Three Temptations of Church Leadership

Pieter Pietersz. Lastman (1583-1633): "Balaam and the Ass"I was the oldest of four boys in my family–well, I still am–and while that had its perks, it also came with a certain amount of dread. Namely, my parents expected more of me: they expected me to include my brothers in stuff I was doing with my friends, they expected me to be better behaved, neater (that one was easy), and just the leader. I remember the first time we went to Europe my dad giving me the task of of making sure my youngest brother Joe didn’t get stolen by gypsies or something.

No such luck.

Being a leader, especially in the church, is a double-edged sword. Perks, but also high expectations, from God if from no one else.

There were some perks being the oldest brother: I got to stay up late, drive, avoid hand-me-downs, but I also was expected to act a certain way. And there was one thing, I was especially not allowed to do.

I was not allowed to use my leadership position with my brothers to my own advantage.

And the temptation was there: I was strong enough to beat them into submission, good-looking enough to steal their girlfriends (I never actually did this), smart enough to manipulate them in doing what I wanted them to do. I could do all those things, for sure, but if I ever did abuse my power or position, then the consequences were going to be pretty severe. I had a parent or two to answer to.

And that’s why I think I have figured out why I have never heard anyone teach on the book of Jude. It is pretty rough, especially for leaders. Here’s the framework Jude lays out in the first seven verses: we shouldn’t leave “church” to the professionals, you better know your pastor’s motives, and you better know how to discipline him.

Why?

Because there are some serious pitfalls for pastors and church leaders. They wield a tremendous amount of power over a lot of people, and if we’re not careful, vigilant and engaged, we are going to end up with a Cain, a Balaam, or a Korah on our hands.

As Jude puts it:

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion (Jude 11). 

I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes on these guys.

Cain rejected the protection and authority of God and instead of being a wanderer–the punishment God gave him for killing his brother–he built a city and protected himself. His sin? Autonomy. Under no authority but his own. Pastor’s in our churches can fall into the trap of thinking they answer to no one, and some have become, unassailable. This is a dangerous situation.

Balaam, a prophet of God, was asked by the Midianites to help them defeat Israel. Promised a load of cash, he finagled a way, for the Israelites to bring a curse on themselves (through sexual immorality). He used and abused God’s people for his own selfish gain. And if you think some pastor’s haven’t leveraged their spiritual positions of leadership for financial gain at the expense of the church, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Korah and his followers wanted the whole priesthood for themselves. They staged a coup against Moses and Aaron, which ended up not going so well, but there’s no secret that power-grabs and absolute control is a pitfall for any leader, especially in the church.

It’s a scary list if you ask me, because I think these pitfalls are rampant in church leadership today. Autonomy. Greed. Power-grabs.

The book Jude is a warning; a warning about what can happen when we disengage from church and just become spectators; what happens we we let “certain men slip in among us.” The consequences are huge: we don’t know what happened to Cain, but Balaam was run through by a sword (Numbers 31) and Korah got swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16).

Hopefully, none of this is true of your church leadership, but your pastors would do well to have people around them keeping them going in the right direction. It’s a dangerous world out there.

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