Moral Authority

by Ken Idleman 

Let’s be honest and admit it.  We all know it’s true.  No one can effectively lead, in any context, without authority.  You have to have it to both endure and to be effective as a leader.  So what is authority?  In short, it is the power to influence others.  And while this may be a good, concise dictionary definition, it forces us to ask questions of ourselves.
So how do you get this intangible, yet indispensable, leadership commodity?  
It is not a set of techniques you learn. It is not a personality adjustment you make.  It is not a particular style you adopt. Deference is uniquely the by-product of genuine morality.  Your most important authority as a leader is moral authority. 
People don’t necessarily follow someone just because he/she has the highest salary, the corner office or their name at the apex of an organizational chart.  We have all seen people who have been conferred with lofty titles, honorary degrees and monetary perks who have not endured; nor have they been truly effective.  In fact, they often fail spectacularly because of the organic lack of followership that results from being perceived as secretive, insular and self-serving.  
But, by contrast, people naturally defer to someone they admire, someone they trust, someone who is perceived to be genuine, someone who is believablesomeone who is good.  

Jesus Christ is Exhibit A.  He did not take the political, military, fiscal or popularity path to exert His influence and change the world.  He took the pathway of humility and righteousness.  He chose to quietly and patiently love, serve, teach and extend grace to people.  And throughout the ages since His death and resurrection, right up to the present, more people freely bow their knee to Jesus as Lord of Life than any other.  
His secret: “He faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  He is the incomparable Leader of Leaders because “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every Name” (Philippians 2:8-9).  People instinctively follow those that they consider to be morally underpinned and personally sacrificial.

There is a reason why every single one of the ‘qualifications’ for a church leader/elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are character qualifications, except one – the ability to teach.  Jesus wants His church to be led by righteous men, moral men who embrace God-honoring holiness.  They were to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:5).  The Church is the one place where a man’s financial portfolio/net worth, academic credentials, business acumen, name recognition and connectedness in the community are simply beside the point.  We respect and select promise keepers to lead the church.  What are the commitments that the leadership candidate has dared to make and cared to keep in his life?  That’s it. 

So that was then … what about now?  Hebrews 6:6 clearly says that it is possible to ‘crucify the Son of God all over again and subject Him to public disgrace.’  This is happening most often today as Satan succeeds again and again in his quest to either immediately destroy or gradually erode the moral authority of the shepherds of Christ, church leaders, professed Godly influencers.

  • Gordon McDonald’s book, Rebuilding Your Broken World, is a personal testimony about the consequences of his loss of leadership because of his adultery. 
  • Jim Bakker was honest about the fallout from his moral failure and greed in his book, I Was Wrong. 
  • Jimmy Swaggart was nationally televised as he dramatically confessed through tears to his immorality, “I have sinned against you my Lord!”  His church and TV ministry tanked.
  • Ted Haggard, Robert Tilton, W.G. Grant and many other ‘leaders’ over the years have been publicly exposed for their sexual proclivities and financial improprieties.
  • Pedophile priests & cover-up cardinals have produced congregational disillusionment and incalculable financial loss for Catholicism.
  • Bill Hybels categorically denied the testimony of sexual impropriety by 10 different women and the abuse of power by several close coworkers… and then disappeared into thin air leaving behind a traumatized church.
  • Jerry Falwell Jr. has recently been indicted by pictures and videos posted online, along with his juvenile responses to his immoral choices, before walking away with $10 million of severance pay from Liberty University.  

Too ungracious of me to name names? Too much brutal honesty?  I am sorry, but we as the church have got to apply some kind of discipline to stop these 20th & 21st century public scourgings of the Lord Jesus.  We have got to do something to block these gut punches to the Body of Christ / the Church.  The perception of moral authority in Christian leaders has been and still is being undermined.

A Christian leader living a duplicitous life must repent!  A church leader involved in secret sin must repent!  The only other path is to resign and quietly slip out of the leadership yoke at least temporarily, if not permanently.  

Jesus and His mission for us – to lead all people everywhere to know His salvation and His loving Lordship – will suffer eternal loss if a leader fails to guard his heart and value his moral authority as the indispensable Christian leadership core. 

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