Enjoying Weary Leaders

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by jcwill5

689174People were created to be enjoyed, not just for what they do, but for who they essentially are.

Sin disrupted, ruined, and perverted this original design, turning us into selfish users of each other.

Folks now are valued for what they produce and how well they perform, solely for the benefits and services they provide.

And when they are unable to produce, perform or provide, we discard them and go looking for a replacement leader, church, etc.

Restoration of Holy Enjoyment

Part of the beauty of the church is a restoration of this enjoyment within the bonds of God’s grace-giving, sin-removing, life-restoring and soul-transforming love.

He makes us new creatures, and takes up residence within us.

His infinitely beauty and all-lovely nature is transplanted into us.

His superlative goodness and breathtaking excellence is ever under the surface–waiting to be recognized, called out, enjoyed, and celebrated.

In other words, we can honestly enjoy Him in each other.

We can rightfully celebrate His goodness in our fellow saints, and in ourselves as well.

In fact, God even enjoys us when we’re still in process, as we’re making mistakes and growing, while we’re failing and learning.

And none of this enjoying grace is tied to our performance, our leadership positions, or our natural talents or qualities.

In Him, we can be enjoyed again without having to be used in some way.

In Him, we can be celebrated by grace however life goes, however circumstances run, however events turn out.

Counter-intuitively, only when we realize we are enjoyed even when we are useless will we begin to be supernaturally and surprisingly useful to Him.

Not for What We Do

Most people praise leaders only for their accomplishments or their services.

There are a few false flatterers, of course, who praise us to the heavens for some advantage they’ll gain.

But the most common comment a pastor hears is, “Good message, Pastor!”

It’s the nice thing to say, it’s probably not true, and it tells us that we’re being rated every time we speak.

It signals that everyone has brought their score cards with them to church, and has come to judge the performance of the worship team, their fellow church members, and, above all, the pastor.

To quote an old pop song, “I love what you do for me!”

All this shallow, judgmental niceness fits neatly with our modern consumeristic culture, where “the customer is king!” and “the customer is always right!”

But it has nothing to do with God, His grace, or His gospel message.

It is so terribly tiring, draining, and de-motivational.

None of us thrive long when we are surrounded by people who only want to know us for what they get out of us.

The Liberating Power of Being Enjoyed

How different it is to say, “I really enjoy you as a person!  God is doing a beautiful thing in you!”

How amazing it is to hear, “I really see Christ in you!”

How shocking it is to be told, “Your grief over your sin tells me that you are most deeply a lover of God!  And that’s awesome!”

And how miraculous it is to hear these words by grace– even when we haven’t been on our game, when we are chronically weak, when we can’t stop disappointing ourselves and others.

When undeserved enjoyment happens, the pressure comes off and lightness of heart comes upon us.

We who are our own worst critics, who so often see only our failures and faults, who are so painfully aware of our own sins–can yet be enjoyed and are actually enjoyed?!

Being enjoyed by grace tells us we are loved despite our mediocrity, our limits, our blindspots, our mistakes, our bad decisions, etc.

If we want our leaders to enjoy their positions and their congregations again, the cure is to bath them in free, undeserved, surprising enjoyment as new people in Christ.

Tragically, we begin by enjoying a leader, and then end up merely enduring them, and then finally end up despising them and disposing of them.

The spiritual discipline of freely enjoying them is the antidote they, and we, all need!

Championing Weary Leaders

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2016 by jcwill5

one-before-god-moses-aaron_1299392_inlIt’s one thing to analyze burnout, and dissect why it happens.

It’s another thing to be part of the cure, an active part of the joy of refreshment tired, battered leaders so sorely need.

So, in the spirit of doing something positive and holy, I’d like to discuss some encouraging habits that will make a huge difference in the leader, the group of leaders, and the congregation.

The first is championing them.

Championing Our Leaders

When we champion someone before God, we get in their corner of the boxing ring and pray over and pray with them as an unshakable friend.

It’s like two strong friends who prop up a slumping, weary soul–one on each side to lift them and walk them where they need to go when they are too weak to get there.

