Three Christian Leadership Failures

Title: Three Christian Leadership Failures
Text: 1 Peter 3:15
Time: September 20th, 2014

 
We’ve seen an unprecedented decline in Christian values in our American culture over the last few years, and this is best illustrated in the rapid acceptance of the idea of “gay” marriage by the citizens of the U.S. In the midst of this moral freefall we might ask the question, “Where have the Christian leaders been during this unheard of moral drop?” Sadly, we must answer that they’ve been largely silent, sometimes purposefully so. For example, a few years ago after President Barack Obama – a leading advocate for cultural moral decline with his full support of so-called same-sex marriage – after he won re-election, he called upon an evangelical minister, one Louie Giglio, to pray the inaugural prayer; Giglio agreed to do it. But before the event, reporters learned that Giglio, being an evangelical preacher, had spoken against homosexuality in a sermon once that was recorded on audiotape. It became somewhat of a controversy, since Obama is in favor of gay rights and gay marriage and everything gay. It finally reached the point where Giglio decided to decline the invitation to pray at the President’s event after all, and therefore forfeited an opportunity to bear witness to the truth of God in the public square. Another example of Christian leadership failure over the last couple of years was World Vision president Richard Stearns, who led his Christian charitable organization to change its corporate policy to allow for employees in so-called same-sex relationships. This caused such an outcry within the evangelical Christian community that World Vision soon reversed the policy decision, reinstating its usual ban on immoral sexual relationships. And finally, there’s the example of evangelical Christian athlete Tim Tebow, who was scheduled to speak at a Baptist church in Texas, but who quickly declined and back out of the speaking engagement after news reports classified the church as “anti-gay” because the pastor had preached against the sin of homosexuality. All three of these men are leaders in the sense that other Christians look up to them, yet all three failed to bear witness to the truth of God as taught in the Bible as part of the Christian faith, because of pressure brought against them by the secular world. All three Christian leaders capitulated to the spirit of the age and cowardly backed away from fighting the good fight of faith. No wonder the Christian community is confused on how to deal with the rapidly declining general culture. No wonder that Christians everywhere are divided on basic moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality. If leaders can’t even find the courage to stand for the truth of God in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, how can the average Christian be expected to stand? No. We need godly Christian leaders who know the truth and are willing to stand for it no matter what. Then, other Christians will stand strong as well when they see the example of the leaders. Let’s look at how not to lead, how not to be a Christian leader, in the hope that by seeing examples of failures we might strive for success.

First, there’s the cowardly capitulation of Louie Giglio. 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The Apostle Peter here instructs Christians to be prepared or prepare ahead of time in order to give answers to those who ask questions about the Christian faith. We are supposed to anticipate that people will ask us about Christianity, the Bible, the church, faith, prayer, the Gospel, and so forth – and we are supposed to be ready to bear witness to the truth in these areas to whomever asks. Why? Because when people come to us and ask, we are presented with a great opportunity to teach them God’s truth, which they need whether they know it or not. We are to see any questions or inquiries into what we believe or how we live as invitations or divine appointments to speak on behalf of God to bear witness to a lost and dying world. Now Louie Giglio was given a great honor and opportunity in being invited to pray the inaugural prayer. Of all the pastors in the U.S. he was asked, and he accepted the invitation. So far, so good. But then controversy came. The news media stirred up trouble by digging up some old audiotapes of him preaching a message against the sin of homosexuality – something understandable for any Bible teaching pastor. But instead of owning up to his biblical convictions he tried to distance himself from it by saying, “Those were taught over ten years ago.” What difference does it make whether he taught against the sin of homosexuality ten years ago or ten days ago? If God’s Word says it, why is he distancing himself from his own preaching of the Word? And why would he distance himself from such a teaching? Doesn’t he still believe it? Or has he “evolved” on homosexuality, like Obama says he has evolved on the issue of homosexuality? But it gets worse. Then, after reporters and television journalists and others start pushing to have Giglio removed from offering the inaugural prayer he decides to simply change his mind and declines the invitation. His reason, “Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation.” This is cowardice. Why? Because it shirks the responsibility that God providentially gave him to speak the Word of God in the public square. No, he didn’t choose the issue or controversy, but it was put upon him. What’s he going to do? Instead of using it as a teachable moment to “give an answer to every man that asks,” he “wimps out” by saying, “It’s not my fight, I’ve got a different message and mission.” Apparently lots of so-called Christian leaders are doing the same thing because we don’t see much fight in Christianity to teach God’s Word concerning homosexuality. I guess other leaders are like Giglio – they don’t see it as their fight or it isn’t on their agenda. God give us leaders who fight the good fight of faith and don’t cowardly turn and run when the battle comes to them.

