“Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna is an interesting read. I read it a few months ago, and quite honestly, I’ve been wrestling with it ever since. I haven’t blogged or posted anything, ’cause I simply don’t know what to think.
The book is written to describe the origins of many of our church traditions. By the title, you’d accurately presume that most of our traditions are heavily influenced or even completely based upon Pagan practices. This is true. The authors make a strong case and truly have their “ducks in a row” in regards to documenting these things. Here’s the problem though – just because something has it’s origin outside of the church, doesn’t make it wrong or even unbiblical. For me, these ideas expressed in Pagan Christianity, have helped me to consider and think about what practices are truly “necessary” according to the Scriptures. Acts 2:42-47 describes the things the early church concerned themselves with:
Teaching/Learning, Fellowship, Breaking of the Bread, Prayer, Filled with awe by signs and wonders (by God), Shared with one another and took care of each other, were intentional about being together, Praised God
Now, somewhere along the road, the church became much more and people began to focus on other things. Some of those things have benefited the church over the years, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary. The message of the Gospel will never change, however, the methods must change with culture.
Below is a list of the origins of many of our quote/unquote “Christian” traditions as described in the book. The authors give much more detail and do a very thorough job, but this is just a basic list. There’s a lot here so you might just want to “skim” it.
1. The church building – was first constructed under Constantine in AD 327. They were patterned after Roman basilicas/Greek temples. Before that, Christians met in homes, community centers, and Jewish temples.
2. Sacred space – was a borrowed idea from pagans in the 2nd-3rd centuries. Burial places of martyrs was considered “sacred” and when churches were built above these cemeteries – they became “sacred” too. Sacred space for the Christian is everywhere since the Holy Spirit resides in us.
3. The Pastor’s chair – came from the cathedra, which was the Bishop’s chair or throne. It replaced the seat of the judge in the Roman basilica.
4. Tax-Exempt status – came in AD313 for clergy and 323 for churches with Constantine. Pagan priests had enjoyed this privilege prior to that.
5. Stained-Glass windows – were first introduced to the church between 1081-1151 AD.
6. Gothic Cathedrals – were built according to the philosophy of Plato in the 12th century.
7. Steeples – are rooted in ancient Babylonian and Egyptian architecture and were popularized in London around 1666.
8. Pulpits – came from the Greek “ambo” which was used to deliver monologues. They arrived in churches as early as AD 250.
9. Pews – evolved between 13-18th centuries in England. (Participants became spectators.)
10. Order of Worship – Evolved from Gregory’s Mass in the 6th century and revisions were made by Luther, Calvin, Methodists, etc. Early church meetings were marked by spontaneity, freedom, every-member functioning, and open participation.
11. Centrality of the Sermon – Martin Luther in 1523.
12. Candles – were used in Roman ceremonial courts in the 4th century and made their way into the church at the same time.
13. Lord’s supper taken quarterly – was practiced first in the 16th century under Zwingly. He also introduced the communion table.
14. Congregation standing and sitting when clergy enters/exits – borrowed practice from Roman emperors in the 4th century – brought to church by John Calvin.
15. Somber attitudes – were practiced by John Calvin and Martin Bucer based upon the medieval view of piety.
16. Guilt/Condemnation for missing a Sunday – came with the 17th century New England Puritans.
17. Long Pastoral Prayer before the Sermon – 17th Century Puritans
18. Altar Calls – were instituted by 17th century Methodists and popularized by Charles Finney.
19. Church Bulletins (and written liturgy) – came to the church with Albert Blake Dick’s stencil duplicating machine in 1884.
20. Solo hymns, Door-to-door witnessing, and Evangelism Campaigns – were started with D.L. Moody (1837-1899)
21. Decision cards – were introduced by Absalom Earle and popularized by D.L. Moody.
22. Bowed heads, eyes closed, raise your hand to respond to the Gospel – was first done by Billy Graham in the 20th century.