It’s looking behind their issues and beyond their struggles, and steadfastly seeing them as a lover of God and beloved child of God and valuable to God.

It’s seeing the good in them they can’t see because of their pain, inadequacy, and stuckness.

It’s serving as a mirror for them, speaking back into them the good that’s still there and that can still be tapped into and awakened.

It’s affirming their Christ-identity, their new nature in Christ, and repeating what God says is unalterably and eternally true about them in Christ.

It’s claiming and affirming the promises of God made to them, which are all “yes” in Jesus Christ despite their lack of merits, achievements, and productivity levels.

The Freeing Power of Championing

Strange as it sounds, being championed empowers us to deal with our ugly issues.

Being championed gives us the courage to face terrible realities about our souls we, out of weariness, normally can’t face.

Being championed is a powerful way of loving our friends when they despair over their souls, lament their plight, and see no way out and no way forward.

When we are bathed in love, when we are loved despite ourselves, when we are loved at the bottom of our lives, then we can be loved anywhere else.

And because leaders, more often than not, are required to be weakness-free high performers (which nobody is and nobody can be), they are left in supreme isolation and left alone with their toxicities.

A dichotomy begins between what’s seems true in public, and what’s actually true in private.

And so it goes until their secret scandal is outed, or their resignation letter is read.

The Relief of Championing

Being championed cuts through all this.

We are now bathed in safety and personal presence.

We are free to let go of the props, the public image, the highly elevated but false persona.

We are able to collapse backwards and fall into the waiting arms of God.

We can be a little lamb again.

We can be a dear son again.

We can be a sinner saved by grace and a child of God who is beloved in spite of our many sins.

We can reconnect to Christ’s love once more, and our new identity and our fulness in Him is tapped into again.

Championed Leaders Offer Hope

Instead of a self-made man, we can boldly be a God re-made man in the presence of the congregation.

Energy and joy flow back into us.

We are alive again in Him.

And, in response to such extraordinary grace, the multitudes are find their own drama is replayed in the life of the grace-redeemed leader.

They, too, drop their pretending and encounter the love and grace of God.

They hear their championed leader begin to champion them in sermons, in counseling sessions, and in leading them forward–not to bigness–but to worship the all-Biggest One who loves them largely.

And so it spreads….

Leadership Burnout, Part 3

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by jcwill5

There is a third, less visible reason for pastoral burnout in many churches.

denialPassive, Non-Protective Leadership

Beyond issues in the pastor’s own soul, or issues of toxicity in the congregation and/or antagonistic individuals, there’s more.

Burnout usually indicates there’s a high level of spinelessness on the church’s leadership team.

I say this because we as individuals and as leaders decide what we’ll tolerate, allow, put up with, and go along with.

There are things a leader really can’t say on his own behalf, that require the surrounding leadership team to powerfully and consistently address if burnout is to be prevented.

When congregations begin to make unspoken, unreasonable demands no human can possibly meet, surrounding leaders need to speak up.

Only they can say on pastor’s behalf, “No.  That’s not reasonable and is not going to happen.  Pastor has our complete support to not do this.”

Necessary Responses

When divisive, toxic souls begin to openly bully and attack pastors unfairly, surrounding leaders need to speak up.

Only they can say, “That’s not how Christians treat others, let alone our pastor, and will not be tolerated by this church.  You need to publicly and immediately repent of this divisive bullying!  As of now, you’ve lost your right to speak in public meetings.  You’re done.”

When self-seeking, unreasonable people begin to spread false rumors, conduct whispering campaigns, surrounding leaders need to find their voice.

Only they can say, “We hear untrue, vicious rumors are being spread by cowardly critics and that gossip against our pastor is happening in the church. Know these are lies.  Don’t listen to them.  And those doing it need to stop–now.  And if they don’t, church discipline will swiftly begin.”

Sometimes pastors are indeed the abusers, and really are the main problem needing their fellow leaders to strongly address.

But well over 90% of the time, it’s the offended interests and cliche of power brokers and religious controllers who intimidate and bully others that are the true, underlying, reoccurring problem.

Nice Guys Aren’t the Right Guys 

The problem is churches put nice, pliable guys into positions of spiritual eldership and soul care.

