Leaders are tempted by power, and its misuse. Pride and ego are great temptations for a leader, and they each manifest themselves in a variety of destructive ways. Sexual temptation brings down dozens of successful leaders in the kingdom of God, whether we find out about it in the news or not. However, none of these are the most common or most destructive of the temptations leaders in the kingdom of God face.
The most destructive temptation for a leader is one that seems innocuous. It doesn’t seem all that harmful at the start, and we merely pity or ignore those who succumb to it. What’s more, those who fall victim to this temptation don’t lose their jobs; they keep them, often for a very long time. And that is part of the tragedy and destruction that comes from this temptation.
So, what is the most destructive temptation of a leader?
Well, certainly a leader falling to other temptations is destructive. But a checked out leader does more damage over a longer period of time. She might be plotting her transition from the church or updating her resume every month, focusing on the greener grass on the “other side.” Or it might be a minister biding his time till retirement, so aren’t looking to try anything new or learn anything new. It could just be a leader that has become disenchanted with everything. Embittered by experiences, he checks out to gain emotional distance.
Other leaders are just bored with the challenge of leadership. They start to coast. In some cases, a leader just gets engaged in a few areas that are easy personal wins–things that make her feel good about herself, but make now real kingdom difference. He avoids the things that are mission critical and that actually make the most difference. He would bristle at being accused of checking out: he is so busy, he’d say. But everyone around him senses it, even if they don’t share it: he is checked out on what matters most.
A checked out leader is obsessed with the next instead of the now, and that is destructive to the Church.
There are at least three ways a checked out leader becomes destructive to the Kingdom of God:
1. Avoiding Conflict– When you’re obsessed with the next instead of the now you avoid conflict.
Conflict is only worth it in the long run, because in the short term conflict can be a painful strain on the emotions, and the results are minimal. Confronting someone else takes deep energy, and someone who is checked out isn’t engaged enough to initiate and resolve conflict in a healthy way. One sign a leader is checked out is that conflict is routinely avoided. They don’t do conflict because they aren’t deeply invested anymore, and not in it for the long haul.
When conflict is avoided by a checked out leader, wounds persist, sins fester, and dysfunction grows. That is why being checked out is so destructive.
2. Undermining Community – When you’re obsessed with the next instead of the now you undermine community.
People can sense when you are checked out. They know that your heart isn’t fully in it. If you’re talking a lot about what’s next, everyone in the now feels short-changed–and they make less effort to connect. And that’s just them. One of the chief signs that a leader is checked out is that they are not engaging as deep in community as they used to. They stop going to small group, or they quit group functions and hobbies. They stop reaching out to others.
This all undermines the community they are supposedly trying to build. When a checked out leader undermines community everyone suffers.
3. Eroding Contentment– When you’re obsessed with the next instead of the now you erode contentment.
If you’re thinking about the next chapter of life then you skim read the chapter you’re now in. You skip over parts in order to get to the part you think will be better. This means that you miss out on a lot, and you don’t learn to be content with today, and haven’t sought the wisdom of Philippians 4:11b, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
The wise leader knows that the next chapter will be full of plot holes and characters they don’t like, and instead to enjoy the chapter they are in, to the fullest, no matter the circumstances. The story of life doesn’t get written well if you don’t fully engage with the chapter you’re in.
What can you do to resist this temptation as a leader? The same three areas are the antidote:
- Engage Conflict
By getting into the trenches and tackling the hard stuff your juices will flow again, and you’ll put in the sweat-equity needed to become obsessed with the now instead of the next.
- Value Community
By spending time with others in authentic relationships you’ll find that the friends you have now are some of the best of your life, or could be if you committed to them. Their accountability and friendship will help you become obsessed with the now instead of the next.
- Cultivate Contentment
By allowing the Spirit to fill your soul up, instead of your fantasies about the next, you can find contentment in Christ and all he provides for you now. This Spirit will give you the energy to be obsessed with the now instead of the next. Ask for this.
Those are at least three reasons I think checking out is a leader’s greatest temptation, and so destructive to the Kingdom of God, and ways to counteract checking out yourself. What are some other reasons you can think of? What’s wrong with being obsessed with the next instead of the now?
David Drury is a prolific author of Being Dad, SoulShift, Ageless Faith, The Fruitful Life and others. He is the Chief of Staff for the The Wesleyan denomination. He previously served as a local church pastor in five congregations in the Midwest.