23. Solo/Choral music during the Offering – 20th century Pentecostals.
24. Sermons – were borrowed from the Greek sophists. John Chrysostom and Augustine popularized the Greco-Roman homily and made it a central part of Christian churches.
25. Long sermons, notes, sermon outlines – 17th century Puritans
26. Pastors (as an office) – did not exist until Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century. They didn’t prevail in most churches until the 3rd century.
27. The Clergy/Laity split – didn’t occur until 100AD with the writing of Clement of Rome. By the 3rd century, Christian leaders were universally called clergy. Prior to this, clergy and laity were equal in standing/reputation/etc.
28. Ordination – evolved between the 2nd and 4th centuries and was based upon the Roman custom of appointing men to civil office.
29. The title “Pastor” – wasn’t popular until the 18th century under the influence of Lutheran Pietists.
30. Wearing your “Sunday Best” – began in the late 18th century with the industrial revolution. The emerging middle class sought to be like their wealthy contemporaries.
31. Clergy attire – began in AD 330 and was based upon Roman officials garb.
32. The Clerical collar – was invented by Rev. Dr. Donald McLeod of Glasgow in 1865.
33. Choirs – were first introduced in the church in the 4th century as Christians copied the idea from Greek dramas and temples.
34. Boys choirs – were also borrowed from pagans in the 4th century.
35. Funeral processions and Orations – were borrowed from Greco-Roman paganism in the 3rd century.
36. Worship Team – was first used in Calvary Chapel in 1965 and was patterned after secular rock concerts.
37. Tithing – was not a widespread practice until the late 18th century. The tithe was taken from the 10 percent rent charge used in the Roman empire and then justified using the Old Testament.
38. Clergy salaries – were instituted by Constantine in the 4th century.
39. Collection plates – can be traced to the alms dishes of the 14th century. “Passing” the plate began in 1662.
40. Ushers – can be traced back to the 3rd century as a “church porter,” but truly began with Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
41. Infant Baptism – was brought into the Christian faith in the late 2nd century due to the superstitious beliefs of teh Greco-Roman culture. By the 5th century, it replaced adult baptism.
42. Sprinkling replaced Immersion – began in the late Middle Ages in Western churches.
43. The “Sinner’s Prayer” – was first used by D.L. Moody and popularized by Billy Graham’s Peace with God tract and Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws.
44. The term “Personal Savior” – spawned in the mid-1800s by the Frontier-Revivalist influence and was popularized by Charles Fuller (1887-1968).
45. Lord’s Supper – was condensed from a full meal to just bread and a cup in the late 2nd century as a result of pagan ritual influences.
46. Sunday School – was created by Robert Raikes from Britain in 1780 in order to educate poor street children. They were not given religious instruction, but a basic education.
47. Youth Pastors – developed in urban churches in 1930s-40s as a result of seeking to meet the needs of a new sociological class called “teenagers.”
Now, that’s a lot to take in. Viola and Barna (the authors) are very intentional about saying that just because these traditions are not rooted in Scripture, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice them. For me at least, they do however, raise the question, “What are the practices which are necessary in our culture?” And what would a church look like if it focused only on those things deemed necessary? If a church wants to focus on “teaching/learning” as the Bible describes, what is the best way to do so? In years past, Sunday School was the answer, but what about today? What avenue is best in our culture?
What about a building? Could a church function and be healthy without a building? The answer is absolutely “Yes!” It did quite well without a building for it’s first 300 years. But in our culture, a building is just assumed. Could a church actually be more healthy without a building? What provisions would need to be made? What else would need to happen to function without a building?
Anyway, as you can see, these ideas and their implications are huge. I haven’t gotten it all processed out, and probably won’t for a while. I just wanted to share some of it here and see if you guys have other ideas or thoughts. Please respond. I’d love to know what everybody else thinks.
