The Journey Blog

Reflections on the art of leading

Confusing Conceit with Leadership

Another pastor flamed out.

The pastor had an affair, it was discovered, he was packed off for costly emergency counseling, and he still left his wife and kids for the other woman. He just caused a train wreck, the damage from which will shape his wife and children for decades. It will also spread through the families of the church, if it survives, for years to come—coloring their view of pastors, the church, and notching up their cynicism. This was completely avoidable, given the relationships and resources he had around him, which makes it all the more tragic. He isolated himself from those who would have surely spoken sanity to him before he came to believe that his hungers and shame were past the point of no return.

As a friend and I mourned the news, we also lamented the narcissism and hubris that so often accompany leadership and lead to spectacular moral failures. As we talked we were observing that these traits are the frequent pitfalls of leadership. What I believe, and what is more insidious is this:

Narcissism and hubris are often confused with leadership.

In our culture we embrace the picture of a leader as the person who is cocky - overly self-confident; who persuasively denies having limitations. Church leaders are in no way immune to the allure of human adulation and the pull of its fragrant, but bitter fruit.

Our culture worships results, regardless of the cost. We’ll try to meet goals nicely, with a smile and a youthful twinkle in our eyes, but if something blocks what we're after, we’re ruthless, or we run to worship of our truest deepest idol—our shining image of ourselves.

Those in leadership need places where they are able to be real: to be known for who they really are, and called on it when they forget.

This especially burdens me because of my work with highly gifted men and women like this who offer so much to the church, but are so often alone and hurting with no one they trust with their dark side.