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Overcoming Temptations in Christian Leadership

Every Christian leader needs to overcome three temptations in order to be truly successful. These relate to you if you are a  pastor or a parent, a small group leader or an executive, or whatever your area of responsibility over people is. If you minister to other people you will be tempted to follow the way of the culture.

In Henri Nouwen’s little gem, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, he says Jesus shows us how to overcome the three basic temptations that can lead to a Christian leader failing.

Please People

When Jesus was fasting for forty days in the desert to pray and prepare for the launching of his ministry Satan enticed him to use his power to gratify himself and others, “Turn these stones into bread.” Jesus refused, replying, “People do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:3-4).

Making people happy is a shortcut to rising as a leader. It seems irresistible for a parent to give a fussy child a treat or a video game, but is that a good source of comfort and learning? Leaders who form their policies according to the polls meet with applause and those who “spin” their statements may get their way.

Jesus shows us how to be the kind of leader who is not dependent upon people’s approval. He fed on manna from heaven and found his security and strength in the Father’s love so he was able to do for people what was best for them, even if it disappointed them, as was often the case.

Be a Hero

Satan’s second temptation to Jesus was, “Jump from the temple! Do something spectacular to impress people!” Jesus resisted this too, choosing instead to live by the word of God: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:6-7).

Pastors today are measured by how well they’re doing with their ABC’s: Attendance, Buildings, and Cash. The pressure of unrealistic expectations is unrelenting! Often what people want them to do has nothing to do with their true effectiveness as a minister of the gospel. But many pastors make matters worse by playing the numbers game themselves, comparing themselves up or down to other pastors.

The best leaders and caregivers aren’t trying to be heroic—they are wounded healers. The Savior of the world didn’t worry about his outward signs of success, but focused instead on loving people and teaching them how to live in God’s kingdom with him. We can follow his example.

Be Powerful

Much sin is an abuse of power. Jesus was tempted to use force (like Satan) to control the kingdoms of the world, but for a third time, he quoted Scripture to Satan, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).

“Bigger is better” and “More!” are the mantras in our world. Rarely do leaders today even think about the possibility of trying not to grow a larger organization by making referrals or spinning off new startups for others to lead.

Jesus didn’t use his power to build an empire. He didn’t make people serve him—he served them! He fixed broken chairs, washed feet, and cooked breakfast for people. He befriended the poor and other societal misfits and discipled them to be godly leaders.

Downward Mobility

Jesus’ did not live by people-pleasing, heroics, or powering up. In Henri Nouwen’s words, our Lord chose “the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.”

Dear Lord God, please don’t give us more power than our character can handle. In Jesus’ name. Amen. (We learned this prayer from Dallas Willard.)

Soul Shepherding Institute

In our Soul Shepherding Institute, we teach pastors and all kinds of women and men in ministry how to resist temptation and burnout by staying renewed in their life and leadership. Also, you can earn a certificate in the ministry of Spiritual Direction. To learn more contact us!



Listen to Soul Talks “You Can Finish Well (Christly Leadership).” In this episode, sit in with this group of leaders to be challenged and inspired! Bill and Kristi will help you reflect deeply so that you can resist the temptations of cultural leadership and finish well as a Christlike leader. 


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