We end up with good ole’ boys or successful business types, instead of bible-wise, shepherd-skillful men of God who courageously stand up to evil–even if their friends are doing it.

When all is well, they’re happy to go along for the ride and let the leader be it all and do it all.

But when problems arise, they hide and get silent and avoid confrontation and allow their pastor to twist endlessly in the wind when attacked.

The truth is it is not stress or even conflict that burns pastors out, it is being totally unsupported and undefended by the very people who are supposed to be there when you need them most to stand with you.

Countless pastors discover, to their horror, that nobody has their back.

And when leadership spinelessness and congregational bullying goes unchecked month after month, year upon year, the leader fades and is beaten down and eventually quits as a hollowed out man.

Tragedy of Niceness

And the sad thing is these nice guys really do mean no harm.

They just don’t have the inner steel needed to stand up to evil and firmly stand their ground.

Especially when their long-time friends are the ones doing the wrong, and confrontation will likely end their relationship with the critic.

So they stay silent.

They allow it to happen, and allow pastor abuse to go on and on.

They wring their hands, sympathize, and would rather find another pastor than stand up for the one they actually have–avoiding at all costs the bitter reactions of their so-called friends.

They just won’t pay that price.

Overthrowing the Unholy Trinity

Burnout is caused by an unholy trinity working together.

There are people-pleasing, approval-needy pastors.

There are spineless, non-protective, nice-guy leadership teams.

And there are toxic “repeat offenders” who are allowed by passive, naive congregations to ply their gossip, bullying, and impossible demands without any check or challenge, year after year after year.

To thrive and regain their future, a bloody, prolonged battle using godly authority needs to be waged within churches to correct, heal, break and reverse all three strongholds.

There is a solution!

Leadership Burnout, Part 2

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2016 by jcwill5

unknown-1When it comes to pastor burnout, it’s tempting to blame everything on demanding, insatiable churches and congregations.

Our Problem, Too

But the truth is we leaders have some unholy issues going on in our own souls that need exposure, correction, healing, and redemption.

If I were advising a young pastor about to step into his first church, I would say, “Above all, beware of your unspoken need to be needed and affirmed and approved and liked by everyone at all times!”

Such a people-pleasing, needy approach to congregational life often is hellishly matched with an insatiable, boundary-free, flattering kind of church family.

An unholy bargain is struck, “We will affirm you–as long as you do what we want you to do and keep us happy.”

Break the unspoken agreement, disappoint or say no or show your flaws, and you can expect a relentlessly hostility that will seek to first reject and then destroy you.

It’s where a lot of burnout comes from.

The Perils of Great Success

Once in awhile, all goes surprisingly well and great success is granted to the pastor-leader.

So my second word of caution would be, “Failure and lack of progress are painful yet survivable–but beware great success, my friend.  It can eat you alive and end up destroying you!”

The super-successful pastor is credited with building a great church.

He is spoken of with awe, and is placed on a pedestal of indispensability and irreplaceability.

He is now expected to keep the success going and going and going, world without end, amen.

Reign of the Hyper-Talented

At the same time, “normal people” find only “the best” are allowed to serve in these thriving ministries.

Large congregations are magnets of talent and success attracts overachievers who shut out most people from doing any service for God.

A congregation of passive spectators is created, who are treated to displays of hyper-talent and dazzling excellence.

Anything that’s, gasp, normal or ordinary isn’t good enough.

It’s got to be better and better and better.

Which is a kind of unreality and which is a million miles from New Testament Christianity.

We end up with a modern kind of medieval Christianity, with a new priesthood of the super-talented doing all the ministry while the ignorant watch, go back to their regular lives, and find God remote and distant.

This, too, is a classic set-up for burnout.

Magnetizing Evils

In addition, bigness attracts toxic souls who long to be a part of something big–so they can suck self-significance out of it and gain their identity from it.

Bigness also attracts sick souls that want to hide out and be anonymous in a large congregation–while they ply their evils without accountability or risk of exposure (as they experience in a smaller church).

Heaven help the pastor that actually addresses these evils, or who fails to give them their weekly fix!

