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. 

Jesus Came to…

by Ken Idleman 

It is the month of November 2019, and as a Christian leader, an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, I want to be sure I am representing Jesus and His purpose faithfully. Here is the checklist against which I am measuring myself today as a shepherd leader…

  1. He came to serve… “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life…” (Mark 10:45). This was His calling and it is mine as a Christ follower. I want to have the mind of Christ. I want to look not to my own interests, but to the interests of others. I want to be a servant of the Servant.
  2. He came to call sinners to repentance… Jesus said… “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). In our present generation I know this has to be done with genuine concern and a spirit of humility, but I also know it must be done. Today, the lines have been blurred. The black and white of God’s truth has been reduced to a politically correct grey. I want to be bold to do what Jesus did in the way He did it.
  3. He came to give light the world… Jesus said… “I have come as light into the world…” (John 12:46). So many walk in darkness… stumbling, confused, lost… in some cases hiding from God or hiding out in order to victimize others. Without His coming our world would be a very dark place! And He said to his followers, “You are [now] the light of the world.” I want to be a bright spot in my corner of the world.
  4. He came to divide… “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus warned that His loving Lordship would not be appreciated or embraced by everyone and that His cross would be an occasion for division in families and between friends. It was true then and it is true today that there are deep divisions between those who believe in Him and those who don’t. I am committed to help people find the bridge over this divide.
  5. He came to save us from hell… “For God sent not the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). It is scriptural and it is rational, in a world so obviously dominated by the struggle between good and evil, to believe that a good God will punish evil and reward good, but in His mercy will save all who return His love. I want to be on a rescue mission with Him.
  6. He came to give us eternal life… “… whoever believes on Him [Jesus] will not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It is stated in so many places and in so many ways in the New Testament. Like the thief next to him on an adjacent cross, one day we want to hear Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” I want to go to heaven with my family and take as many others with me as I can!

Will you join me in a devotional act of recommitment to His call?

Leadership Backbone

by Ken Idleman

Do you remember the scene at the beginning of Acts 23?  Paul had just been taken into Roman custody after the riot in Jerusalem in chapter 22.  The morning after the riot (Acts 22:30), the commander delivered Paul to the Sanhedrin to get a sense of what all the drama was about.  The high priest Ananias ordered one of his henchmen to strike the apostle Paul on the mouth for saying something politically unpopular to the ears of the self-important rulers.  Paul might have turned the other cheek, but he also said, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!  You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”  When a bystander pointed out Paul had insulted the high priest, Paul retorted with what I can only imagine was biting sarcasm: “I wasn’t aware, brothers, that he was the high priest; for it is written ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler…’” 

Whoa Paul!  That is ‘leadership backbone!’ 

But that wasn’t new for him.  It was a character trait he used and developed throughout his life.  In Acts 13, he looked a sorcerer squarely in the eye, interrupting his conversation with the governor of Paphos: “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil!…”  The sorcerer was struck blind on the spot.  Only a few lines later, in Acts 14, Paul was stoned by a crowd!  But that wasn’t enough for him.  Thinking him dead, some number of believers gathered around his body, at which point he revived – and went back into the city (verses 19-20)! 

Occasionally, we see similar courage displayed by political or business leaders, though not often.  One example that immediately comes to mind is Ronald Reagan.  He demanded, on the world’s stage, that Soviet Secretary Gorbachev “tear down this wall” as he stood mere feet away from the Berlin Wall.  He called the bluff of air traffic controllers when they threatened a labor strike.  He declared 1983 “the Year of the Bible” at the National Prayer Breakfast in February of that year. 

As Christ-followers, we extend grace toward the socially and politically anti-Christian, toward the incarcerated and convicted, even toward the totalitarian and inhumane.  At the same time, John 1:17 reminds us “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  I am taking the position today that we need at least as much truth as grace in our culture. 

Pray with me … Father, the Psalmist declared that “strength and beauty are in your sanctuary.”  We want to reflect both your strength and your beauty in our character because we, your people, are your sanctuary.  So, give us wisdom about when we should bow our heads in quiet submission and humility, and when we should lift our heads to shout with conviction what is right and true.  Jesus is our model as we aspire to “speak the truth in love.”  Give us your mind to know when we need to show your heart and when we need to stand firm with a backbone.  In the Name of Jesus we pray, amen.

