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Christian Living

Three Main Leadership Styles

Be Open to How God Wants to Lead Us

A minister once told me there are three ways to lead people. Some lead from above, others lead from the front, and still more lead from within. God can lead us in the same way. Consider these three leadership styles.

Lead From Above

Leaders who lead from above are a distance from those they lead. They give direction and expect people to follow through and do as they say. They lead through their words. Some do this positively and with encouragement. Others make demands and issue threats.

Rulers of kingdoms and CEOs of companies use this leadership style. For kings and queens, their position allows it. For corporate presidents, the scope of their company requires it. In churches, the sermon during the Sunday morning service is an example of a pastor leading from above.

Father God also leads from above. A prime example is Exodus 19:9 when God wanted to speak directly to the people. Though it’s not his fault, this didn’t work out.

The thought of God speaking to them so terrified them that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary (Exodus 20:19). Even so, God did lead from above, albeit through a liaison—as he did throughout the Old Testament timeline.

Today God continues to lead from above through the Bible.

Lead From the Front

Other leaders do so in front of their people. They want to be closer to their charges. They lead by example, and their people follow them.

This leadership style works well in smaller organizations (though some leaders will still choose to lead from above, keeping a distance between them and their employees or volunteers).

Aside from companies, teachers on a class trip lead in front of their pupils. It’s also a common way of training employees or instructing students, letting them learn by the example of their instructor.

Jesus led his disciples and admirers from the front. They followed him and watched what he did. He often urged listeners and those who sought his direction to “follow me” (Luke 9:23, as well as many other places). This was his call to action.

Though Jesus isn’t physically with us today to lead in front of us, we can still follow him as his disciples and learn about him and what he did through the Bible in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Holy Spirit helps us in this (John 14:26), which brings us to the final leadership style.

Lead From Within

The third leadership style is to lead from within. These leaders don’t position themselves over the group, keeping a distance from them. They also don’t lead from the front, expecting people to follow. Instead, they immerse themselves into the group and lead from within the midst of it.

Though the distinction between leading from the front and leading from within often blurs, with leaders migrating between the two techniques, usually one predominates.

Leading from within often occurs in business startups and service organizations. In these cases, leaders work side-by-side with their employees or volunteers. They teach and encourage as they work.

The Holy Spirit leads from within. We see this exemplified in a literal sense when the church works to settle the controversy about the need for circumcision. Their conclusion was a group consensus in which the Holy Spirit played a key role (Acts 15:28).

The Holy Spirit also leads from within in a figurative sense, from within us. We see this later in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit keeps Paul from preaching in Asia (Acts 16:6).

May we embrace all three of God’s leadership styles and learn from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet

God’s Leadership Styles

Just as people can have three leadership styles: leading from above, leading from the front, and leading from within, so does God. Though these overlap, we see God the Father leading from above, God the Son leading from the front, and God the Spirit leading from within.

May we embrace all three of God’s leadership styles and learn from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Why Business Practices Hurt the Church

Many Churches Try to Operate Like a Business Even Though That Model Doesn’t Apply

In our culture we’re familiar with the structure of businesses. We either work for a business or we run one. It’s a natural extension to apply these business practices to the church. But we shouldn’t, because a church isn’t a business. And the church needs to stop acting like one.

Consider these common elements of business practices:

CEO

A CEO runs a business. Ultimately the CEO controls everything and makes all decisions. While the wise CEO will delegate both responsibility and authority, in the end the CEO stands accountable for what happens.

Incidentally most CEOs receive huge compensation packages for their trouble.

In churches many people wrongly elevate the pastor to CEO status, and many pastors try to grab unto it. Jesus was a servant leader and so should today’s pastors. And by the way, they shouldn’t be a pastor for the money.

Jesus wasn’t a wealthy man, and he stands as a worthy example for ministry leaders.

Board of Directors

Businesses have a board of directors. In some cases these boards agree to whatever the CEO wants. In other cases the board rightly serves as a check and balance to the CEO.

