Of all sins, the sin of abusive authority is particularly dangerous because it masquerades as righteousness, claiming to speak for God.
It challenges me because I am a leader, and because I lead I have a certain “authority”. Which means I can fall prey to a specific sin of leaders: abusing authority. And nothing will wreck a community faster or deeper than abusive authority.
We’ve all seen some leadership and authority go sideways. Where it goes bad, where they hurt someone (maybe you), where unquestioned obedience is the rule, where it’s just plain unhealthy.
But the answer to bad leadership, isn’t no leadership, but good leadership.
And to have that we have to recognize the fact that if we are a leader our inner life is crucial. If we want to ensure that we never abuse our authority our inner journey must be a priority.
What I mean by this statement is this: that if as a leader your inner life is in turmoil, unclear, or unknown you cannot lead well. Those who end up abusing authority, who try to “speak for God”, who masquerade as righteous have an inner life that is a mess, unknown, or hidden.
The truth is that if you want to lead well it isn’t about knowing how to inspire people, move people, or set goals. If you want to lead well you need to know yourself and God well. That’s the central starting point of leadership. If you don’t know who you are, you will be tempted to find yourself in power, accolades, or success and fall to the sin of abusive authority. Abusive authority can be prevented, but not without deep inner work of prayer, identity formation, and understanding of who you are wired to be.
I write all of this for two reasons. First, if you are a leader, and want to avoid the sin of abusive authority spend time to know yourself and know God. The inner journey is more difficult than the outward journey of leading. And let me say this, it’s also less cool. It’s way “cooler” to be leading a massive group of people. It’s less glamorous to be sitting in prayer processing why that little comment someone said really cut you deeply. But the process and inner work is true leadership.
And secondly, I write this as a caution for everyone of us. All of us are following someone, all of us (even if we are leaders) are influenced by others and their leadership. But we should be cautious of whom we let influence us. If who we are following who doesn’t’ seem to know themselves or God, simply be cautious, be wise, and be prudent. Because if someone doesn’t know who they are called to be, they cannot help you become who you are called to be.
So my main point from all of this – is this: leaders know yourself well so you can lead well. Take time to do the hard inner work. Because good leaders move to being great leaders not by bigger crowds, but by deeper inner work.