Saying “No”

by Ken Idleman

I love this Scripture passage in the Pastoral Epistles:  Titus 2:11-14.  It consists in a short declarative statement followed immediately by one of the longest recorded sentences in the entire New Testament.  Ready to focus? 

Here we go:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

One of the first words we learn to say as toddlers is the word “no.”  You and I probably don’t remember saying it during our own childhoods, but those who have reared toddlers know very well that they have it down!

“Time to go to bed.”  “No!”

“Brush your teeth.”  “No!”

“Eat your carrots.”  “No!”

“Clean up your toys.”  “No!”

Of course, our job as parents is to teach our children the real meaning of “no” and the appropriate times to say it.  It can actually be a good word.  “No” can be used in a very positive way if it describes God-honoring boundaries for your life.  Learning to say “no” is a capacity that can and should be honed and directed; when it is, it’s a good thing.

To say “no” to some things is actually a virtue.  Saying “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions is a prelude to living a self-controlled, upright and godly life.  “No” helps to define your values.  It shapes your ethical and moral development.  It divides good from best.  It shapes your future.  It ensures your destiny.  

We all need more practice at saying “no.”

Agents of Joy

by Ken Idleman 

Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us as churchmen and churchwomen: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.  Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (emphasis added).  Church leadership should be a joy!  Christians can inspire joy in their congregational leaders and they, in turn, will eagerly follow such leaders.  I have heard it said that, “People won’t follow negative leadership anywhere.”  I take it that the converse is true that, “People will follow positive leadership anywhere.”

It was back in 1994 that I was personally impacted by a new book, Happiness Is A Choice, co-authored by Christian psychologists Frank Minirth and Paul Meier.  I think I had always believed the assertion implied in the book title, but I had never read anything in print that actually documented and developed the idea.  John Ortberg writes, “We will not understand God until we understand this about him: God is the happiest being in the universe.”

Joy is foundational to God’s character.  Joy is God’s eternal destiny of choice for each of us.  Jesus told his friends that his aim was that they should be filled with joy, but not just any kind of joy: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11, emphasis added).  The problem with people, according to Jesus, is not that they are too happy, but that we are not happy enough, and that we are not happy as he would make us.

Lewis Smedes puts it this way: “To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for your existence.”  C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  The apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).  The Bible puts joy in the non-optional category.  Joy is a command.  Joylessness is a sin, one that professed religious people are particularly prone to indulge in.  It is the sin most tolerated in the church.

Church leaders: we lead by example.  Let’s set this example well.

Pray with me… Father God, Your Word speaks of a ‘joy that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.’  We pray for that joy to show itself in our lives, in the moments when we are front and center and the moments when we are backstage, in our shining moments and in our unguarded moments.  We pray for this grace of joy… the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives that will attract others to the Lord of Joy, Jesus… in His name we pray, amen.

Living, Leaving, a Legacy

by Ken Idleman
My father lived a very full life of 94 years.  He started out as the youngest of four boys – not an enviable place in the “pecking order.”  He grew up in a two bedroom, one bathroom, nine hundred square foot house just 30 yards from five sets of railroad tracks in the little village of Tolono, IL.  His father, my paternal grandfather Lee Idleman, was a section boss for the Illinois Central Railroad where my dad swung a pick alongside his older brothers – 8-10 hours a day for a dollar a day during the Great Depression … which wasn’t really “great.”  He learned Morse Code and applied for an operator’s license.  He succeeded and was later promoted to Train Dispatcher (air traffic control for trains).  He married my mother and they raised a daughter and three sons.  I’m the middle son.  His family and work were my dad’s world until he was introduced to Jesus as a 38-year-old.  The Lordship of Jesus changed my father from the inside out – and a good man became a great man, as God measures greatness.  Ken Idleman, Sr. became a Christ-follower, a local church elder, and as a result, an even better husband, father, grandfather and provider.