Although some churches are truly democratic, where every decision results from a congregational vote, most churches have some sort of board. Some boards are elected, others are appointed, and a few are comprised of big money donors (money speaks).

In most cases the board serves as a rubber stamp for whatever the pastor wants. But the other extreme is micromanaging the pastor and dictating every action. The early church operated by consensus. Maybe today’s churches should, too.

Board Chair

Many times the chair of the board is the CEO. This means the board tasked with overseeing the CEO is also run by the CEO. The result is an ineffective board.

In many churches the pastor also runs the church board, rendering the board as largely ineffective. The pastor, who serves continually, gathers strength over time, while the board, which turns over every few years, becomes weak.

Profit Motive

Companies are in business to make money. Even nonprofits need to generate a positive cashflow if they hope to remain viable.

While the motive of a church should not be money, often cash becomes the soul focus of concern. The constant pressure of bringing in money causes churches to make decisions based on finances and to kowtow to the demands of big-money donors.

We understand how businesses run, but we are wrong to apply those lessons to churches. Click To Tweet

Return on Investment

Businesses make decisions based on ROI (return on investment). Remember, they’re in business to make money.

Churches shouldn’t be in the money-making business. They should focus on changed lives. The ROI for the church is souls, not dollars.

Stockholders

Businesses are owned by stockholders. The stockholders expect a profit from their investment.

While churches don’t have stockholders, most have members. And these members wrongly expect something in return for their participation. They forget the church’s real purpose is others not members. They forget to lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20).

We understand business practices, but we are wrong to apply these lessons to churches. A church that runs like a business becomes an institution and fails to embrace the Kingdom of God that Jesus talks so much about.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Why Being a Watchman Is Serious Business

People in positions of authority are liable if they don’t warn their charges of potential danger

The thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel opens with some vague references to upcoming danger, a watchman, and heeding the warnings of the lookout. Who is this watchman, we wonder? Could it be an anticipation of Jesus? Or perhaps John the Baptist who will herald the way for Jesus?

Maybe it’s you and me. It could be all of the above, yet there is nothing to imply that Ezekiel might be God’s lookout.

However, in verse seven, God declares that he has indeed made Ezekiel the watchman. I didn’t see that coming. But since most prophecy—perhaps all biblical prophecy—carries multiple perspectives, one for them then and one for us now—the watchman could be any of these other possible options, in addition to Ezekiel.

The Two Duties of the Watchman

There are two key things to note about the watchman. First, his duty is to be on the lookout and sound the alarm. It doesn’t matter if the people pay attention or not. Their outcome is on them. The key is that the person keeping watch alerts everyone when he sees danger.

The second key is if the watchman is negligent and fails to warn of the danger he sees. Then he must bear the burden of the deaths of all the people who he failed to warn. The people depended on the lookout to do his job and he failed them.

While we may never find ourselves perched in a tower scanning the horizon for an attacking army, our assignment may be looking for other things. Perhaps our job is one to protect, to watch for dangers be it physical, financial, emotional, or spiritual.

Maybe we are in a position of leadership, and those under our care expect us to stand guard to warn them of trouble. This may be for our family, our work, our community, or our church.

We need to be on the lookout and warn people of impending danger. Click To Tweet

Be On the Lookout

We need to be on the lookout and warn people of impending danger. If we fail to sound the alarm, any harm that befalls them rests on us.

Being a watchman is serious business.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezekiel 31-33, and today’s post is on Ezekiel 33:1-7.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

2 Key Truths About Leadership

The Bible Teaches Us Leadership Principles

The book of Proverbs overflows with wise advice and thought-provoking sayings. Often these one-liners produce the material for great soundbites or social media memes.

Yet some parts require a bit more work before we can find value in their words. Such is the case with Proverbs 14:28. It says, “A large population is a king’s glory, but without subjects a prince is ruined.”

Yeah, I get it. A king swells with pride over having a large kingdom with many subjects. Conversely, without people there is no need for a ruler.

