The Rewards of Leadership Come with Risks


Being a successful Christian leader comes with risks. Well-meaning people admire you, recognize you, reward you, praise you, and lavish material goods on you. You begin to feel invincible. If you are not careful, you can forget where you are—that you are standing on the pinnacle of the temple with a voice whispering in your ear, "Jump. Go ahead! You can fly." And if you do jump, for a time you may fly, but then when you will begin to fall, and you will remember that you have no wings.

The risk of success not only involves the unholy trinity of money, sex, and power; it also includes the danger of living a religious life with no power. There is nothing quite so odious. Jesus taught that being open and honest were keys to knowing God (see Matthew 7:1-6). Religion, however, tends to make people closed and dishonest (see Matthew 15:1-13). The Pharisees were religious but had no power. Jesus wasn't religious, but he had all the power. Jesus had no political power; the Pharisees had nothing but political power. Jesus scolded them for hypocrisy (see John 5:31-47; Matthew 23:1-36).

Fame can ruin you, for it can cause you to be full of yourself. It happens to actors, singers, painters, poets, CEOs, pastors, athletes, and even to kids who just got an A on a test. We see this a lot in sports today. When I was a basketball player in the 1960s and 1970s, taunting the other team with our success was nonexistent. We didn't talk smack, and we certainly didn't point at opponents after scoring—especially when our team was down by twenty points! This kind of behavior is all part of a deconstructed culture that has changed from one of humility in achievement to arrogance in all things.

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Many Christian leaders have faced the risks that come with fame and have not succumbed. One thinks first of Billy Graham, who has lived humbly and has been admired for his compassion, conviction, and authenticity. Rick Warren is another who has done well with fame. When it became public that he had paid back the salary he'd received from his church over the years and given away 90 percent of his book royalties, he silenced all sane critics. I think too of the great English pastor John Stott. He lived a frugal and celibate life and was a wonderful example to his international flock. He wrote some of the best and most important books of our time: commentaries on the New Testament, especially Romans and Galatians; Basic Christianity; and Between Two Worlds. Graham, Warren, and Stott all followed the advice of Mo Udall, the congressman "too funny to be president." When Udall was asked about the dangers of the intoxicating air of power in the halls of Congress, he answered, "The trick is not to inhale.”[1]

It is too bad that inhaling fame doesn't have the same effect as when you first inhale a cigarette. When you hack and cough and get sick, your body is trying to tell you something. Fame is like an addictive drug that gives you a serious high and leaves you craving more. It's a powerful thing to have people "eating out of your hand." You can get that sense when you propose a course of action and everyone signs on. It happens to public speakers when people are caught in the sway of their talent and words. Before you know it, you drop your guard and take a big drag. Oh, the sweet smell of success.

I recently met a young evangelical pastor who is enjoying success and God's favor. He is well-educated, hip, and a bit Bohemian. His congregation is young, and the church services are full of energy, wonderful worship, dynamic preaching, and vivacious, enthusiastic leadership. The pastor is humble, teachable, and committed to authentic worship and discipleship. The congregation is with him; they are willing to follow him. Each week they pray for another church or ministry in the city. The Sunday I was there they prayed for a local Catholic church. People in the church speak of living and working outside the four walls of the church. These Christians are doing what Bonhoeffer meant when he said the church is the church only when it exists for others. This young leader is standing on the pinnacle of the temple. He is on a very high place. Satan is telling him to jump. God is telling him to walk humbly before him. We pray that he doesn't try to fly on his own.


1. [1] Morris K. Udall, Too Funny to Be President (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001).

 Written by Bill Hull

 Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan.

 Photo by Elena Taranenko on Unsplash