We end up with fakery, dishonesty, hiding, religious performing, public image focus, and anyone with any discernment goes, “yuck!” and runs for the door.

As healthy souls abandon us, and as yes-men and toxic souls surround us, and as impossible pressure to ever out-perform our previous greatness mounts, burnout is all but inevitable!

The Dispensable Leader

What the at-risk leader can do, and, in fact and out of loyalty to Christ, needs to do, is to dare to be dispensable right from the very beginning.

This means we refuse all flattery, and give all the glory to the true Savior, Jesus.

This means we don’t rescue people who are irresponsible, but give them homework and hand them back the responsibility to make changes, and ever ask, “What has the Lord already been telling you to do?  And have you been doing it?  If not, why not?”

Their crisis is not our emergency, and we are not at their beck-and-call.

It takes guts to draw and stick with godly, healthy boundaries!

That means we always encourage folks to have their own, unmediated relationship with Christ–and lead them to seek Him and be with Him and hear from Him personally and corporately.

We never take over the problems of others, but always hand their problems back to them and delegate the unresolved tension back to them.

This means we elevate others and recognize we are not always the best person/smartest guy in the room or in the building.

Others have gifts we don’t, see things we can’t see, and can do things we can’t do.

We acknowledge their contributions, thank them, and go with their better ideas for Christ’s success instead of ours.

And that’s normal Christianity.

That’s the body of Christ with different gifts.

Nobody is indispensable, nobody can say to anyone else, “you’re not needed”, and nobody needs to envy anyone else, “because I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body.”

I cannot tell you what a relief from burnout it is to be small and unimportant, and allow God to be all-big and all-important.

What Self-Decrease Looks Like

Self-shrinkage and humble demotion means we get small and vulnerable before God in prayer, in private meetings, in public settings.

It means we promote groups and teams of people, instead of the lofty genius individual.

It means we not only delegate–we actually empower others, nurture their souls, celebrate their gifts, rejoice in their progress, and watch them one day replace us and/or watch Christ multiply His work through them.

It means we must decrease, so that He might increase in them and in the congregation.

It means we are radically honest about our own need for grace, our own need for a savior, our own battle with indwelling sin, and our own progress in growth as believer.

It means, when we gather with fellow leaders, it’s not our idea but the best idea in the room that wins.

It means we listen and hear them, and accept their protection and counsel while doing the same for them.

Interdependency Under God

Mutual inter-dependency in Christ under His ultimate authority, instead of a Christ-less independency (or a Christ-denying false dependency) centered on our authority, is the goal.

Our greatest horror is to become someone else’s idol, to be their alternative to Jesus Christ or their substitute for Jesus Christ.

So we simply won’t go there.

So we launch groups of people who pray, who serve together, who do new things for God, and who don’t need our control to succeed.

So we out ourselves in our sermons as chronic sinners, and tell them how we cling to our Savior as if our life depended on Him.

So we toot Christ’s horn because He is our sole and only adequacy.

So we keep mentioning that what we need is not more talent, but an ongoing miracle, for anything good and of God to truly happen.

We All Must Leave Eventually

The final part of Christ’s leadership model is He left His disciples physically behind on earth, but sent them His Spirit.

He left them, but indwelt them and multiplied Himself through them.

One day we, too, will leave.

We will grow old or die or move away.

We will be called to a new assignment.

Or we will burnout or have a moral failure.

The true man of God prepares for his inevitable departure, invests and empowers others who will outstay and survive him, and multiplies what Christ has done in him into the lives of others who spread it around.

Such a pastor-leader will not only be protected from burn out, he will be Christ-energized and full of Christ’s own joy in his lowly dispensability, mortality, and temporariness.

There is a solution!

Leadership Burnout, Part 1

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2016 by jcwill5

unknownRecently, two highly effective pastors who led large, growing, well-grounded churches resigned.

They both spoke of “burnout”.

They looked good and sounded good, but they were running on empty for years.

Nobody knew and they felt disallowed from confiding their struggle far earlier in the cycle.

All or Nothing Outcomes

One chose to address it openly before something worse happened, the other announced it through a self-sabotaging act of marital infidelity that came to light.