So how does this apply to us today?

Let’s move from the concept of kings and subjects—which most of us have no experience in—and move to the idea of leaders and followers. This helps a lot. This verse teaches us about leadership.

Leaders Require Followers

Leaders have followers. Without followers, they have no one to lead. Some leaders have many followers, and others, just a few. Yet all leaders must have followers. It’s a requirement for leadership. You can’t have one without the other.

Whether it’s in business, nonprofits, or churches, the leaders of these institutions must have followers. Otherwise the organization cannot continue, as its survival requires both leaders and followers.

When followers don’t respect a leader, they soon cease following. While some leaders inspire loyal followers, the leadership of others has the opposite effect. They push people away.

If you’re leader, look at your followers. If your number of followers is growing, their actions demonstrate loyalty, and you have a stable base, this implies you’re an effective leader.

However, if your number of followers is shrinking (or nonexistent), you struggle to get them to do what you want, and your team keeps leaving, this implies you’re an ineffective leader. Though you can develop leadership skills, it may already be too late if your followers are scattering.

Followers Makes Leaders

What if you don’t view yourself as a leader or aren’t in a leadership position, but always have people around you, asking your opinion or wondering what they should do next? Maybe you’re a leader. Or at least it proves people view you as a leader, as someone they want to follow.

In fact, these people are already following you. They see leadership qualities in you. It’s just that you don’t realize it. While you could send them away to follow someone else, accept the respect they place in you and work to become a better leader for them.

While this may not be a recognized position, the fact that you have followers confirms the reality that you’re a leader.

God intends some people to lead and others to follow. Click To Tweet

God intends some people to lead and others to follow. Make sure you function in the role he created for you. Trying to be a leader when you’re not or ignoring your leadership when other people see it in you, causes you to fall short of what God wants for you.

While the world values leaders and applauds them, God has a different perspective. He affirms those who do what he calls them to do, both leaders and followers.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Proverbs 12-14, and today’s post is on Proverbs 14:28.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Those in Power Must Curb its Use or Risk Becoming Corrupted By It

When leaders have absolute power they can commit terrible atrocities

In the early days of the nation of Israel, a time under its first king, we witness a bad transition of leadership. King Saul abuses his power and shows his lack of trust in God.

David Anointed King

God wants him gone, replacing him with the shepherd David.

God directs Samuel to anoint David as king, but David doesn’t immediately assume the throne. He must wait.

Saul, acting in a manner we might describe as bipolar, alternates between loving David and hating him, between allowing David to live and hunting him down. Once when fleeing for his life, the priest Ahimelek, assuming David is on the King’s business, aids David.

David escapes. All is good—for a time.

King Saul Abuses His Power

Furious and paranoid, Saul accuses everyone of conspiracy. Doeg snitches on Ahimelek, and Saul orders the priest’s execution, along with his whole family. Doeg carries out the order, not only killing Ahimelek and his family, but also slaughtering all of the priests in the area, along with the entire town.

Saul abuses his power as king to order the unjust execution of one of God’s priests and family. Click To Tweet

Saul abuses his power as king to order the unjust execution of one of God’s priests and family. Doeg, acting under the king’s authority, abuses his power and annihilates an entire town. As king, Saul has supreme rule. He has absolute power and he misuses it absolutely.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 20-22, and today’s post is on 1 Samuel 22:13-19.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Opposition to Nehemiah

Learn More about Nehemiah

Under the wise leadership of Nehemiah, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were rebuild in only 52 days. That’s less than two months.

That seems quick and it sounds like it would have been easy, but it wasn’t. Nehemiah faced severe opposition, in multiple ways, that threatened progress and could have easily derailed the project. Yet he stood firm, with his vision firmly fixed on his objective. At each step he deftly dismissed each interruption that could have distracted him from his mission.

This opposition took various forms, from ridicule to political, bad advice to prophetic subterfuge, and well-sounding distractions to a strategy of physical attack.

