The Cult of Personality

At the end of The Return of the Jedi a surrendered Luke Skywalker is taken into the presence of the Evil Emperor, in the throne chamber of the Death Star.  It’s a dark, mechanical, futuristic room that features a giant fishbowl window that looks out onto the vastness of space.

To me the room is all wrong.

The cold and heartless area was a nice attempt at designing the lair of a man who lusts for power and universal domination, but while the Emperor may be interested in dominating the galaxy, a plain fact of life is that cruel dictators are actually way more into themselves than they are into the thing they want to posses. This is why every toppled dictator has a palace filled with paintings and golden statues of themselves.

The Galactic Emperor’s chamber needed to feature a giant, gilded mirror as opposed to a massive window.

In the past year, the revolutions of the Arab world have shed a renewed light on the face of dictators and despots.  As palaces and residences have fallen to rebel forces, we’ve been treated to a predictable buffet of images dedicated to the former leader’s largesse.

The pattern that emerges in each situation is no longer surprising:  Abusive men with mercurial personalities spent their youth rallying a staff of enablers who constructed a lifestyle of luxury for themselves at the expense of the people they supposedly led.

The narcissistic dictator surrounds himself with underlings who will do whatever it takes to keep him in power, while the underlings bow to whatever demands are made, maintaining their position inside the walls of his opulence.

Eventually the swaggering young man becomes an aged and impotent older man who is unable to hold sway over the masses. That’s when the young rebels pounce on him like wolves devouring an aged chieftain.

As it ends, the servants and sycophants are forced into the streets to fend for themselves. With no real-life skills or reputation to draw from, the enablers of the former regime become grist for a cyclical mill that will soon place another self-obsessed “representative of the people” atop the heap.

This doesn’t just happen in dusty lands far from here though does it?

You’ve worked at a place like the one I described haven’t you? Sure the leader didn’t have a military cap or the sunglasses/turban combo but he might have had a beard and a lot of yes-men.

Maybe it wasn’t a job but a family? You know the kind of living arrangement where everyone struggles to keep one person from blowing up at everybody else. Sometimes it’s dad and sometimes it’s a baby but we always try to make it cute by saying things like, “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.”

Sadly this happens at church too.

It’s usually easy to recognize when a Senior Pastor is bossy, but I’ve learned that churches often look less like an empire of tyranny than they do a collection of warlords defending territorial gains.

The amount, and complexity, of activity that takes place on a Sunday morning means that while a Senior Pastor makes the decisions about WHAT is supposed to happen, he is very rarely involved in the decisions being made about HOW something gets done.

This is the reason why many churches don’t have a pastor whom people fear, but a long list of custodians, Sunday School teachers, and committee members that people steer clear of.

So how do we restore order in a church situation where a self-serving person holds a position of leadership over others?  The first thing to do is recognize whether or not it is within your responsibility and authority to work for change.

Many people see every injustice as their opportunity to act, when in truth many injustices can only be solved by the people directly involved with them.  If you don’t understand what I mean, ask a police officer about what typically happens when they respond to a domestic disturbance that was reported by a neighbor. Quite often the couple stops battling each other and teams up on the cop because they like, or need, their co-dependent lifestyle.

Finding out if you are supposed to stand alongside someone is an essential step to take BEFORE you take action.

If it is your place to take responsibility for addressing a problem, you need to find out if you also have the authority to do so.  Many times we speak up about an issue that we aren’t authorized to address. While this can be something that needs to be done for the sake of conscience, understand that without permission or authority your voice may be heard, but you won’t be listened to.

When it comes to churches, if you don’t have the responsibility or the authority to address a situation you need to talk to the person who does.  If the responsible leader refuses to take care of the situation, it’s time to move on …because bad leaders don’t listen to good followers.

If you’ve determined to stay, you have to refuse to be an enabler. Enabler’s give in to bad leaders for two reasons:

1.) They think that peace comes through appeasement.

Appeasement doesn’t end selfish behavior, only confrontation does. When confronting a self-centered church leader, remember that you aren’t trying to get them to recognize how important others are, you’re trying to help them remember how unimportant they actually are in comparison to Jesus.

When you confront a selfish leader, you are confronting someone who has lost sight of the fact that they are serving Jesus by empowering others as opposed to getting things done with the help of servants.

2.) They are scared to lose standing or ranking in the organization.

Anyone who is scared to lose their position under a selfish leader is actually just another selfish leader in disguise. This person desires recognition more than honesty and is willing to sacrifice the people beneath them to maintain their self-esteem.

This means that they exist in an unhealthy relationship with the person that they are enabling. If you are a person who is unable to confront a selfish leader for fear of what you will lose, then you need to resign from your position because not only do they have work to do, but you have spiritual growth to do before you can lead others to righteousness.

By understanding your role in your church leadership structure and refusing to be an enabler of selfishness in yourself and others, you actually find yourself living a life that is startlingly Christlike.

As a leader, Jesus didn’t gather a team of enablers or rely on a magnanimous or magnetic personality. He relied on a God-centered focus that flowed from an obedience to his Father.

Far from establishing a personality cult here on earth, Jesus demonstrated that true leadership isn’t displayed by gazing into the mirror of self-centeredness, but staring out at the world through the window of service.

While self-centered leaders look to others for the fulfillment of their dreams, Christlike service looks at leadership as a means of finding seats for new people in the Kingdom of God.

God’s Kingdom is big and there are still a lot of seats to fill, don’t waste your life slaving to build a kingdom around your personality or selfish tastes, and don’t do it for someone else.

I think we’ve all seen enough hideous statues and massive mirrors.

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  –Matt. 9:37-38

4 Responses to “The Cult of Personality”

  1. Leslie D. Martin September 2, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    “Abusive men with mercurial personalities spent their youth rallying a staff of enablers who constructed a lifestyle of luxury for themselves at the expense of the people they supposedly led.

    The narcissistic [leader] surrounds himself with underlings who will do whatever it takes to keep him in power, while the underlings bow to whatever demands are made, maintaining their position inside the walls of his opulence.”

    I thought for a moment you were talking about 0bama….

  2. Jon September 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I guess you’re counting on me to overlook the distance you just leapt over to lump the President of the United States in with the world’s most tyrannical fanatics… You’d have had a much better shot w/Nixon ;)

    Thanks for the tongue in cheek Leslie! See you Sunday.

  3. Sharon O September 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Bad leaders don’t listen to good followers, SO TRUE… that is exactly why we have moved on from more than ONE churche situation. It doesn’t help my poor hubby when his wife has a high discernment gift. Um I have done my share of confrontation and received ‘no comment or little worth listening to’…after the talk. We dusted off our shoes and moved forward.

  4. Brian P September 6, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Wait a second, didn’t the Death Star get blown up in Star Wars?

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