Thus, in their own minds, the only way to end the meat grinder of ministry was to step down and step away from it all– one way or another!

This kind of thing is happening hundreds and hundreds of times every year, in all regions of the USA, in churches large and small.

It raises questions, “What is burnout?  How does it happen?  Why didn’t we spot it?  How can we prevent it–as individuals who serve and as a group?”

Here’s a rundown of their departures from a compassionate perspective:

http://careynieuwhof.com/2016/09/some-thoughts-about-the-recent-exit-of-two-megachurch-pastors/

www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/september/epidemic-another-pastor-burned-out-and-quit-last-sunday.html

How well I understand their plight!

And since everything I’ve read captures part of the picture, I thought I’d take a stab at it myself as a survivor of burnout viewing things on “this side”.

Toxic Churchianity

Burnout is not merely a matter of being too much and too long in high-stress work.

It tends to happen when, in a high stress situation, a leader is unprotected from unreasonable expectations and/or the attacks of toxic people.

The leader is placed into a false position of over-performing, while his leadership team is largely passive and is going along for the ride.

There’s also a passively spectating congregation, which expects magic from the magic man while they watch, rate him, applaud him if he astounds, and blame him harshly if he fails.

The leader is trapped in a false position of indispensability and omni-availability and omni-competence–needing to be it all and do it all for everyone.

Eventually, it all collapses and crashes down–first within their soul, then in their family, then in their ministry.

Everyone’s crisis is their emergency.

Exploiting the Need to Be Needed

At first, it feels great to be needed so much.

But soon, in the soul of the leader, this subtle ego-stroking seduces his loyalty from God to an “all about me, all on me” way of life.

The “high leader” is thus above the rules, free from all constraints, yet profoundly isolated, judged, and disconnected from God and from real relationships with soul friends.

They grow hollowed out, emptied, and go through the motions while they soldier on.

He is not allowed to have needs, not allowed to be limited, not allowed to have some gifts but not others, not allowed to be introverted or anonymous, and not allowed to fail or learn lessons.

In other words, we don’t allow our leaders to be Christians.

We fail to understand that these rams are really lambs, that these big guys are really God’s little sons.

False Christs

Instead of expecting them to serve the one and only Savior, we look to them to BE our savior–a sorry substitute for Christ instead of a humble escort to Christ.

Thus, all this ego-stroking has an ugly, ugly, toxic underside:  he is to blame for everything and anything that does wrong.

Nobody else is allowed to be responsible, no fellow leaders are permitted to share responsibility, and, above all, each individual is protected from their own personal responsibilities and consequences.

All the above is enough to drive even the most sane and centered leader crazy.

Long story short, much of what passes as “traditional ministry” is actually counter-ministry–counter to the teachings of the New Testament, counter to the ministry of Christ in and through His body, counter to the working of His gospel of grace in the soul of the leaders and in the souls of the congregation.

The Vicious Cycle

Dare I say it:  we set up leaders to be false-christs (substitutes for Christ), and make them our designated obeyers, our surrogate and vicarious substitutes, while we do nothing.

Then they crack and crumble and can’t take it anymore.

And we wonder why it happens.

Then we hire someone new to do it all over again.

Next time I’ll discuss what a leader can do to not go there in the first place.

The time after that, I’ll discuss what needs to change on our leadership teams and in congregations to end the epidemic of burnout in our ranks.

Hope in Hope-Lacking Times

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2016 by jcwill5

hope-quotes-14Several times this past week I had reconnected with someone who had “gone dark” in our relationship.

My first response was to imagine, “Did I do something wrong?  Am I on their bad list now?”, and wring my hands in discouragement and despair.

I was assuming it was about me….again.

Drowning in Our Problems

When we finally made contact, the truth came out:  they were drowning in their own issues, problems, griefs, etc.

It wasn’t about me at all–it was a life crisis that was crowding out everything else like ordinary relationships.

Then I reflected on my own life at such times, and realize I do the same thing:  retreating into crisis mode, going dark, needing someone to pull me up and out of the pit.