I spent the last 48 hours of his life beside his hospital bed.  Dad’s lungs and heart were worn out.  But he was lucid into his last moments of this life as he fell asleep – and awoke in the presence of our Lord.  He taught me three vital church leadership lessons in his last days and hours.

  1. Legacy matters.  It is the one thing you leave behind that will survive.  You will quickly be forgotten after you die.  Just as you cannot remember the names of your great-great grandparents, your posterity will not remember you.  But your influence will survive you – if it is a legacy of real and deep devotion to what is right and true in God’s sight. 
  2. Love until the very end.  I remember how my dad looked at my mother as she left the hospital room on the last night of his life.  My own eyes took a picture of the expression on his face. He knew it would be goodbye for a while.  He would have to go on alone, without her, after 77 years of being with her, nearly every day.  And I remember the look on his face as he turned up on his side, managed a weak smile and said, “Good night K.D.” (his nickname for me).   It was the unmistakable look of pure love.  
  3. Leave well.  I remember some of his last words to me: “I would like to live longer. … But if it is my time to cross over, I’m ready.  I am not afraid.  It is well with my soul.”  That testimony was absolutely the best gift my dad ever gave me. In his hospital room he wanted it quiet.  No TV, no cell phones, no laptops.  I tried to get some work done as he quietly rested.  But he said, “K.D. I am going to need you to turn that off.”  It was uncharacteristic for Dad to be so assertive.  He wanted the curtains open, the light on in the bathroom, the door open to the hallway.  When I asked him that last night , “Dad, don’t you want to take your [false] teeth out?” he replied, “Not tonight Son.”  He knew.  I pulled the sheet up and read part of Romans 8.  He labored for breath as he softly sang a verse and chorus of Great Is Thy Faithfulness.  I laid my hand on his and prayed.  He said good night and fell asleep.  As I reflect on it today I am thinking “what a way to go!” 
None of us can script our passing from this life into the greater life.  But as Christian leaders we can live a legacy, and leave a legacy of faith and faithfulness that will live long after us in our nuclear family and in our church family.  

Excellent Work

by Ken Idleman

I like the way the Good News Bible translates 1 Timothy 3:1:

If a man is eager to be a church leader [elder], he desires an excellent work.
A companion verse that also applies and has always impressed me as a lifelong church leader is Romans 12:11 (NIV):  
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
The New Living Translation is a little more common and confrontational in the way it translates this Romans text: Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 
As a church leader, I am both motivated and a little convicted by these verses.
I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents.  They set the example with their post-Depression era “early to bed and early to rise” approach to daily life.  As a rule, my little brother and I were not allowed to stay up late, even on Friday nights.  We had chores to do the next day.  (That’s a word you don’t hear much anymore!)  We were not permitted to sleep in, even on Saturday mornings. When the basement flooded, which was basically every time it rained more than an inch, Dave and I were the “drop and mop” brigade.  When the green beans and strawberries were ripe, we were the two-man picking, snapping and stemming crew.  In the summers I could play Little League baseball … in the evenings … as long as I had worked during the day cutting corn out of the beans, and/or weeding the corn for a farmer in our church. 
But I have to say, as a result of the diligence and persistence of my parents, I got it.  Some might say I got it a little too well.  My problem has more often been achieving balance from the other direction.  I used to feel guilty for taking a day off.  I used to think I was a “shirker” when I would go on a vacation.  Through the years I have mellowed.  I now have no problem taking a Sabbath day at least once a week and a Sabbath week at least once a quarter every year. 
On the other hand, for me, serving the Lord has never felt arduous – not like “work.”  There is something that is regenerating in the process of working hard for God’s purposes.  And I am thankful that there is no mandatory retirement age for doing ministry.  I can do it voluntarily even after I have ceased to do it vocationally.  My 99-year old mother, Lois, is in a retirement facility, but daily she carries on a prayer ministry, a teaching ministry, a reading-to-the-visually-impaired ministry and an encouragement ministry that she discharges for the benefit of her neighbors.  I am still, to this day, challenged by her example of tireless, selfless service. 
And through the years, I have become a huge admirer of local church elders for their work ethic.  They typically volunteer many hours of their time for monthly elder team meetings, planning retreats, hospital visits, pastoral searches, crisis management and problem solving.  Of course this does not even count the scriptural priorities of a church leader – the prayer and teaching ministry of God’s Word.  We all get 168 hours in a week, which, in the light of such leadership demands, evaporate pretty quickly. For this reason, Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to Obey them [our spiritual leaders] so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

