The Conceited, Insecure Leader
In Romans 12:3, the apostle Paul urgently warns us never to “think more highly of” ourselves than is fitting for a sinner saved by grace. When we become intoxicated with our own gifts and influence we begin to see people as a means to our advancement. Today’s leaders seem so much more easily seduced by the lure of public recognition, wealth, power, sensuality, and personal significance. Conceit and lust for significance are graphically portrayed in a man called Diotrephes, mentioned in 3 John 9 and10. His ministry is the classic account of a leader for whom God’s people became a personal trophy. He had allowed his heart to drift into the treacherous waters of pride and conceit, seduced by the influence of personal power and human praise.
Diotrephes was a church leader of some notable responsibility, probably a senior pastor by today’s standards. For all his achievements in ministry he is described in scripture as an egocentric personality who “[loved] to be first among them” (3 John 9). He had an insatiable desire for preeminence. His heart secretly delighted in the praises of others which fed his exalted view of his own abilities. When a leader satisfies himself with the cheers of men, he lays the groundwork for a host of ministry-disrupting behaviors. For example, Diotrephes’ love for preeminence led to an unsubmissive heart toward church authority (3 John 9). Furthermore, he became deceitful, “unjustly accusing…with wicked words” (3 John 10). Egocentric leadership is always intolerant and hyper-critical of others. When such sinful habits get a hold of our hearts, we position ourselves for maximum attention and readily dispense with another’s ministry gifts, talents, and ideas. Like Diotrephes, we won’t tolerate anyone encroaching upon our territory.
An appetite for man’s applause signals ingratitude for the gifts God has given and a desire for significance outside of God’s will. Scripture warns against “[searching] out one’s own glory” (Prov 25:27; 28:6-7). We can avoid the lure of man’s praise by remembering that our significance is found in becoming useful to Christ. Moreover, we are told in 1 Peter 4:10 that we have “received” spiritual gifts from God and are merely “stewards of [his] manifold grace.” Apart from Him we can accomplish nothing! How can you know whether you love the praises of men? A few simple questions may help: Do you withhold praise from others? Do you delight in getting attention? Are you uncomfortable in the presence of gifted peers? Would others describe you as self-promoting? If you struggle to rejoice in the usefulness of others, you have laid the seedbed for cultivating a love of praise.
Equally destructive was Diotrephes’ lust for power, a desire which always leads to isolation from those authorities to whom we are accountable. Diotrephes opposed John’s apostolic leadership because he viewed others as obstacles to the furtherance of his own power and control. Verse 10 says he was “not satisfied with” mere slander, but also tried to hinder the outreach ministries of other churches. In his resentment he refused to serve a traveling band of missionaries (“neither does he…receive the brethren”). If we love control we will be suspicious of others for fear of losing ground in the battle for self-importance. Scripture teaches that we are never to shepherd “as lording it over those allotted to [our] charge” (1 Pet 5:3).
The sheep are a delegated responsibility from the Chief Shepherd to whom we shall give an account. When a leader does not tremble at the very thought of accountability to Christ, he is left to his petty intimidations and oppressive tactics. Anyone who stood against Diotrephes became a target of his bitterness. He manipulated his own congregation, incited them to disfellowship with anyone who went against his orders. This is not leadership but personal domination! How can you know whether you have fallen into the power-hungry trap? Examine your life and look for the following evidences:
- Viewing others as a threat to your success. Are you comfortable around gifted peers? Some leaders burn huge amounts of energy trying to keep others from succeeding. They sinfully fear that God may grant tremendous influence to other leaders which detracts from their own.
- Unteachable when contradicted. When you’re hungry for the rush of power over others, you will be compelled to shut down any critique whether true or false. Unteachable leaders ground their influence in intimidation rather than humble service.
- Letting others bear the blame for failed decisions. Controlling leaders can never admit wrong, so they happily take credit for successes while pointing at others when failure comes. Since “respect” is viewed as something the leader demands from his people, then failure is seen as weakness and therefore should not be traced back to the top of the pile.
- Withholding important resources and information needed by others. Power-mongers know that information is a major key to controlling others, so they obsess over the transfer and communication of these vital resources. Do you hoard what others critically need to reach institutional goals? Are you honest and upfront about what you know and don’t know so that the greatest benefit will be accomplished through the collorabative efforts of everyone?
- Unwilling to delegate responsibility. Wanting power and control makes us fearful that our reputation may suffer when others fail, or jealous that someone else may be appreciated above ourselves.
These are the marks of conceited and sinfully-fearful leadership. Ruthlessly identify them in yourself, plead with God for His grace to discern their root-affections, and saturate your mind and heart with every truth against them that proceeds out of the mouth of God!