Lately, the church has lost some great servant-leaders that have finished life’s race, such as Jerry Bridges, Charles Ryrie, Gary Smalley, and Ted Ward. Each of these leaders contributed to great works, particularly gospel-focused endeavors. Many articles have been published giving thoughtful tribute to their ministry.
One of the great struggles for me, however, is that I can look at godly people through rose-colored glasses. I can easily get caught up with their great books, their great preaching, their great teaching, and romanticize their lives. In doing so, I make them into idols. I see their lives as some story to relive and rehearse, not recognizing that their personal failures are great and many.
None of these leaders is perfect. We must never build up a romantic view of the gospel-leader because they are flawed, weighed down by the same sin and equally in need of the gospel.
Weak Leaders Are God’s Servants
One thing I value about Scripture is the brutal honesty with which it portrays its audience. Every character is weak. They are sinners like you and me. They lack faith. They have flaws. They break promises with God. Weakness shows their true colors.
By weakness, I am not saying that the leader should burst into tears during every sermon preached, every Bible study taught, or every human interaction that is met with resistance. I am not speaking of that type of human emotion.
Rather, I am speaking of an attitude that each has toward personal sin. I am weak apart from Christ. We are all powerless apart from Christ’s glorious resurrection power (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).
True weakness recognized in the leader is falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Greek construction has a much stronger emphasis than our English translation. The sentence could be translated in the following way: “All sinned and are coming short of the glory of God.” The Christian leader continually falls short of God’s glory. The Christian leader is weak. And since all fall short of the glory of God, weakness can keep people from leading well.
Here are some examples of the weakness of God’s leaders from the Scriptures:
- Noah lay drunk and naked.
- Abraham lied on several occasions, calling Sarah his sister and conceiving an ill-legitimate child with Hagar.
- Sarah lied to God regarding her laughter.
- Jacob tricked his father into giving him Esau’s birthright.
- Moses killed a man and became easily infuriated by Israel’s lack of obedience.
- Aaron made an idol for Israel to worship.
- Gideon lacked faith that God would grant him victory in battle.
- Samson was adulterous judge.
- Elijah fell into great depression.
- And then there was Peter, who slipped up and denied Christ.
Wow. That’s a bunch of weak leaders.
Weak Leaders Recognize Their Need of the Gospel
Recognizing personal weakness casts me upon the glorious truth of the gospel. I know that without Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and his glorious resurrection I am unable to lead well. I am among other living examples whose “iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:1-7).
I realize that God is no respecter of persons. His judgment for sin is impartial. His forgiveness is the same. God never looks at me through rose-colored glasses. In fact, God calls me as I am and on the basis of what I am as Christ produces his fruit through me (Galatians 5:22-23).
So, Christian leader, what is the solution to our weakness?
First, we submit to Christ’s righteousness (Romans 4:1). We must mortify the flesh and put sin to death. We must lean on Christ so that in our weakness we might have boldness of heart (1 John 3:21).
Second, we repent of failure rooted in sin. In failure, we come before the Lord with honesty, brokenness, and fear, not stubbornly like a “horse or like the mule that has no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with a bit and a bridle” (Psalm 32:8-9).
Third, we see that sin has consequences, but that God redeems sinners. We often think our sin makes us unusable. Truth be told, sin can forfeit leadership positions both in the church and in our world. My sin breaks God’s heart. But does not end God’s gospel work in me (2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:11). Great sin leads to great consequences. Yet, each individual in Christ is still used by God to further his work in their lives.
Weak Leaders Should Not Be Romanticized
Maybe you’re like me, and you tend to look at godly people through rose-colored glasses. But God never does this. How then should we fight a romantic understanding of weak leaders?
Fight with the weapons that God has given. Namely, we fight this war with prayer. We avoid thinking too highly of the ideas of men, unless that they be Scripture, God’s very words. We pray earnest and honest prayers on behalf of ourselves and then for our leaders: “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Recognize that all men are servants of God. I am sure of this, that Jerry Bridges, Charles Ryrie, Gary Smalley, and Ted Ward would openly share their frustrations with the battles they had to fight in this life. They would most likely tell us not to follow them, but to look to Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2). They would tell us that they planted the seed, even watering it as necessary, but that God was the one who caused the seed to sprout (1 Corinthians 3:6).
These godly leaders would tell us to avoid romantic affairs with their lives, as though they were to be revered or treasured. They would warn us of making idols. Finally, they would say that sin is serious, that every person is a sinner, and that God is the One who forgives (1 John 1:9). For the life of Christ is the only life to be submitted to—the only life to be revered and worshipped.