on the Lord harder.
  • When your family disrespects your authority, take it like a man. Don’t quote scripture to affirm your position as head of the home. The Bible says what it says, and a Christian family already knows it very well. If they take a cheap shot, turn the other cheek and let them deal with that before the Lord. But understand that if they resist your authority, they have been given plenty of provocation.
  • Don’t expect miracles overnight. Forgiveness and relearning to trust your judgment are not the same thing, and neither are forgiveness and forgetfulness.

No comments :

Post a Comment