A Good Reputation

by Ken Idleman 

Paul’s first letter to Timothy details the character requirements of a local church elder.  1 Timothy 3:7 declares, “An elder must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” launched as a web site in 2001 as a place for people, in ostensibly committed relationships, to go if they wanted to cheat on their spouse or significant other.  Their marketing slogan: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”  The additional allure was the promise of anonymity/secrecy.  But alas, once again the things done in secret were shouted from the housetops!  The Ashley Madison database was hacked.  Their records were distributed in the public domain.  

But this time the national expose of secret sin did not result in the shaming of anyone who was particularly well known.  Rather, this time the dark shroud concealing immorality was stripped away exposing the sad lies and secret lives of a staggering 30,000,000 individuals, mostly regular folks.  The population of the United States is only 325,000,000!  This means almost one in ten people in our country were implicated in this scandal.  It means that no matter who you are, you probably know someone who has pursued this quest to experience marital or relational unfaithfulness.  For some it is just a fantasy you say?  They would never act on their fantasy you say?  Listen … if you shop, there is no guarantee you won’t buy.  If you flirt, there is no guarantee you won’t seduce or be seduced.  If you chase a fantasy, you will probably capture it – sooner or later.  And for many, their secret life of shame became common knowledge.  

Their good reputation with outsiders was at least temporarily damaged.

During the same week as the Ashley Madison hack, an Old Dominion University fraternity made the news by welcoming new female students and their fathers to the campus with garish black letters scrawled on white bed sheets hanging from frat house balconies: “Freshman daughter drop off!” and “Drop off mom too!”

It was an ominous harbinger of the very real danger faced by college girls, 25% of whom, according to a survey of graduating senior girls done by the University of Iowa, were subjected to sexual molestation, sexual abuse or date rape during their four years of college.  So, dads – entrusted with the protection of your daughters – what do you think of these odds?

I remember the late 60’s and the ‘free love’ movement in the culture.  It was dubbed the ‘sexual revolution.’  And Ed Stetzer is right: “A revolution means that a war is being fought.  In revolutions, bombs are dropped, attacks are launched and there are thousands of casualties.  Sadly, today the war is being waged against the way of Jesus … that marriage is between a man and a woman, becoming one flesh, in one marriage, in one sexual relationship, for one lifetime.”  And for those who have failed to follow the Jesus way, His cross stands in time and space as a tangible reminder that regardless of anything else, a way of rescue from sin and shame, guilt and judgment, still exists.

The Psalms gave us an infinitely better slogan than Ashley Madison’s to preserve a good reputation with outsiders: Psalm 90:12, “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.”

Trustworthy Leadership

by Ken Idleman

In the first eight chapters of Acts, Holy Spirit-inspired historian and physician, Dr. Luke, does two things.  First, he describes the birth of the Christian church on the Day of Pentecost.  Second, he exposes the strategy of the evil one, who sought to snuff out the life of the infant church.  In chapters 1 & 2 we see The Holy Spirit working.  By contrast, in Acts 3-8 we see the activity of Satan festering under the surface.  In these chapters, the three-fold strategy of the devil to smother the first century church is evident – persecutioncorruption, and division

These are the devil’s three exclusive weapons to blunt the impact of The Gospel and Church in every generation.  But he can never stop the impact of The Church.  Jesus created His Church, and she is invincible!  But if the enemy can trip up her leaders, the impact will be blunted.  Notice that all three of these types of assaults come against leaders/influencers. 

But we can meet these timeless assaults as trustworthy leaders if we face them in the power of The Holy Spirit. 

When we face persecution, stay faithful.  In Acts 4 and 5, church leaders – Peter, John, and other apostles – were arrested but Providentially released.  Faithfully, they kept on speaking publicly about Jesus.  In Acts 7, Stephen kept faithfully speaking both to crowds and then to the Sanhedrin, and even through his death at the hands of a mob.  In Acts 8, Saul persecuted The Church and as they scattered (Acts 11), they kept faithfully speaking to people they met.  Faithfulness breaks the enemy’s power to persecute. 