Clint Eastwood is truly a legend, but I must admit that I was never a really big fan. . . well, that is. . . until now. “Gran Torino” is a great film depicting many aspects of society today. As our world becomes more and more global, cultures collide – and Gran Torino illustrates this well. Earning it’s “R” rating for language and violence, this film is ultimately still about community, love, loss, and relationships between the most unlikely candidates. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but the end is a masterful expression of Jesus’ teaching in John 15:13. (Spoiler alert!!! Don’t look it up or click the link if you haven’t seen it. If you’re spiritual enough to have that verse memorized, well, I figure you’re also spiritual enough to forgive me for spoiling the ending for you.)
Anyway, I would highly recommend “Gran Torino” to any adult who can endure the language and enter into the cultures represented. The ultimate message is not only powerful, but one which is desperately needed in our world today.
Here are some things I’ve written during
Kasen’s first year of life. If you wanna see more, just click on the links and they’ll take you to the original post. If you’re interested in a Pictorial Review click here: cornphotos.shutterfly.com
Nov 5 – Oh no! I don’t know the first thing
about raising a child. How could God
give such an incredible gift to someone like me? What am I gonna do? I’m not
ready for this. Tap. Tap. The nurse tapped gently on the glass calling me back
to the present. Beckoning me out of my imagination and into reality. She
mouthed something about giving him a bottle and I answered.
I realize now that I don’t have to know
everything. I just have to be ready to love him in the present. I’ll
figure it all out as I go along. I’ll trust God to help me be the father
He’s called me to be. It was just a tap on the glass, but it taught me
something. . . . something profound. . . . .something important about living in
the present and about trusting God.
Nov 6 – Prayer:
Lord, show me how to “be” –
Who to “be” – and give me strength/courage/and whatever I’ll need to
“be” what you’ve called me to “be” in this role as
“leader” of my family and child.
Nov 19 – I wondered how I would communicate [Kasen’s] enoughness
to him. How could I communicate his value and worth? How could I show him that
God Himself thinks he’s worth dying for?
Kasen had a big day
1 – He slept through the
night!!!! 10:31pm ‘til 7am!!
2- His umbilical cord fell
3 – He had his 2 week
Nov 26 –
As [Miranda and I] start this new part of our lives with Kasen, it kinda seems
like another dance. We’re still learning the steps, and how to move together,
but it sure is a fun song to dance to. And I’ve got the best dance partner in
the world. I feel like I’ve been writing and praying about the kind of dad that
I wanna be, while all along, Miranda is already everything a mom should be.
Dec 5 –
I’m turning into one of those guys who everyone dreads to see coming ’cause you
just know you’re gonna have to look at more family pics. Oh well – I guess I’m
Feb 4 – I
hope to instill a sense of calling, adventure, and courage in [Kasen.] And even
if I fail . . . it will still accomplish this: Kasen will have known a father
who eagerly and persistently pressed on to God’s call. And I believe that
will be enough to inspire and encourage him to chase his dreams and lions.
Feb 7 –
It’s my job to represent God to my son Kasen. I’ll never be able to fully do
so, but I will give my life to love him, protect him, care for him, and raise
him to know Jesus.
Feb 18 – I
never imagined that I’d ever find myself lying on the floor cheering for
someone to roll over, but. . .it’s me. . .I’m that guy! I try to celebrate it
Mar 1 –
Every day gets more fun. As he gets older and is able to respond more, my joy
is just magnified.
Mar 13 –
As the leader of my son, there are (or will be) times when it’s appropriate for
me to allow him to lead me. Of course I will only allow him to lead me to
certain places – it’ll always be within the boundaries that I set, but still, I
will choose to follow him sometimes so that he can grow into a leader himself.
Mar 27 –
My son was actually comforted by my voice and touch. What an honor and
privilege it is to be given that kind of influence and trust.
April 11 –
Everyone keeps talking about how much he’s grown. He still seems like the same
little boy to me, but when my new niece (Kallie Grace) was born a few weeks ago
and weighed almost the same that Kasen did, I realized how much he has grown.
April 17 –
Kasen wouldn’t sleep tonight. . . I walked him. It didn’t work.
With all the toys
surrounding him, [Kasen] still wants the remote.
