Complicity is a Harsh Mistress

It can be a cathartic cleanse to hear church leaders confess an embarrassing failure or a long-ago cowardice. Even so, we must know that Character is revealed under pressure. It’s not so much that character is built under pressure, even though that could be a secondary fruit. If we’re sensitive to the Lord’s Spirit, we learn by living and know by our behavior where our character needs reconstruction. We see this, for example, in Luke 22:24-34. Peter and the other disciples argue about who is greatest, Jesus corrects them; Jesus tells Peter that Satan will sift him like wheat, Peter brashly denies it. The sifting pressure quickly comes in Luke 22:54-62 and Peter’s shattering weakness is revealed. When we fail as shepherding leaders in the Lord’s church, we shouldn’t linger in puzzled wonder about the why.


An article in Christianity Today focused primarily on sexual abuse in the local church, but questions in the article’s latter half were most revealing. Nancy Beach, a former staff member at Willow Creek Community Church is cited saying that a key dynamic in an unhealthy work environment is an inner circle of leaders complicit in enabling the primary leader’s bad behavior. That is rightly said.

She is quoted asking: Why did so many of us accept what should not have been accepted? Her answer: Because members of the group directly benefit from this leader’s power. Beach acknowledges that she was part of this inner circle at the church, and said the realization of her own complicity prompted her to ask the question.

So . . . Why would leaders accept what should not be accepted? It’s because most people don't have a deep bank of spiritual capital to reject the seduction of power, position, personal financial enrichment or an idolatrous devotion to self-worth.

How can we see in ourselves and what can we look for in others to rightly discern these things? Watch and listen to what a shepherd leader does and says when a refusal to comply with sin will kill a power position or personal comfort or esteem. Refusing that kind of fleshly benefit takes some kind of Christian guts. It will cost preciously-held relationships and carefully-structured safety and the self-loving sin of Look at me! I'm important. I'm close to the leader. I walk in the after-glow of his greatness. It’s a wickedly disgusting perversion of Psalm 23; it goes something like this, The leader is my shepherd. I shall not want . . .

I often have wondered about the unspeakable grief Jesus must have felt when He listened to His disciples argue about which of them was greatest. All the time He devoted to them, all the lessons He taught them, all the long-suffering patience He gave them . . . and in the end of His ministry they argue about who is greatest. Even so, in His multiplied grace, Jesus remained patient and long-suffering. He reconstructed Peter’s character so that Peter eventually would have the bank of spiritual capital to obey the Lord’s command to . . . strengthen your brothers.

And that’s another reason why we love Jesus.