In response to the plan to attack and kill the workers, Nehemiah prayed first and then took tangible action to protect themselves.

Too often, when faced with adversity, we take action first and then pray as an afterthought, if at all. It’s not until we’ve exhausted all our own ideas that we seek God for him to rescue us.

This is not what wise leadership does—and its not what we should do. We need to seek God first—and then take reasonable precautions.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Nehemiah 1-4, and today’s post is on Nehemiah 4:9.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

10 More New Testament Practices, Part 2

Examine What the Early Church Did and Apply It

In part one of this post we looked at the first five practices of the early church as detailed in the Bible. They relied on Holy Spirit power, they worshiped God, they spent time in prayer, they fasted, and they lived in community.

Here are the other five characteristics of Jesus’s church as found in Scripture.

6. Breaking Bread

Food is essential to life. Except for when we fast, we eat every day. Most people eat multiple times each day. Though we could eat in solitude, we enjoy food more when in the company of others.

Sharing a meal is also a cornerstone of community. This isn’t a monthly potluck or an after-church fellowship hour. It’s a time of celebration of life around the table.

The New Testament sometimes uses the concept of breaking bread. The phrases breaking bread, break bread, and broke bread only appear in the New Testament. Should we understand this idea of breaking bread as a euphemism for communion or simply for any time people share a meal?

Yes. It’s both.

We should remember that sliced bread didn’t exist two thousand years ago. Though they could have cut bread with a knife, it’s more likely they used their hands—the most convenient tool available to them—to divide a loaf and distribute it to everyone at the meal.

At the world’s first ever communion service, Jesus takes bread and breaks it into pieces so he can pass it out to his disciples.

This takes place during the Passover meal (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, and Luke 22:19). Paul references this concept (1 Corinthians 10:16). And we see it used twice for communion in the book of Acts (Acts 2:42, 46).

Yet the idea of breaking bread also refers to an ordinary meal. After Jesus travels down the road to Emmaus with two of his followers, they sit down to eat. Jesus takes the bread, thanks God for it, breaks it into pieces, and passes it out to them (Luke 24:30).

Breaking bread, that is, sharing a meal, also occurs after Eutychus falls to his death and Paul raises him from the dead. In celebration they share a meal (Acts 20:7, 11).

Another time occurs when Paul is at sea during a terrible storm. The crew and passengers have given up all hope. Paul encourages all the people on board by telling them that though they will lose the ship and cargo, everyone will live.

He takes bread, thanks God for it, breaks it, and gives it to everyone to eat, all 276 people (Acts 27:35). Most of the people who eat this bread aren’t followers of Jesus. To them this breaking of bread is a simple meal and not a religious rite.

At the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus says the bread represents his body, which would soon be broken as part of his crucifixion. At every meal afterward, Jesus’s followers would see this breaking of bread, and it would automatically remind them of Jesus’s body broken for them in the ultimate sacrifice.

Without speaking a word, the breaking of bread at each meal reminds Jesus’s followers of him.

In this, they see breaking bread as both sacrament and supper. In this sense, communion is a meal, and a meal is communion. May we embrace this understanding just like the early church.

7. Care for Their Own

The early church shares what they have with one another, and no one has any needs (Acts 2:44–46 and Acts 4:33–35). Notice the focus is on meeting needs, not fulfilling wants. It’s critical to distinguish between the two.

Needs refer to what we require to survive, the basics of life: food, clothes, and shelter. Wants are those items that go beyond basic survival requirements. It’s essential we help people with their needs, but supplying the things they want is optional.

God has a heart for widows and orphans. He commands we care for them in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 14:28–29, Psalm 68:5, and Jeremiah 49:11). These instructions carry forward to Jesus’s church (James 1:27).

Paul adds clarification about caring for widows in his letter to Timothy. Paul writes that a widow’s children and grandchildren should put their faith in action by caring for her. And those who have no family members to support them, addressing their needs falls to Jesus’s church (1 Timothy 5:3–4).