May 1 –
[Miranda and I] talked about how we want Kasen growing up in a home where he
sees us studying the Bible together and that we want the Scriptures to be
clearly present in our everyday lives.
May 11 –
Kasen will grow up knowing that he is loved beyond measure, and he’ll also be
shown a beautiful example in his mother. She loves with all she has, and
will sacrifice her own desires to do what’s best for him. Even when it hurts
her, she will choose to love him.
May 20 –
We also got a little [bike] seat for Kasen and we’ve been having tons of fun
driving him around. The helmet doesn’t fit too well, but he still smiles and
laughs while he watches mommy riding beside us.
May 27 –
Miranda, Kasen, and I went camping this past weekend with my family. All the
Corns and Underwoods met together at Possum Kingdom Lake.
May 29 –
Kasen has started crawling. He’s coming up on his 7th month and now he’s
definitely got it down. . . Now we’ve gotta go through the house and kid-proof
June 14 –
Prayer: Empower and lead us to aim our
arrow (Kasen) correctly and guide him to take ground in advancing the Kingdom of God. AMEN.
June 22 –
Kasen, discovered himself in the mirror at the hotel. It was pretty funny
watching him laugh and giggle and dance and kiss himself.
July 28 –
It was also really cool to be able to take my son, Kasen, there [Meridian State Park – where I became a Christian]
for the first time. I plan on taking him back over and over throughout his
lifetime, but this was his first trip – unless you count when he went last year
inside Miranda’s tummy.
Aug 23 –
Kasen is walking a little better now. Still a little wobbly – but fun to watch.
I also can’t help but love the way he says “DaDa” while he walks.
Aug 27 – I
wonder if God looks over each part of me and rejoices the way I do over Kasen?
Sept 1 –
Prayer: Hold us all close and prepare
Miranda and I as parents. Give us special wisdom in understanding Kasen’s needs
in response to a new baby in the house too. Help our time to be multiplied so
that we can be everything You call us to be as parents.
Sept 21 – Kasen loved the stepping stones, but couldn’t
navigate them very well. . . He fell almost every time . . . but each time he
got up again and would clap for himself and say “Yeah.”. . . Each
time I’d join him in the applause and he’d continue. Whenever he made it
without falling, he also clapped and I joined him then too. . . As a father, I
loved cheering for him.
Nov 1 – Kasen was a dinosaur for his first Halloween.
He didn’t really trick-or-treat, but loved the candy he got from mama and
daddy. Dum dums are his favorite.
Nov 4 –
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I stood outside that glass in the
hospital and wondered if I could really be a father. It’s been the best year of
my life though. Miranda has been amazing too.
“Visioneering” by Andy Stanley is intended to help Christians in understanding what he calls “God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision.” Andy, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, is the son of Charles Stanley and the founding pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. “Visioneering” is clearly a book about leadership, but he broadens his audience by making applications of the material, which can be used by anyone. Examples include having a vision for your children or your marriage – after all, we are all leaders to someone. He writes as if he were speaking – very down-to-earth and personal rather than the heady, scholarly style of so many others who have written on this subject. This style also encourages readers who might not normally pick up a book on leadership. A tag line used on the jacket says, “Everybody ends up somewhere in life. You can end up somewhere on purpose.” This paints a pretty solid picture of the content. Andy seems to be genuinely concerned about this topic and desires to help others to know the “power of purpose.”
“Visioneering” takes the reader through the story of the classic biblical example of leadership, Nehemiah. Along the way, Andy points to many of the biblical events drawing out all the applications to leadership and vision. Before diving into the biblical account, he spends a chapter defining vision. He defines it as a clear mental picture of what “could” be, fueled by the conviction that it “should” be. (pg 18) It is “Inspiration + Conviction + Action + Determination + Completion.” (pg 8) Vision, according to Andy, weaves four things into the fabric of our lives: Passion, Motivation, Direction, and Purpose. (pg 9-12) I will seek to summarize the content by using the “Building Blocks” which Andy describes in regards to vision.
