Temptations that Affect the Christian Leader – And How to Overcome Them
What is temptation? For the Christian leader, it is anything that pulls one away from being an effective leader by God’s standards. There are some temptations that are very easy to see and many do well that keep away from them. However, there are those temptations that can weave their way in and cause decline without an individual realizing it. Those are temptations such as personal recognition, pursuit of material or financial success and power or control from being in a place of authority. How is the individual leader to resist these temptations? Jesus mirrors for the Christian leader the steps to be successful when facing these and other temptations.
Joseph M. Stowell (1994) stated, “Ministry leadership is not a popularity contest, and those who lead to please may soon find themselves looking for another flock to shepherd.” (p. 97) Personal recognition or popularity is one of the snares that face the Christian leader. Some may be drawn into this snare by believing that it is important to please people and be on the side of the majority so they can be successful leaders. This, however, will not help the leader be God’s leader.
Jesus when faced with the devil’s temptations used the power of the word of God to combat his tricks. The scripture states:
“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4)
Henri J. M. Nouwen (1989) states, “Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant: to turn stones into bread.” (p. 30) While being relevant may be looked at as something wonderful, Jesus did not try to prove his worth to gain popularity or status. His response to the devil’s temptation was to speak the word of God against the tempter. This is the same defense that will be effective for the Christian leader. When one is tempted to be relevant he must remember that it is about God and not about personal success. The word of God is the shield against these temptations.
“One of the main sufferings experienced in the ministry is that of low self-esteem. Many priests and ministers today increasingly perceive themselves as having very little impact.” (Nouwen, p. 31) This is how the enemy uses the pursuit of personal recognition to trick many. One begins to feel relevant when he receives the praise of men. Jesus shows that the focus should be on the Father and he will establish one’s self worth.
The second temptation is the pursuit of material or financial success. John McArthur (2005) expounds on Paul’s words when he writes:
“Another more sinister pitfall to avoid is doing the work of the ministry for sordid gain. ‘I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes,’ Paul said to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:33). ‘No one can serve two masters,’ Jesus declared, ‘for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon’ (Matt. 6:24). This is doubly true of pastors, whom God requires to be ‘free from the love of money’” (p. 24)
McArthur was speaking about pastors, but this statement can be applied to any Christian leader. God requires his leaders to follow him and not the pursuit of selfish gain. Jesus’ response to the devil’s snare of personal gain was to rebuke his trickery with the truth of God’s word. The devil tried to trick Jesus by telling him to wait for God’s angels to catch him after he threw himself down from the a pinnacle of the temple (Matthew 4:5-7). While this scripture does not speak to money in particular, it speaks to a mindset of deserving something. The devil was trying to tempt Jesus by making him think he deserved God’s angels to care for his needs. When the leader believes he or she deserves money or material gain, he can fall prey to the same trick Satan tried to tempt Jesus with; specifically an attitude of being owed something. Jesus says do not tempt God.
The final temptation is the lure of power:
“The problem with a platform of assumed authority is that the shepherd moves beyond the authority of the Word and seeks to exercise unchallenged personal authority and control in preferential issues and matters of church policy. Real authority is given, not gotten. Every time we grab for it, problems inevitably follow.” (Stowell, p. 100)
When leaders seek the power or authority, they allow themselves to become prideful. The humble leader realizes they are being used as a vessel for God. Jesus realized this when he was tempted:
“Again the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:8-10)
Satan tried to tempt Jesus with the promise that he would have all the power. Jesus rebuked the devil and affirmed God’s word that only God should be worshipped. When the Christian leader looks to oneself to be powerful, they are looking for the honor and authority to be given to them.
The question then is how did Jesus overcome all these temptations? Jesus was able to overcome all these temptations because he took time in prayer and fasting to take control over the flesh. Jesus also spoke the word against those thoughts that the enemy would try to bring. Jesus knew that the battle starts in the mind and the word is the only effective weapon against that. He also had to have hidden the word in his heart to be able to speak it so freely. This is a reminder that one must hide the word in their heart so they will not sin against God.
These steps help the leader to stay humble before God. The humbled leader does not seek personal recognition but turns to promoting God. The humble leader speaks, preaches or leads not because of what will be gained personally, but because it will help others to follow God. The humble leader resists the temptation to seek for oneself the honor of “king” or “ruler” by always seeking the true sovereignty of God. When the Christian leader hides the word of God in their heart, those lures that would destroy can be overcome. The Christian leader can overcome, because God’s Spirit will empower them. The Christian leader can be an overcomer because Jesus already overcame the world.
MacArthur, John. (2005). Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically.
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. (1989). In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company.
Stowell, Joseph M. (1994). Shepherding The Church: Effective Leadership in a Changing Culture. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
Thompson, Frank Charles, D.D., PH.D. (1988). The Thompson chain-reference Bible, 5th ed. Indianapolis, IN: B. B. Kirkbridge Bible Co., Inc.