A third example is Jesus’s followers in one area taking up a collection to help believers in another. This isn’t a command, nor is it a request by those in need. It’s a voluntary action by those who feel led by the Holy Spirit to help other believers who struggle (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:26, 1 Corinthians 16:1–4, and 2 Corinthians 8).

Interestingly, this is the only time the New Testament talks about taking a collection or receiving an offering of financial gifts. It’s to help those in need, not finance a local church.

8. Value One Another

Throughout the New Testament we see instructions of how we should treat one another. Let’s call these the “one another” directives. We are to:

The charge to love one another is the most common of these one-another comments, mentioned ten times. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all tell us to love one another. Jesus says that loving one another is his new command to us (John 13:34-35).

Another time Jesus says that the greatest commandment of the Old Testament law is to fully love God, and the second most important one is to love others as much as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:35-40).

In a world that has multiple meanings for the word and a distorted understanding of how it functions, what does real love look like? How do we fully love one another? The Bible explains that too. Paul says that love:

  • is patient
  • is kind
  • does not envy
  • does not boast
  • is not proud
  • is not dishonorable of others
  • is not self-seeking
  • is not easily angered
  • keeps no record of wrongs
  • does not delight in evil
  • rejoices with the truth
  • always protects
  • always trusts
  • always hopes
  • always perseveres

From God’s perspective on the topic, love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). We can then understand love as an overarching principle, a foundation for all others. Afterall, Paul does say that love stands above all else (1 Corinthians 13:13).

As a church, however, we’re doing a poor job of following these one-another instructions. If each person individually did their part to apply these commands in their every-day interactions, our church would be a much different place. And the world in which we live would be better off.

If each person did their part to apply these biblical instructions on how to treat one another, our church—and our world—would be a much better place.

9. Help Others

We’ve talked about how we should care for our own and value one another. These examples direct our attention inward, telling us to care for those in Jesus’s church and instructing how we should act with each other.

This doesn’t imply, however, that we should dismiss those outside of our faith community. We should also reach out to them and seek to help them too.

As we provide for them what they need, we have an opportunity to tell them the good news about Jesus (Acts 5:42, Acts 13:32, and 1 Thessalonians 3:6). This aligns with what Jesus commands (Matthew 28:19–20).

In addition to helping widows and orphans, we’re also to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2 and 3 John 1:5). Quite simply, a stranger someone who we don’t know. This may involve giving them money, but it could also involve helping them receive justice (2 Corinthians 7:11).

Another consideration is to offer them Jesus’s healing power. Though healing people in Jesus’s name was common in the early church, for many that ability has slipped from their practices today.

The Bible tells about people bringing their infirmed friends and placing them on the street where they expect Peter to travel. They hope Peter’s shadow might fall on the sick as he passes by.

Though the Bible doesn’t confirm that people received healing this way, why would they go to this trouble if Peter’s shadow hadn’t healed others in the past (Acts 5:15)?

Later in the book of Acts, we read about God doing astonishing miracles through Paul.

This supernatural power is so extraordinary that even handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul touches contain God’s healing power. They bring these garments to people who need healing.

The people who receive them are cured and evil spirits are cast out, even though Paul isn’t physically present (Acts 19:11–12). Is God still in the business of healing people like this?

Some Christians today claim that supernatural healing power died with the apostles, but there’s little biblical support for this position. Jesus said his followers would do all that he did—including healing people—and more.

We will do even greater things than he did once he reunited with his Father and they sent us the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26 and Acts 1:4–5). We see that after people receive supernatural healing an opportunity arises to tell them about Jesus (Acts 3:1–10, Acts 8:6–8, and Acts 9:32–35).

10. Flexible and Informal Leadership

In the New Testament we don’t see much indication of a formal leadership structure. Yes, people do serve in leadership roles, but it’s not hierarchical or formally instituted. And the various church’s never vote on who should lead them. Nor do they hire a minister. So why do we?