Andy shows how a vision is born by pointing to Nehemiah. It began as a concern. (pg 19) Nehemiah was burdened by the report from Jerusalem. (1:4) It does not necessarily require immediate action, (pg 19) but in waiting, vision matures in us, we are prepared, and God is at work preparing the way. During this time Nehemiah prayed for opportunities and planned as if he expected God to answer his prayers. (pg 38) There was little, well, nothing that he could do to help the situation, but in waiting, praying and planning, he was not disappointed. In spite of overwhelming odds against him, God used Nehemiah’s circumstances to prepare him for his vision. (pg 43) It seemed impossible that Nehemiah could make any difference – he was in Persia serving in the king, serving the very people who tore the walls down in the first place. Even if he could get to Jerusalem, he had no authority and the people had ignored the walls for almost 150 years. Bottom line: It was a hopeless situation – in human terms. Of course if you add God into the mix, things change. Nehemiah understood this, and during this time of uncertainty, he remembered that “how is not a problem for God.” (pg 61) What God originates, he orchestrates. (pg 56) Eventually, God would take the very same circumstances to orchestrate the vision by changing the heart of the king so that he would provide safe passage, lumber, and supplies to Nehemiah. (2:4-8)
Even after such an incredible act of God, Nehemiah must have felt overcome when he rode into Jerusalem. This was not a vision he would be able to accomplish alone. Although, he had a plan and was ready, he didn’t immediately ride into town and start recruiting. He walked before he talked; investigated before he initiated. (pg 75) He waited for at least three days before saying anything. (2:12) There is usually some fact-finding or exploration that needs to be done before telling people what you’re up to. As soon as you start telling people, you’ve got to have the answers to the questions/criticisms that are bound to come. This type of exploration will either confirm or deny the divine origin of the original vision and it can help to further define it.
After such investigation, Nehemiah communicated his vision as solution to a problem that must be addressed immediately. (pg 86) He stated the problem, the solution, the reason, and the urgency. (2:17-18) He told the appropriate people at the appropriate time. (pg 105) Another reason he found so much success was that he had risked so much himself in the process. He had risked his very life by being sad in the king’s presence, quit a job in the palace, and traveled for miles to ask a foreign people to help in a project which had little chance of success. He didn’t expect others to take greater risks or sacrifices than he did. (pg 132) He wasn’t calling them to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself and they could see his commitment.
As the work begins, Nehemiah gets hit with criticism (Neh 4:3) and he provides a great example for us in the way he responds – prayer, remembrance, and revision. He unloads all his feelings on God and then goes back to work remembering what God had done and how he had provided for him throughout the process. (4:14) He also responded strategically by setting up a guard (4:9). He trusted God, but still did everything he could to help accomplish the vision. Nehemiah didn’t confuse his plans with God’s vision. (pg 156) This is why he was able to revise the plan so easily. The plan is only man’s interpretation of how to accomplish the vision. When man’s plan fails, it doesn’t mean that the divine vision has failed, only that the plan was somehow flawed. Visions are refined – they don’t change; plans are revised – they rarely stay the same. (pg 158) Like Nehemiah we should respond to criticism with prayer, remembrance, and if necessary, a revision of the plan. (pg 160)
It’s vital to keep a team unified in order to accomplish a vision. Visions thrive in an environment of unity and die in an environment of division. (pg 68) It’s natural for a team to struggle in this way. Like a car’s alignment, normal wear and tear over time or a bad bump can cause problems. Many of the wall workers had neglected their own fields in order to work on the wall and when forced to mortgage their homes to provide food for their families, they began to resent the entire project. (5:1-5) Meanwhile, some of the nobles and city officials were profiting from it. Nehemiah called them to account (5:6-7) and unity was restored. The workers were able to focus on the wall once again. He also understood that his own moral authority was critical to his leadership and therefore to the vision. His position as governor gave him the right to exploit the people and to live “high on the hog” but he chose not to do so. (5:14-19) Nehemiah’s moral authority was not just a leadership requirement, but was a natural extension of his relationship with God. Stanley suggests that we abandon the vision before abandoning out moral authority. (pg 185) This was a no-brainer for Nehemiah.
