What should we look for in our leaders, both political and spiritual? Just what are the values and qualifications we should seek from those who lead us?
I think that is an important question each of us must ask ourselves these days. On the political front, Americans seem to have already weighed in over the past 30 years—we much prefer the leader who tells us how wonderful we are and that no sacrifice must be made for the years of wasteful and excessive government spending we have endured. The charismatic person with the eloquent message will almost always prevail over the candidate who confronts us with the truth—that we are on the verge of financial bankruptcy and that real sacrifice is necessary to stave off financial disaster.
But as Christians, are we really any better when it comes to choosing who to follow? The greatest church growth over the past 20 years has been in churches led by pastors who gloss over sin and concentrate on the benefits of Christianity—without pointing out the costs of following Jesus. We seem no better than the lost in seeking leaders that scratch our itching ears with a message that makes us feel good about ourselves instead of challenging us with real dangers we face individually and as a church body.
We have become addicted to ‘spiritual sugar”. Joel Osteen packs in 50,000 people every Sunday with his message of ‘your best life now”, avoiding anything remotely resembling a challenge to lukewarm Christianity. Leaders like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels enjoy similar success by appealing more to our desire for earthly happiness than in pointing us to a life of repentance and holiness.
In my new book, “The Suicide of American Christianity”, I ask an important question: Does weak leadership breed mushy followers? Or do mushy followers lead to weak, soft leadership? I argue that it is we, the mushy, self-centered followers, who are primarily to blame for the slow death of institutionalized Christianity in our nation. Just like much of the American electorate these days, we want little or nothing to do with the leader who challenges us with cold hard facts. Instead we seek out leaders who tell us how wonderful we are and allow us to continue in a state of sin so very offensive to a holy God. Oh, there may be the occasional reference to the fact we are all sinners, but by and large, we just want to feel good about ourselves.
Interesting isn’t it, that the apostle Paul, a man whose faith and dedication dwarfs almost anyone alive today, called himself the worst among all sinners. Yet we look at ourselves as perfectly fine, content to redefine Christianity on our own terms, putting our earthly happiness above serving God. Teaching about dying daily to our flesh or picking up our cross is considered so antiquated and harsh to the American Church these days. It is just a real downer, man.
We can continue to follow these pied pipers right over the cliff into the spiritual abyss, thinking everything is just fine. Or we can demand more from our spiritual leaders—that they actually preach the complete gospel of repentance, forgiveness and holiness. Trying times are headed our way in America—times of economic chaos and spiritual persecution. Are we confident our current leaders understand this battle and are prepared to lead us when things get difficult? Or like many of the American people will we wait until it is too late to realize calamity is right around the corner, and that something needs to be done now before it is too late?
Followers can only go where we allow leaders to take us. And it seems we are just fine with where we are being led.