When he tries to corrupt, keep your integrity.  In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira fell to the temptation to lie before God and The Church about how much they had received from their property sale.  The divine death sentence impressed on the young church the seriousness of that stewardship sin.  Even in the secular realm, honesty and integrity are ranking at the top of business surveys.  A USA Today survey of Fortune 500 recruiters put honesty/integrity at the top of what they look for in potential employees.  College degrees were 4th on the list.  In the last couple generations, the trustworthiness of professed spiritual leaders has taken hit after hit.  Satan scored big in bringing down the likes of televised Christian leaders like Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton and Ted Haggard, and more recently, Tullian Tchividjian and Mark Driscoll.  In one way or another, they fell prey to the lure of fame, money, and sex.  Literally hundreds of Roman Catholic priests and bishops have been indicted for sexual molestation and cover-ups.  J. Hunt once said, “If you lose your reputation / testimony, you’ll be fortunate if you live long enough to restore it.”  Ephesians 4:25: Therefore, each of you must put off all falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we’re all members of one body.  When the enemy attacks with corruption, walk in the truth. 

And when he sows division, ask for wisdom.  In chapter 6, the apostles released the solving of the problem to men “known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.”  They had solid reputations (known to be), already demonstrating spiritual maturity (full of the Holy Spirit), and wisdom.  This trait of wisdom is one I do not hear much about in Christian circles.  Just like Acts 6, James admonished us of the same in the opening of his letter, (1:5): If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  In the realm of knowing God’s will when we do not have the specific “book-chapter-verse,” what is best?  Good leaders have this gift of wisdom; James tells us it is the byproduct of a strong prayer life.  When the enemy attacks with division, seek wisdom. 

God will bless your church despite persecution, corruption, and division because of the faithfulness, integrity, and wisdom of trustworthy spiritual leadership – your leadership. 

Speaking Truth in Love

by Ken Idleman

3 John verses 9 & 10:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So, if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 

In the content of the very personal letter of 3 John there is a warning about a man in the early church named Diotrephes.  He is described as someone who “loves to be first.”  He is described as someone who is standoffish and critical.  John says he “will have nothing to do with us” and that he is “gossiping maliciously about us.”  In fact, John said, Diotrephes “refuses to welcome any of the brothers… He also stops those who want to [be welcoming] and puts them out of the church!” 

Wow.  This guy, Diotrephes, had some major spiritual blind spots!  He was self-serving and self-projecting.  He loved to be preeminent, the center of attention, occupying a place of power.  He was what we might call “a control freak.”  He wanted to call the shots.  He expected people to defer to him.  He was aloof.  He was an armchair general.  He used verbal skills to manipulate and intimidate others.  He did not want the church to grow.  He was not a welcoming presence to say the least.  He even actively opposed those in the church who wanted to be welcoming of others.  He excommunicated people who were hospitable!  That is the furthest thing from a Spirit-filled disciple of Jesus – and he was wreaking havoc in the life of the early church. 

Thankfully, church people with attitudes like Diotrephes are few and far between.  They truly are the exception, and certainly not the rule.  However, when they do surface, they need to be firmly, but lovingly, confronted.  In five decades of ministry in local churches and our Bible colleges, I learned that if I get into necessary, loving confrontation early, we’re already halfway to solving the problem.  Situations like this never “just go away.”  If we think a problem “can’t get any worse,” it can. 

As the apostle John promised, “If I come, I will call attention to what he is doing.”  Remember, John was formerly described by Jesus as a “son of thunder,” so I’m pretty sure he could handle it.  But, without an Apostolic presence in the contemporary church, this task of loving-and-firm confrontation falls on the elders/pastors.  It must be entered into with a spirit of humility, but it must be done. 

Pray with me… Father in heaven, we know that people seeing Christ in us and hearing about Christ from us is the hope of the world.  May we never have a down day or even a moment of weakness that would cause us to identify with the alien spirit of Diotrephes.  As Jesus was, may we be ‘full of grace and truth.’  In His Name, amen.