Needing someone to carry my paralyzed self to Christ when I couldn’t get to Him on my own.

The No Hope Era

We live in a time and season in our society where there’s little hope.

Politics and ideological polarization has left us stymied, stuck, and enraged at “those people”.

Few of us have much hope in our presidential candidates, our elected representatives, or our courts–all have become tools for exerting dominance and control by one set of interests over another set.

The glue that once held America together is coming apart–what core and what center do we even have in common anymore?

Our hyper-affluent, uber-technological, virtually connected but super-isolated lifestyles have left our souls sick, our emotions frayed, our relationships empty.

Our economy, for the non-techie, no college education, work-with-your-hands people, offers no hope at all.

First cheap, overseas labor, and now Robbie the Robot, is replacing multitudes of mostly men and offering them nothing but vocational despair for as far as their eyes can see.

Worse and Worse

Discouragement, demoralization, and despair are epidemic.

Clusters of self-destructive, emotionally numbing behaviors have progressed to become addictions that empty our wallets, our souls, and our lives of all hope.

Domestic and criminal violence and hostility are multiplying.

Depression has its grip over millions.

Suicide rates among the young and old of all races, and at intensifying rates among white middle-aged men, is epidemic.

There’s no answers, no solutions, and no ideas that have much prospect of reversing all this.

It’s a no hope era.

Or is it?

Could there be something far more mysterious, yet far more hopeful, at work here?

Could God be knocking on our collective doors?

Might it be possible that He’s allowing us to grow far worse only to set us up to make us far better on the other side?

Might He be making us frenzied and frustrated and disenchanted with our selfish selves, our pet causes and ideologies, and our designer idols?

Might He be doing all this, not to judge or condemn us, but to call us home to Himself in repentance, brokenness, and allowing His grace offered in Jesus Christ back into our lives?

Some of us who once were close to Him have wandered far and strayed away, and what we most need is to turn around, come home, and be restored to Him.

Some of us have been wounded by fraudulent messengers masquerading as His servants, or by religious social clubs masquerading as churches, or by parents who worship domination and control pretending to be Christians.

He offers these wounded and angry souls mercy, comfort, and a special place by His side as those who are most near and dear to Him.

He opens wide His arms to the politically despairing, the economically trapped, the sociologically marginalized, and the religiously fed up.

My New Hope Era

It took me several years to try every alternative but Him, and then to separate Him from the hypocritical religious clubbers of my childhood.

I finally began to read what He said about Himself in His own words, and found Jesus to be my soul’s dearest and best friend–as a sinner who finally owned by own stuff.

He was relentlessly, searchingly honest with me–exposing things I wanted to pretend weren’t there.

I had to finally admit my life was hopelessly out-of-control, that I was powerless and couldn’t self-fix myself, and had committed great and terrible sins that I couldn’t stop doing.

It was a turning over of control, an exhausted kind of surrender, a throwing up my hands and entrusting Him with all of me–placing myself entirely in His hands in radical, childlike vulnerability.

I expected nothing good.

Instead, I was overjoyed to find myself adopted as His son, totally forgiven, completely cleansed, filled with His life, and empowered to really change in deep and new ways.

Out of the pit of despair I found lasting, real, infinitely personal hope that does not fade or fail because it does not need human beings to do or be anything to succeed.

My prayer is my new hope era will be yours, and will one day even be our society’s as well if and when a critical mass of folks find what I found in Christ.

Religious Evil

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2016 by jcwill5

men-never-do-evil-so-completely-and-cheerfully-as-when-they-do-it-from-a-religious-conviction-5What comes to mind when we hear the word, “evil”?

Movie Pictures

Covens of witches casting spells and wrecking havoc on the innocent.

Groups of Satanists chanting in black robes surrounded by upside down crosses.

Red light districts and rampant crime zones.

Genocidal dictators and mad scientists.

Unearthed ancient monsters and villains from outer space.

These are the kind of pictures that come to mind when we think about evil.

Gross evil.  Obvious evil.  Evil wearing a uniform and coming to get us.  Horror movie evil.

If only it was that easy!

