We live in an age when distrust of leaders is, perhaps, at an all-time high. I don’t have any statistics to verify that. However, if my Facebook and Twitter feeds are a reasonable sample, if the blogs and columns and books I read are an indication, people today just don’t like the people who lead them. For instance, Congress approval rating is at an all-time low. The latest negotiations over the Fiscal Cliff exposed the dysfunction in Washington between Republicans and Democrats. And so everybody, everywhere teed off on the politicians.
I think we’ve arrived here for two reasons. First, the last few generations have seen the stunning and tragic fall of leaders of all stripes, from Presidents to pastors. We’ve seen leaders abuse power, not only in Washington, but in the church, in the home, in the community, in business. Many wonder if there are any honest leaders left. Over the Christmas break and into our vacation, I read a few books on the American Presidents. I’m amazed at the decline in respect for this once-great office. Historians may disagree, but I feel that perhaps Watergate was a turning point, where the office of President became less regal. But it’s also the spirit of the age, I think, that we just don’t like or trust those who lead us. Some of this is deserved, but some of this a spirit of rebellion. And I think it makes leadership that much more difficult.
This leads to my second reason why I think we don’t like leaders. This reason points not to the leaders, but to us. You see, it’s much easier to be a critic of a leader than to actually lead. For instance, there is one President and 435 leaders. But there are a seemingly unlimited number of paid pundits, columnists, bloggers, radio talk show hosts, and other such members of the opinion media. Most of them get paid very handsomely to lob their criticisms at those in office. But, here’s the rub, they don’t actually have to lead. They are not in the arena. And so they can articulate purist ideological positions and hammer leaders who deviate, even in small ways. They can resist any kind of deal-making with the other party. They can live in a fantasy world where your side can get everything it wants all the time in every situation. Now, to be clear, I think the media and opinion-makers serve a valuable purpose in our democracy. They help shape the public discussion and influence those in power. After all, I’m a writer and blogger who sometimes gets paid for my opinion. However, looking at Washington from this perch is much easier than having to actually lead and get something done in a difficult environment with those who hold opposing views.
I think this view of leadership prevails in the Church as well. Church leaders should be open to criticism. One of the things that bothers me about some is that they dismiss all criticism with a sort of lazy “haters gonna hate” defense. The best leaders bend an ear to opposing views and admit mistakes and weaknesses. But, it is far easier to be a Christian blogger with an opinion than to be a high-profile pastor in the arena. It’s easier to criticize Rick Warren than to be Rick Warren. It’s easier to criticize John Piper than to be John Piper. It’s easier to criticize Beth Moore than to be Beth Moore.
I think all of us would do well to recognize that leadership is difficult and while we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to abuse and corruption, we should obey the Scriptures and hold our leaders with some esteem. We should recognize that the sideline gig is much easier than the one in the arena, that couch commentary comes easy, real leadership is hard.