Second, there’s the shameful compromise of Richard Stearns of World Vision. 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” The leadership failure of Richard Stearns is different from that of Louie Giglio. In the case of the World Vision president, it’s hard to know exactly what motivated one of the largest Christian charitable organizations to capitulate to the godless, secular culture and support so-called gay marriage for employees, but the stated reason was to avoid taking a stand on the issue. Stearns and World Vision decided to permit gay couples to work at the organization supposedly for the sake of Christian unity, oddly enough. Their thinking was, since there are mainline, liberal denominations that permit gay marriage they didn’t want to take a stand for or against it, leaving it up to churches, as if a Christian organization could be above or outside the fray or controversy. Now what kind of leader can remove himself from Christian morality by saying he won’t take a stand for a biblical truth. The Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin; Christianity has taught this for two thousand years. Any organization that’s supposed to be Christian must stand for the morality of the Bible, Christian morality. It can’t be non-committal or undecided. If Stearns wanted to act as an authentic Christian leader he’d try his best to fulfill the last part of the 1 Peter 3:15 by explaining Christian morality, being a witness for God’s truth in a sinful world “with gentleness and respect.” He could explain the best he can that it’s nothing personal against gay people, but God’s Word teaches and Christianity has always believed that homosexuality is a sin, not an accepted practice. Since World Vision is a Christian charitable organization he can’t change the policy to include gay couples as employees because he doesn’t have the authority to do so under the organization’s Christian charter. He didn’t do that. What he did eventually do is reversed the dreadful new policy permitting gay couples as employees, but only after Christians threatened to pull funding to World Vision. In other words, it took the threat of financial loss to reverse the foolish policy. That is not good leadership. There shouldn’t have needed to be an outcry among Christians. There shouldn’t have been a policy permitting gay couples in the first place. Again, no wonder why Christians are confused on this issue, if their Christian leaders are so weak and wimpy on it. Again, we should pray that God raises up real Christian leaders who know what’s right and aren’t afraid to do it, even if it takes strength and courage to do. These are the kinds of leaders Christianity needs, not more weak leaders. Hopefully, Stearns serves as an example for Christian leaders to do the right thing the first time and stand strong for God’s truth in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation.

Third, there’s the wimpy example of football player Tim Tebow. 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Tebow is one of the most high profile evangelical Christians in the United States, and perhaps the world, since so many people around the globe follow NFL football. So he’s supposed to be our Christian witness among professional athletes. He’s famously known for bowing down in prayer in the end zone after a touchdown, it’s called “Tebowing.” He’s an outspoken Christian who speaks all around the country at churches and Christian organizations and events. He’s a leader in the Christian community by virtue of his high profile status as a Christian. What he says and does in an example and role model for other Christians here and around the world. So Tim Tebow is scheduled to speak at a Baptist Church in Texas, like he’s spoken at hundreds of churches elsewhere. But a problem develops. Some reporters find that the pastor of the mega-church where Tebow is supposed to speak preaches against the sin of homosexuality. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t a Christian pastor in a Christian church allowed to preach from the Christian Bible? Isn’t that expected? Of course, but here’s the problem – Tim Tebow is speaking at this church where this pastor is leader. That links Tebow with this pastor, which in turns angers gay rights groups and pro-homosexual advocates. The media keep running story after story about how this pastor of this church is anti-gay and how Tim Tebow is speaking at the church at the invitation of the pastor, trying to make the connection that Tebow must be anti-gay too. Finally, a little while later, Tebow announces that he’s canceled his speaking engagement at the church. Now why would he do that? Because he’s afraid of the bad publicity he’d create by going ahead with the speaking engagement. So in other words, Tebow caved in, he played the coward, he capitulated to the world’s pressure. That’s a victory for the gay rights groups, but a loss for Christianity and the Christian church, because now the whole world can see that Christian leaders don’t even have the courage of their convictions. Does Tim Tebow believe God’s Word that homosexuality is a sin? I’m sure he does. But is he willing to put his career and reputation and financial future on the line to stand for God’s truth in a sinful culture? Apparently not. So when the battle comes too close to Tim Tebow he up and runs instead of standing and fighting the good fight of faith.

Now to be honest, I don’t know all the reasons why Tebow canceled, but it looks like he couldn’t take the heat or pressure from the secular media, or maybe he was thinking about his football career, or maybe he took a play from Louie Giglio’s playbook and decided this was not an issue of his choosing. But I hope it’s plain to see that this kind of thinking isn’t acceptable for Christians, especially Christian leaders. When fighting the Lord’s battles we don’t always get to pick and choose which ones we fight. Did it ever occur to these weak leaders that God might just have given them an opportunity to speak prophetically in the public square? Not everyone gets to speak and have their voices amplified to thousands and millions of people like these leaders I’m describing. When God providentially puts us in situations to speak his Word to thousands and millions we’d better be ready to speak. That’s what 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Tim Tebow wasn’t ready to speak God’s Word on an important moral issue, so he backed out. He should have been ready instead of cowardly sneaking out the back door. My question is, if Tebow is “our Christian voice” in professional sports, why can’t we hear that voice when they put a microphone in front of him? He could have said something like, “I’m speaking at the church because I agreed to speak there and nothing the pastor has said contradicts Christian teachings. I might say things different or phrase things differently, but Christian teaching is Christian teaching.” Instead, Tebow decided to decline the speaking engagement, saying, “In light of new information, I’ve canceled my appearance at the church.” What new information? That the pastor preaches that homosexuality is a sin? That the pastor is outspoken opponent of gay marriage? Clearly, Tebow canceled because of the bad publicity he was getting by being associated with the church appearance. So instead of shining his light before men, as the Bible says; instead of bearing witness to the truth of God; instead of using the controversy as a teachable moment, he played it safe and back out and backed down. That is cowardly leadership. It may be that Tebow is young and inexperienced in public Christian leadership, but hopefully he’ll learn, as well as other Christian leaders learn, that where the battle is the fiercest we must be strongest. We don’t get to control everything and decide when and when not to fight for truth. If we are put in a position to speak God’s Word we must, period. Enough of this selective and cowardly retreating when the battle comes to our doorstep. Pray for leaders to be strong in their time of testing, because we’ve seen many recently that have show weakness.

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