We have two complications that ruin all our simplistic ideas of evil, and which leave us far more at-risk from evil than we ever realized.

Personalized Evils

The first complication is us.

We all have an undying propensity towards selfishness, abusiveness, wronging others, lying, taking what doesn’t belong to us, feeling entitled, and…justifying ourselves.

We’re quite comfortable with our own kind of customized evils.

Evils that suit our personalities, that meet our needs, that fit our lifestyles, that validate our worth or our group.

We positively enjoy being in control, telling others what to do or how to live, and being elevated above others.

We unconsciously assume we’re God, assume the universe revolves around us, assume we are entitled to everything and anything at no cost to ourselves.

And how do you think I know all this?  It’s because I know me.

Evil Within Us

If only evil was “out there” somewhere, we could intercept it, quarantine it, and eliminate it from our environment.

But it’s “in here”, buried and lurking deep within us.

Even the most religious, the most highly-performing and most successful practitioners of belief systems, have a tragic undercurrent of evil they cannot self-fix.

The truly good, ironically, are open about it, are relentlessly honest in the sight of God, confess sin, and seek help.

They are those who ardently love a Lord who loves sinners as bad as them.

Eichmann and His Accuser

When Adolph Eichmann, notorious Nazi camp doctor and butcher of thousands, was captured in Argentina and brought to Israel for trial in the early 1960’s, it seemed straightforward.

But one of the witnesses against him collapsed on the stand in tears–not from being afraid of Eichmann.

He told the reporters later what undid him was Eichmann was so ordinary, so much like himself.

He realized how easily he, too, could have ended up just like the Nazi war criminal.

His disturbing conclusion was, “Eichmann is in all of us!”

Evil Disguised as Goodness

The second complication is the most malevolent kind of evil is almost always the best disguised.

It wears a mask of goodness and humanitarianism.

It masquerades as the right idea, the right cause, the right faith–then gives itself permission to commit the worst wrongs in its private life, or against those who stand in its way.

It goes to church.  It sings in the choir. It preaches from the pulpit.

It sits on elder boards and denominational committees.

It runs for elected office.

It appears beautiful and appealing on television.

It promises great things and offers an easy path to a better life–that someone else will pay for.

It tells heart-touching stories and utters believable lies we want so badly to hear.

Just One Condition

Only one little condition is required:  trust me, give power to me, worship me.

That’s why almost always, the very folks who denounce evil the loudest are themselves seeking the same kind of power.

They are typically blind to their own lust for power, their own craving for dominance and control, lurking behind their noble causes, lovely visions, and enthralling dreams.

By the way, true goodness, the true way of God, involves a vulnerable loss of control to His love and a sweet surrender to His will– as beloved, redeemed sinners.

Evil, on the other hand, promises us more control, more benefits, less pain if we follow the formula, work the system, keep the rules, observe the rituals, etc.

The Tragedy of Our Times

One of the great tragedies of our time is how poorly the American Evangelical church has done at being aware of religious evil, and of keeping religious evil out of positions of trust, influence, and authority in its ranks.

In the name of success, we have relied upon big egos, built big churches and religious empires under them, and fallen into scandal or division as irreplaceable big shots fall from their pedestals or age out.

In the name of success, we have failed to appreciate what we already have, pressured leaders to build bigger congregations and buildings, and fired them when they don’t deliver on our religious ego dreams.

In the name of success, we have populated our leadership boards with successful businessmen instead of spiritual shepherds, and replaced relationship-rich ministries with impersonal, mass-produced programs.

In the name of success, we have sought political power and sought to be our society’s moral policeman and defender of morality–while neglecting to put our own moral house in order and failing to love the unloved many all around us.

And it is not Christ, but evil, which has led us here!

Call to Mass Repentance

Tragically, we earthly success-seeking leaders have left our people disarmed, defenseless, unaware, and sitting ducks for religious evil.

We didn’t see the subtle shift towards religious evil that success-worship initiated, failing to understand that success-worship is itself evil, a kind of idolatry.

So let’s repent.  Let’s turn away from religious evil and be restored to our Lord.

May Christ forgive us and deliver us from the religious evil we have welcomed with open arms into His church.