Recently there was a campaign adapted from a FaceBook game where people replaced their profile picture with a cartoon. The idea was to bring the problem of child abuse to people's awareness. We all know that if we do not keep talking about these things we end up ignoring them. It was unfortunate some people made assumptions and a rumour began to spread that these cartoons were being used by pedophiles to attract children, casting a shadow on a well intentioned campaign. The fact that abuse of every sort exists in our society demonstrates the results of a world chained by its sin nature. Whether it is abuse against women, children, elders, minorities or any other group that feels defenseless, it is something that occurs when the strong fail to understand their responsibility to protect those who are weaker.
Abuse is not limited to physical and mental. Abuse takes place any time a person in a higher position exerts power over someone against their will. This can take place between the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, a super power and a third world country. People and countries often times fail to understand the responsibility of their position and privilege. We forget that privilege brings with it responsibility. It is no different in the Kingdom of God. In fact, the consequences of such abuses brings greater consequences than anyone faces here. Jesus did not candy-coat it:
“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:5-6)
It is clear that Jesus takes it very seriously when someone in authority in the Kingdom fails to protect those in their care. It is unfortunate that we fail in our sinful nature to understand what a privilege we have been given to help people grow in their relationship with God. There are times when we ourselves grow weak and in our weakness lead others into sin. We have all read about the various things that have happened in churches, with men and women in places of authority and responsibility. We do not need to name them here because they are hard for us to forget.
It is our failing in understanding God's model for leadership that can lead to such abuses. We do not lead from a position of authority and power but instead from a heart of service. We do not lord over God's children the position we have been given but instead we understand that our calling is one of service to the children. We do not follow the pattern of the world where we complete tasks and increase our reputation so we become more valuable and then promoted to greater things. True leadership learns that the more we grow in maturity the more we realize the position of servanthood we have been called to. We think more of others, not less. We put more effort into seeing them grow, not less. We sacrifice more, not gain more. We give out more than we take in. The Word says that if we prove faithful with a little, more will be given to us. The "more" isn't riches but instead greater responsibility. We are not given more authority but instead more work. It is always about seeing the less mature grow and come into their own.
This form of leadership is only possible with a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of reaching a certain level of relationship because we must continue to learn and to mature. The moment we think we have arrived at the top is the moment we will begin to slip and the more open we are to abusing the privileges we have been given. Sin is a terribly destructive thing and it is never further away than one decision. Leaders cannot allow busyness of ministry to replace the relationship we have been called to or our sin nature will overwhelm us and people will be hurt in whatever form of abuse is exerted.
Jesus' words should be enough to deter leaders from wrong action but we need help staying accountable to these words. No leader should be without accountability and any wise leader will choose such covering with care. None of us like accountability and we are very much like children in this matter. However, accountability is an important covering for leaders and a protection of the people in their care. We need to be accountable for our relationship with Jesus. We need to be accountable for our relationship with other people. We need to be accountable for our actions, our words, our teaching. We need to give authority to people around us to question us about our decisions and actions. We also need to give them permission to turn to the authority we place ourselves under if they have any concerns. This can also lead to the abuse of people toward their leaders so leaders need to choose wisely.
Accountability and openness needs to be the key in all Christian ministry in the Kingdom. Knowing that we will have to answer questions for what we do causes us to think twice before taking such action, and that has to be good for everyone concerned. Jesus' words were not an idle threat but a concrete promise; leaders who abuse their responsibilities will face severe consequences. We should desire to use any worthy tool to help us stay on track so that we will hear those better words, "Well done my good and faithful servant". Let's bring an end to the cycle of abuse so nothing will take away from the glory of Jesus Christ.