As a leader, I find my heart constantly running after new gods; the things in which I pursue greater satisfaction, greater security, and greater significance. Only Jesus can save me from such rampant idolatry. However, I must be intentional about identifying these idols in order to put them to death by applying the gospel directly to them. Like Rachel in Genesis 31:34-35, we are quite clever at hiding our idols; coming up with masterful excuses to keep them out of sight. I have found the following questions helpful for identifying areas of idolatry in my heart in order to apply the gospel to the roots of these noxious weeds.
Before proceeding, take some time to remember the truths of the gospel. Remind yourself of the Father’s heart of unconditional love for you in eternity past, of how this love was given flesh in time and space through the liberating work of the Son, and of how the Spirit has applied this redemptive work to your life, making you a beloved son of God. You don’t need to seek satisfaction anywhere else for the One who is the very essence of goodness has given you himself. You don’t have to seek security elsewhere for you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit until the final day of redemption, and his perfect love casts out all fear. You don’t have to seek greater significance for the One who spoke galaxies into existence has set his affections upon you and called you into his work of filling the earth with his glory. This is good news!
Now spend some time prayerfully going through the following questions on your own or if at all possible as a leadership team. If you’re anything like me, some of these will cut deeply. Different questions will be more pertinent in different seasons of leadership. I am sure many others could be added, but these are some that have been particularly helpful to me. A more general question is, am I more concerned about advancing God’s kingdom or my kingdom? However, this question is sometimes not specific enough as we are all too adept at convincing ourselves that we are pursuing God’s glory when indeed we are not. You might think of the following questions within that broader question. When asked in light of the truths of the gospel and through prayerful dependence of the Spirit, these questions will help expose the tangled cords of sin and negative emotions that linger many layers beneath the surface. May God help us be honest with ourselves and be led to heartfelt repentance when needed so that we might truly bring him glory through our Christ-like servant leadership.
Among the broader Church:
Am I gaining a sense of security or significance from my association with a particular Christian leader or organization?
Am I gaining a sense of security or significance from the theological camp in which I find myself?
Have I recently experienced feelings of jealousy because of another leader or local church being more successful or recognized?
Have I recently wished for the failure of another leader or local church?
Am I quick to dismiss other churches and leaders as heretical or unsound in order to justify the sense of competition I feel towards them?
Am I quick to embrace the practices of apparently successful leaders without a thorough study of Scripture?
How does my reaction to the failure of leaders whom I once respected inform my answer to the previous question?
Within the Local Church:
Does my sense of security or significance ebb and flow with my perceived level of success in leading the church?
Is my hope placed in positive recognition from others?
Is my hope placed in my own sense of accomplishment?
Am I quick to dismiss criticism of my leadership practices or style?
When presented with concerns or accusations, am I quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry?
Am I currently viewing people as a means to accomplishing the mission or as the mission?
Do I think/speak in terms of dealing with people or caring for them?
Do I primarily think of the local church in which I serve as my church or as Jesus’ church?
Within the Leadership Team:
Am I being transparent with my fellow leaders about my struggles and areas of weakness?
Are we making time to specifically pray together about heart-level issues, confess sin, and speak the gospel to one another?
Am I experiencing resentment or bitterness towards a fellow leader? If so, what is at the root of that emotion?
Do I blame any of my fellow leaders for our lack of success in certain areas?
How might my misplaced hope for satisfaction, security, or significance be affecting the health and unity of our team?
Has my involvement in this leadership team become more about the security of a successful career than about a sacred calling from God?
Which questions were the most painful? Go back and pray through them again, identifying the areas of unbelief at the root of these struggles and seeking to apply the gospel truths mentioned above. Where are you specifically failing to believe what is true about God, his work through Jesus, and your new identity in him? Don’t be afraid to confess these struggles––out loud. This will give others the opportunity to help you connect the dots between the bad fruit and the roots of unbelief, and to walk you through the process of turning from unbelief (false gods) back to the true and living God.
“In confession there occurs a breakthrough to new life. The break with the past is made when sin is hated, confessed, and forgiven. “Everything has become new” (2 Cor 5:17).” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together