After Jesus returns to heaven, the disciples assume a leadership role. This is natural because they know Jesus better than any of the newer converts and are in the best position to teach them (Acts 2:42).

Decision-making in the early church is not democratic. One time they cast lots to pick a leader (Acts 1:26). Another time the people recommend the first deacons. Then the apostles accept who they suggest and pray for them (Acts 6:5–6).

In Acts we see Paul and Barnabas visiting the various churches to appoint leaders. They make their selections through prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). Paul tells Titus to do the same thing on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5).

But mostly we see people taking initiative, doing what’s needed to advance Jesus’s church, as led by the Holy Spirit. For example, consider Apollos acting on his own accord to tell others about Jesus (Acts 18:24–25).

No one authorizes Apollos to be a missionary. He doesn’t need permission. He just acts.

Then Priscilla and Aquila take it upon themselves to expand Apollos’s understanding of Jesus (Acts 18:26). And no one appoints Priscilla and Aquila to further Apollos’s knowledge of Jesus. They see a need, and they meet it

The early church has a lot of lay leadership and functions in an almost egalitarian manner. In this, they rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them (Acts 15:28).

Apply these key practices of the early church to your religious activities. Click To Tweet

All 10 Early Church Practices

These ten practices of the early church serve as an example to guide our priorities today. In addition to having a new perspective on buildings, priests, and tithing, Jesus’s church models ten additional practices:

  1. They rely on Holy Spirit power and direction.
  2. They worship God.
  3. They pray.
  4. They fast.
  5. They pursue community.
  6. They break bread and eat together.
  7. They care for their own.
  8. They value one another.
  9. They help others.
  10. They a flexible and informal leadership.

How can you apply these in your church today?

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Watch Out For Churches That Behave Like Cults

Some People Blindly Accept Church Rhetoric, but They Risk Going Down a Dangerous Path

We’ve all heard stories of people taken in and indoctrinated by cults. Though some stories end happily after they extricate themselves from the control the cult, too many situations end badly.

There are many common characteristics to help us identify cults and cult-like behavior. Here are some of the key things that reoccur on many of these lists.

  • Utopia: The community seems too good to be true. Everything is wonderful; there are no problems. Peace and harmony abounds. (And when a potential problem surfaces, it’s quickly squelched.)
  • Exclusive Leadership: One person, or a handful of people, exercises excessive control over the group and restricts other people from participating in leadership.
  • Absolute Beliefs: Their group has the only true understanding of truth. All other groups are false.
  • Loyalty: Devotion and submission to the group is expected.
  • Persecution Complex: Everyone else is against them. The group has an us-versus-them mentality.
  • Critical Thinking Opposed: Questions aren’t tolerated and are quickly repressed.
  • Isolation: Members are separated from family and friends.
  • Shunning: People are discouraged from leaving, with excessive penalties for those who try.
  • Dependence: The group creates an emotional dependence by offering excessive love, acceptance, and support.
  • Lack of Transparency: The group’s finances are hidden from members, and inappropriate behavior by its leaders is accepted without question.

When we read this list, we’re quick to agree these characteristics are both wrong and damaging. We would never want to be in a group that behaved this way.

The behavior and attitudes at some churches parallel many characteristics of a cult. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, I’ve seen some churches whose behavior and attitudes parallel many of these characteristics of a cult. While I won’t label them a cult, the way they function fills me with apprehension.

  • These churches have a dynamic, charismatic minister who people follow without question and accept every word he or she says.
  • The church’s doctrine is presented as the only true understanding, with everyone else being an error.
  • Members are encouraged to separate themselves from those who disagree with the church’s teaching, including their family and friends.
  • The church envelops its members, providing a tight emotional bond and offering support to such an extent that members worry about what they will lose if they leave.
  • Though threats aren’t given, the outcome is clear they risk being cut off from the community.

Am I claiming that some churches are cults? No. But I am suggesting that they’re veering too close. And from the outside it’s sometimes hard to see the difference.

What’s the Solution?

