“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5). If there is a religion that unapologetically emphasizes human fallenness, sin, moral corruption, self-deceit, greed, pride, and perverse selfishness, it is safe to say that it is the religion of the Bible.
Because of our foundational beliefs in the reality of sin, Satan, and human depravity, we should understand well why people in positions of authority are easily corrupted. In fact, the more thoroughly we understand the biblical doctrine of sin, the stronger our commitment will be to genuine leadership accountability.
BIBLICAL ELDERSHIP: SHARED LEADERSHIP
God has provided for his church and its leaders a formal structure for genuine accountability, the collective leadership of a biblical eldership. Not only is this concept scriptural, it is psychologically and spiritually healthy for leaders.
The shared leadership of a biblical eldership provides close accountability, genuine partnership, and peer relationships—the very things unhealthy leaders like Diotrephes shrink from at all costs (3 John 9–10).
Shared leadership can provide a church leader with critically needed recognition of one’s blind spots, eccentricities, character weaknesses, and sins. We all have what C. S. Lewis called “a fatal flaw.” We can see these fatal flaws so clearly in others, but not in ourselves.
These fatal flaws or blind spots distort our judgment. They deceive us. They can even destroy us. This is particularly true of multitalented, charismatic leaders. Blind to their own flaws and extreme views, some talented leaders have destroyed themselves because they had no peers to confront and balance them and, in fact, they wanted none.
But this is not God’s way. God made us to live in Spirit-knit community and to have strong accountable relationships. The New Testament teaches that every member of the believing community is responsible for encouraging, praying for, exhorting, serving, admonishing, teaching, building up, caring for, and loving one another (1 Cor. 12:25; Rom. 15:14; Gal. 5:13; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:24–25; James 5:16;1 Peter 4:10; 1 John 4:7).
The church elders should model for the entire church the one-another commands, including admonishing and exhorting one another. To hold one another accountable for sin is Christlike love in practice. To fail to admonish one another demonstrates not love but cowardice and selfishness.
DISCIPLINING LEADERS IN SIN
The Scripture emphatically charges the elders to confront sin within its membership or lose credibility before the church and walk in disobedience to God. The important accountability factor of a shared leadership does not work if leaders do not have the courage to confront fellow leaders regarding their sin and if there is no desire to faithfully follow the instructions of Scripture regarding a leader’s sin (1 Tim. 5:19–25).
No part of Christian ministry is more difficult than investigating, confronting, or disciplining sin in the life of a church leader. One can easily think of a thousand excuses for evading the correction or discipline of a church leader. Knowing the human propensity to avoid such harsh realities, Paul solemnly charges Timothy (and the church and its leaders) to comply with his instructions in 1 Timothy 5:19–20 regarding the discipline of a church leader: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21). Holding one another accountable for sin or failures is a matter of obedience to the Word of the Lord—it is not an option.
WELCOME CORRECTION AND REBUKE AS THE INSTRUMENT OF GOD’S HAND
Godly leaders recognize that they may be misguided or in error, so they welcome constructive criticism and correction. Proverbs repeatedly makes this point: “reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Prov. 9:8–9).
Sadly, most of us take criticism and rebuke poorly. Because of our perverse pride, we are defensive and overly sensitive to criticism—even truthful, constructive criticism. But we can’t change for the better or grow into Christlikeness without others correcting us. In affirmation of this principle, one Christian leader said to me, “My critics have been my best teachers.”
The psalmist David expresses beautifully the attitude of humility and wisdom with which we should welcome correction: “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5).
I do not hesitate to say that the relationship with my fellow elders for almost forty years has been the most important tool God has used, outside of my marriage relationship, for the spiritual development of my Christian character, leadership abilities, teaching ministry, and sanctification in holiness.
So I ask you to get down now upon your knees before God, and with all your heart, bless those who have the courage and love to “care-front” you about your sin and character flaws. They are your real friends and teachers. They are the instruments in the hand of God to perfect holiness in your life.