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes good opportunities can distract us from our vision. Other times it comes as criticism or fear. Nehemiah didn’t get distracted (pg 216) when he was accused of trying to set himself up as king (6:5-6), but rather turned his attention to God. (6:9) When given the opportunity to meet with some other leaders, Nehemiah explained that he was “doing a good work and couldn’t come down.” (6:2-4) Even in the midst of a death threat, Nehemiah remained calm and held his ground knowing that this was God’s vision. (6:12-13) It’s clear that he would not be distracted – Nehemiah had a singular focus – to rebuild the walls and position Israel for blessing once again.
Stanley points out that Nehemiah also understood that this vision was a part of God’s vision. There is divine potential in all you envision to do. (pg 225) Nehemiah’s vision, when accomplished, struck fear into surrounding nations and they were able to see the power and presence of Israel’s God. Because of God’s intervention, Nehemiah’s crew did what some said was impossible, and they did it in only 52 days! (6:15-16) God gets the glory! He orchestrated and moved on the people to rebuild the walls and re-establish Israel’s relationship with Him. The end of a God-ordained vision is God. (pg 237) When the wall was built and the people assembled to celebrate, (8:1-6) the focus is God. The wall is never mentioned. Only God is lifted up!!
After the wall was built, it had to be maintained. Nehemiah understood that once the vision was accomplished, it must be nurtured in order to stand, and so the people developed a written covenant between themselves and God. (9:38; 10:28-39) (Isn’t it interesting that the vision was about the walls and the maintenance of it is about their relationship with God?) This covenant would require great sacrifice for the people and centered around the main reasons they had been at odds with God in the first place – their relationship with foreigners, their Sabbath practices, and care for the temple. Maintaining a vision requires adherence to a set of core beliefs and behaviors. (pg252) It also requires constant attention. (pg 216) Nehemiah failed on this one. He left Jerusalem in order to return to the king in Persia and while he was gone, things went south. When he finally returned, he found that the temple had not been a priority, the Sabbath had become just another workday, men were marrying foreigners, and children were being taught foreign traditions instead of their family Hebrew customs. (13:10-24) Angered by what he saw, Nehemiah acted boldly by rebuking the city officials and even threatening merchants who tried to work around the Sabbath with bodily harm. (13:20-21) Maintaining a vision requires bold leadership. (pg 266) A leader cannot be timid and must have “tough skin” to persevere.
“Visioneering” is a great book! Andy Stanley handles the content well and very thoroughly. For the reader who is completely new to the idea of vision, this book will provide a nice basic structure for the visioning process. Andy also explains the need for vision and the effects of a lack of vision in regards to every area of our lives. This is a great benefit. The businessman seeking new direction for his company can benefit as well as the mother seeking to raise her child in Godly ways. Andy seems to be very calculated about his doctrine. He maintains high Scriptural content throughout the book, backing up everything with Scripture – even basing each of his premises off of the basic outline found in Nehemiah. This structure, based on Scripture, is one of the books most profound qualities. The reader isn’t made to feel like he is reading Andy’s opinions about vision, but instead he is allowed to sit in on his personal thoughts about the Scriptural truths found in Nehemiah. The focus is the Scripture rather than the thoughts of man.
I personally enjoyed this book immensely and believe it will help to guide me through many of my future ministry endeavors. I found it interesting that we have been taught the difference between leadership and management is the difference between future change and maintenance, but Andy actually uses the word “maintain” in regards to vision. I believe this is an important distinction because so many times, it seems that people accomplish a task and then they are finished, but in order for the vision (ultimate goal) to be accomplished, the task/project has to be maintained. Example: Someone gives his or her life to Christ. Their friend who has seen this as his/her mission/vision quits praying for and working with them. They never grow spiritually. Was the vision to see them give their life to Christ only? Or was it to see them develop an ever-increasing intimacy with Him? If it’s the second, then there clearly is a bit of “maintenance” to be done. Maybe the problem is that we confuse the vision path/goal or symbol with the actual vision. The bottom line lesson for me is that leaders have to be concerned about management too.
