This past season we have seen a whole host of well-known celebrity leaders who have fallen. Then there have been countless other relatively unknown leaders in which hidden sins are coming to light (Southern Baptist Scandals).
I don’t bring these examples up to discourage us; after all, many leaders in the Bible had moral lapses. I bring them up to encourage leaders to pursue God’s design for healthy leadership.
It is easy to think, “They just need accountability with a mentor!” Of course, that is true, but I have seen my share of leaders who have had “mentors” outside of their everyday context and it didn’t help. The “mentors” didn’t have any idea of what was really going on in the leader’s lives. They didn’t know the people the leader served, and the people didn’t know the mentor. It was an exclusive relationship outside of their real, everyday lives.
While accountability/mentorship is personal, it can’t be private. Consider how Jesus mentored the twelve. They had a personal relationship with Him, but it wasn’t private. They were aware of each other’s challenges and knew how Jesus was helping each of them obey His word. All this happened in the context of real everyday relational life.
An essential ingredient for leaders in obeying their call and living a healthy life is the call to live “AMONG THE FLOCK” where they know, and are known by others. Consider the Biblical mandate for leaders to live life among the people of God.
- Acts 20:17-38 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church… (28) “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.
- 1 Peter 5:1-4 Therefore, I exhort the elders amongyou, as your fellow elder… (2) shepherd the flock of God amongyou, exercising oversight…(3) nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 (12) But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor amongyou, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction..
- Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders… Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (implying people have to be close enough to see it).
- Philippians 4:9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (not just heard taught from a pulpit but seen in a life lived among the flock), practice these things.
Living real life among the people of God is how Jesus did it while on the earth.
- John 1:14 MSG The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
A Common Problem
Aloneness or Aloofness are dangerous places for Leaders.
There is a common thread among the current wave of headline-catching leadership scandals. They lived a privileged life that was removed from “real life” among the people of God. It reminds me of the press release years ago concerning the fall of an internationally well-known prophet based in the city where I now live. Many high-profile leaders viewed this man as one of the greatest prophets in recent history. He fell into both alcoholism and homosexuality. A comment (official press release) by a leader (who was assigned to walk him through a restoration process) gives an essential insight into the importance of the “among the flock” design of God.
Please also understand that if (the fallen prophet) had been a true member of a local church, under the true authority of a pastor, we would have simply taken it there. However, with (the fallen prophet) this was not the case. As (two of his friends) and I have talked about considerably, one of our biggest failures in this matter was to think that because (the fallen prophet) had such special gifts he deserved special treatment and did not need to be incorporated into the life of the local church (accountable relationships) like others. I have little doubt that if (the fallen prophet) had been required to comply with the disciplines of a normal Christian life, which without question includes a true church life, these strongholds would have been exposed long ago. He would be free now and probably far more productive than he has ever been. This is the first and possibly the most important lesson that we have learned from this.
Walking in real, relational family life among the church is an important feature that helps everyone (including leaders) avoid “a hard heart and falling away due to the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:7-13).
I am so thankful that the family of churches and leaders I am a part of are committed to a relational ethic and put them among the flock of God. No one is above relational life among the people. We say, “Everyone is called to be both making disciples and discipled in real accountable relationships.”
“Please don’t mistake being “among the flock” as standing upfront on a platform during a corporate service. Leaders cannot see people as congregants they preach to, but God’s family they live among. Leaders need to model togetherness with God’s people so the church will walk as God’s family. This is why a vital Biblical trait that qualifies one to be a church leader is “Practicing hospitality” which means they open their lives and homes freely to guests (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8).”
Important priorities for leaders to walk in real life among the flock.
Make sure you are living real life among the people of God. Many leaders try to keep a pulpit between them and God’s people. Leaders need to be plugged into real, everyday life. This is God’s prescription for leadership, “know those who labor among you and have charge over you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14).
One example I have seen is that some leaders refuse to be a part of small groups they don’t “lead.” This isolates and insulates leaders from real everyday life among God’s people. It is hard to exercise “servant leadership” if we are not among people experiencing the needs and challenges of their daily life. We see and help them, and they see and help us overcome the challenges of real life.
Ensure every leader has real personal accountability (every pastor needs a pastor).
Make sure others know their leader’s relational accountability. The people you serve should know to whom you are accountable to. It is a security point for the flock to know their leaders are accountable to someone they know and respect. This also provides a point of appeal if there are questionable issues that come up.
Make sure accountable relationships are inclusive, not exclusive. I have seen leaders use the idea of personal pastoring or discipleship as an exclusive relationship (“I am only accountable to my pastor or the one who disciples me”). Therefore, I don’t have to listen to anyone else, especially those “under me.” This is a dangerous attitude. The Bible says, “Submit to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). There should be connectivity between the leader’s accountability and the people they serve. A good leader is humble enough to receive God’s hand of encouragement and correction from anyone.
Make sure there is a discipleship culture in the church and you are part of it. This will help leaders have the humility to give correction and encouragement and receive it from anyone. A discipleship culture realizes that everyone (including leaders) is in the process of learning how to follow and obey Jesus. We are all in the same discipleship boat. We are all helping each other be faithful to Jesus.
Being among the flock in real life is the only way leaders can fulfill their call to “be an example to the flock” (1 Thessalonians 3:7, 1 Timothy 1:16, 4:12, Titus 2:7, 1 Peter 5:1-3 etc). Let us make sure that we are living in the place of health and calling God has designed for us, “Among the Flock.”