Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

July 2005
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To Avoid Being an Abusive Leader

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

It should be noted that most Christian leaders – as imperfect people – will probably, at some point, exhibit some of the characteristics of abusive leadership that we have noted in previous Letters. Therefore, the godly leader, knowing that he is not above this tendency, should consciously and deliberately take the following steps to avoid being abusive at all:

1. Prayer. It is hard to know our own hearts and motives. We must remain continually in prayer, asking God to expose what is really happening inside our lives and ministries.

Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, (Rom. 15:31)

2. Study the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the perfect Model of true leadership at all points.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

3. Humility. The great antidote for abusive leadership is 1 Corinthians 3:7.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

4. Commitment. The godly leader must be committed to God, to his followers, and to inward reality in his own life. Especially during decision-making, he must remain unfailingly committed to truth, not allowing himself to be influenced by expediency, convenience or selfishness. The Holy Spirit will help us do this (Rom. 8:13).

… if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Rom. 8:13)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

5. Awareness. The Christian leader must develop the ability to distinguish between personal issues and an organizationally-based vision in his beliefs and actions. He must be acutely aware of his own vested interests at all times and strive to crucify them if they are not consistent with the interests of the people he says he is serving.

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:4-5)

6. Responsibility. The healthy leader will spend significant time and effort in assisting his followers’ development separate from his personal mission. In truth, the Christian mission is people-development (ultimately to the glory of God and the fulfillment of His will, of course).

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13)

7. Self-evaluation. The leader should accurately and honestly assess his own contributions to both successful and unsuccessful outcomes – rather than merely blaming others. Even good leaders may tend to avoid looking at their own contribution to poor performance. Moreover, the godly leader should address follower discomfort and poor performance that are often signals for his own need of self-reevaluation – particularly in the area of communication.

Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. (2 Cor. 5:9-11)

8. Continual prayer, reflection and heart breaking before the Lord. God will keep us honest and pure. The leader must conscientiously seek to catch himself any time he is tempted to take advantage of his role and power.

So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. (Acts 24:16)

…We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. (Heb. 13:18)

9. Genuine accountability. Abusive leaders will often happily submit to those who they know share their views. In contrast, servant leaders will seek out balanced and honest counselors who are not afraid to disagree and to hold them genuinely accountable.

Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. (Gal. 2:1-2)

So, what specific changes do you need to make in your life and ministry? And what specific commitments can you make that will help you bring these changes to pass?

Our next Letter will begin a new subject in healthy Christian leadership.

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