In regards to this book, I will recommend it to anyone interested in leadership and the vision process. We have struggled immensely in my own church with these issues and I plan on suggesting this material to quite a few people. I also intend on teaching a Bible Study which goes through Nehemiah. In doing so, I will refer to many of these principles, drawing them out for my students.
Overcoming the Dark
Side of Leadership”
By Steve Corn
This book should be read by any and every leader. It deals with a part of leadership which is very rarely discussed and in some cases ignored altogether. Although they never use the metaphor, the “dark side” which they discuss is an ever-present reality which influences every decision we make and everyone around us – similar to the dark side we’ve come to know from the Star Wars films. They describe it like the dark side of the moon, it is a part of our very essence and helps to make us who we are. This dark side is defined by our
natural tendencies to fill the voids left by our weaknesses and deep hurts from past experiences. The dark side is how we’ve learned to cope with life. Unfortunately, these habits (healthy or not) continue to be lived out after we become Christians and begin leading others. Throughout history many leaders have been overtaken and many great ministries/organizations have been ruined from the influence of this dark side. Gone unchecked, we risk much in our lives by ignoring its’ existence and influence. This book provides the reader with the tools necessary to understand, recognize, and redeem his/her own dark side. The church would benefit greatly if church leaders were aware of this reality and guided others in cautiously heeding its’ warnings.
Understanding Our Dark Side
The first section of the book is mostly an extended definition of what this dark side truly is. The authors are very meticulous about sharing both their own personal interactions with this presence in their lives and those of other famous leaders throughout history. They describe those who have dealt properly with the dark side like Bill Hybels and the Apostle Paul and those who have been overtaken by it like Jim Bakker and King Saul. All of these stories combine to paint a picture of the many varied forms this dark side can take on in one’s life. They describe how pressures can build within a leader and eventually our dark side emerges with an explosion of emotion or frustration. “At times the dark side seems to leap on us unexpectedly. In reality it has slowly crept up on us. The development of our dark side has been a lifetime in the making.” (pg. 22) They also attempt to break down the dark side into its building blocks so the reader can more readily recognize it while it’s being built. The building blocks they mention are pride, selfishness, self-deception and wrong motives. (pg 40-45) In addition they describe many of the signs of the shadow side as: (1) an inexplicable drive to make a significant mark with our lives (2) a profound need to be approved (3) an irrational fear that our work is inadequate (4) a need to feel in absolute control (5) perfectionism (6) many other behaviors such as overeating, compulsive spending, alcoholism, compulsive exercising, etc. (pg 50-51) In describing the development of our dark side, the authors refer to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or as it is sometimes called the “needs pyramid.” This pyramid builds from physiological needs, to safety needs, then love needs, esteem needs, and finally self-actualization. Maslow’s theory is that people must have their needs met at one level before they can get their “higher” needs met. The authors of this book suggest that sometimes we get those needs met in unhealthy ways, and this becomes the seed for a growing dark side which has learned to satisfy itself in ways that God never intended. As one grows older these behaviors become habits and will eventually explode into a full-blown dark side.
Discovering Our Dark Side
The second section of the book describes five different types of dark side leaders. It details their characteristics and then offers a self-test to the reader to determine his/her potential for falling into this category.
The compulsive leader is symbolized by Moses who felt the need to control every aspect of the Israelites movement out of Egypt – even to the point of being a judge over every matter between the people (numbering millions). These leaders tend to think they are the only ones who can do the job correctly and therefore have a hard time delegating. They also develop highly structured systems which must be followed in the minutia. Many times, this makes them workaholics. In an effort to maintain control, they will repress anger and emotions which can erupt in sudden violent outbursts and then be quickly controlled again. They also have a tendency to be very critical and enjoy the freedom the church gives them in seeking “excellence” in ministry.