  • Don’t allow one person to control or dominate the group.
  • Share leadership broadly.
  • Be transparent.
  • Be egalitarian.
  • Encourage questions.
  • Seek diversity.
  • Make Jesus the focus.
  • Let the Bible guide in all things.

When I read about the early church in the book of Acts I see this type of positive, open community demonstrated in how they function. We must consider their example carefully.

The challenge in this is to examine our own church’s practices in the light of these characteristics of a cult. Then take whatever steps are needed to avoid even the appearance of cult-like activity.

With so much at stake, we can’t risk even the appearance of impropriety.

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Don’t Judge Jesus By His Church or Its Clergy

Our Spiritual Leaders May Fail Us and Let Us Down but Jesus Never Will

Relevant magazine cited a Gallup poll that revealed America’s trust in the clergy has hit a record low. And it’s fallen steadily since 2002. In the early 80s two thirds of people respected spiritual leaders. Now only a bit more than one third (37 percent) do.

Though the clergy appears above the midpoint on the list, they’re still far from the top. Nurses hold the top spot at 84 percent, with the bottom slot going to members of Congress at 8 percent.

I mourn this decline in the standing of our clergy.

If there’s anyone we should be able to trust, it’s our spiritual leaders. Yet trust must be earned. And once it’s earned, it must be maintained. As a group, today’s clergy isn’t doing enough to maintain trust.

I won’t name names or mention specific organizations. I’m sure you can quickly make a list. It saddens me that most everyone can site a religious leader who has let them down through their moral failings or ethical lapses.

Our spiritual leaders may falter and let us down, but we must remember that Jesus never will. Click To Tweet

Standards for Clergy

Although the clergy are human and subject to temptation just like everyone, they must rise above their human failings. Because of their influence, they will be held to a higher standard (James 3:1). Yet they don’t always do this.

And when they falter, everyone knows it. Their sins are (eventually) broadcast for all to see (Luke 8:17).

They must be an example for us to follow, not to avoid. Paul got this. He urged people to follow him, in the same way he followed Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). That should be the standard for every leader in Jesus’s church

However, we shouldn’t judge Jesus by the shortcomings of our religious leaders. We shouldn’t turn our back on God and reject him, just because some of his representatives failed us and disappointed us.

Our spiritual leaders may falter and let us down, but we must remember that Jesus never will, and Father God never will either (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Book of Numbers Shows Us a Wise Step to Follow

Throughout the Bible We See Examples We Can Apply in Our World Today

As we move toward the end of the book of Numbers, we see God allocating Canaan—the Promised Land—to the twelve tribes of Israel. First, God gives Moses the western, northern, eastern, and southern borders of the nation.

Then he indicates which tribes will live east of the Jordan and which will reside to the west.

But he doesn’t give any details for tribal boundaries within this area. Instead, he says to divide the land by lots. That is, to conduct a random drawing. Though this seems akin to a game of chance, the people likely believe God will direct the results.

In the book of Acts, we see the same thing in choosing a disciple to replace Judas. In this case the disciples explicitly ask for God to direct the outcome (Acts 1:24–26).

In all we do, we must be wise. Click To Tweet

An Additional Wise Step to Take

However, instead of relying only on lots to make the selection, God designates one leader from each tribe to be involved in the process (Numbers 34:18).

This wise step provides the people with assurance that the drawing occurred properly, and nothing interfered with the selection of territory as God intended.

Though Moses could have simply drawn lots himself to assign territory to the twelve tribes, having representatives from each tribe present to witness the process, helps give the people confidence that everything happened as it should.

Though this seems like an unnecessary step, it’s also a wise step. Likewise, we are wise to follow this perspective in the proper management of our local church and the administration of our denomination or association.

At one level we can equate this additional level of oversight to poll watchers during an election. At another level this is like a check and balance in government. In an ideal world, neither one of these is necessary. However, in a fallen world this is a wise precaution to take. And in all we do, we must be wise.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 34-36, and today’s post is on Numbers 34:18.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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