The narcissistic leader is more like Solomon. Scripture is clear that he thought the world revolved around him – he did many things “for myself.” They use other people to advance their own agenda and find it difficult to recognize the efforts of others – often times taking the credit themselves. Deep feelings of inadequacy and inferiority motivate them to work/minister for the approval and admiration of others rather than for God.
Saul is a great example of the paranoid leader. He was hypersensitive to the actions and reactions of the people, always fearful of potential rebellion. These leaders are intensely jealous of other gifted people because they are so insecure in themselves. They overreact to criticism and tend to believe there are ulterior motives into the most innocent of actions. They love to keep their hands on every area of the organization and therefore require lots of meetings and reports. They also keep a “safe distance” when it comes to relationships because close relationships require a transparency which they fear will potentially undermine their leadership.
The codependent leader is represented by Samson. He continually involved himself in self-destructive behaviors. These leaders are masters of denial – even to the point of believing the denial to be truth. They have a serious need to please others and don’t want to disappoint anyone. They repress their emotions and feel stressed as a result. They also don’t initiate action to confront misbehaviors because they have learned to live with them, but instead will sometimes even take personal responsibility/blame for others actions. Codependent leaders often appear to be extremely loving peacemakers, but this can go too far and enable unhealthy or unbiblical behaviors.
Jonah is a passive-aggressive leader. They don’t confront, but instead act out their disapproval by procrastinating, forgetting, or just not putting their whole heart into a project. They are complainers who would rather do nothing than attempt something with the possibility of failure – or worse yet, maybe they’ll succeed and then be held to a higher standard. These leaders are not very enthusiastic and can be irritable or impatient and often can explode when their status quo is threatened.
Redeeming Our Dark Side
This third section of the book points the reader to a few specific exercises to help him in living with his dark side and even allowing it to be a positive force in his life. These steps are (1) Acknowledging our dark side (2) Examining the past (3) Resist the poison of expectations (4) Practice progressive self-knowledge and (5) Understand your identity in Christ.
Step one (acknowledging our dark side) consists of nothing more than realizing and agreeing that you are no different from the rest of the people in the world. You have a dark side too.
Step two (Examining the past) is described as a “simple process of remembering.” (pg 163) It entails remembering everything from major issues like a death in the family to minor inferiority issues arising from a nickname you were given as a child. The authors paint the picture of our intentional journey into the past saying “We must become the hammer that begins to shape our errant emotions and dark side rather than the anvil on which our dark side pounds us into a distorted image.” (pg 164)
Step 3 (Resist the poison of expectations) requires our attention to the expectations placed upon us. We should choose which ones we will own and which ones are not a reflection of our calling. If we live our lives under everyone else’s expectations, we will soon be living someone else’s life.
Step 4 (Practice progressive self-knowledge) is about spiritual disciplines involving Bible reading, personal retreats, devotional reading, journaling, and other tools for self-awareness like personality tests, counseling, accountability groups, and performance evaluations. It’s about being open to hear from others (including God) regarding your weaknesses and
Step 5 (Understand your identity in Christ) requires an understanding that our position in Christ is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or power. Our condition on earth is a polar opposite to our position in Christ, and our worth is based upon Him alone.
Unlike any other leadership book I’ve read, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership takes an honest and comprehensive look at the part of leadership that no one really likes to discuss. Most books give some insightful ideas about leading and talk about how to influence others, but ignore the reality of all the fallen leaders we’ve seen throughout history. Overcoming confronts this issue head on and allows the reader to be proactive in recognizing his own dark side so as to keep him from falling into these pitfalls. The historical and biblical stories included give the book an authentic feel so as to illustrate the concepts accurately. As I grow in my leadership roles, I intend to make this book an integral part of my life and also for training others for leadership positions. These ideas will help me to remain honest about my own spiritual dark side and hopefully, I’ll respond by being intentional in redeeming it by using some of the steps and concepts this book teaches.