Victim vs. Savior

By Dave

I've been thinking a lot about a pattern I've seen on numerous occasions, and I wonder if it's worth putting out on the table. It's the thing about church leadership feeling the responsibility to "fix" the people that attend their meetings (Note that I didn't call them "their" people. They belong to God, not the leaders, but that's another article).

At the risk of being villified for touching a sacred cow, I'll state up front that I think that for the most part our current ideas on church leadership are drastically flawed, and are based on a centuries old idolatrous system, that exalts man, satisfies the carnal nature, and robs God of His rightful place as Lord of the Church. David said, the LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1). But when a man (or woman) becomes your Shepherd … well … you'll probably lack something.

Anyhow, I've been wondering what it is that makes us feel like we - as leaders (and yes, I've been driven by this concept) - have to be the ones to solve the problems of the people on their behalf. Last I checked, a true shepherd simply leads the flock to where they can graze, stands guard and protects from enemy attack, and nurses wounds when the wolves get through the cracks and hurt the sheep.

But it seems as though many leaders believe that they must do more than simply love the "sheep". It's as though they have taken on a responsibility that belongs to God alone and are - without realizing it - usurping His authority. Maybe it's because they've made the transition from victim to savior. Let me explain …

I've long believed that the more desperate a person is, the more willing he is to cry out to the Lord for help. So, in the beginning, the "victim" truly surrenders the lordship of his life to Jesus. Of course, the more surrendered he is, the more the Lord can move through him, and the more miraculous the manifestation of the Holy Spirit will be in and through his life. This often results in a life of incredible dedication, and a very visible outworking of the gifts of the Spirit.

However, just because we have surrendered and are now experiencing the power of God in our lives, doesn't mean that we have overcome all the consequences and ramifications of the issues that drove us to Him in the first place. Our mindset and worldview doesn't change overnight, that process takes a lifetime. We call it "sanctification" - the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). We still tend to think and live out of our old mindsets and patterns. We don't have to because we've been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), but it generally takes a season - often a very long one - of equipping before we fully grasp that concept.

The problem with this is that we tend to elevate people with powerful manifestations to positions of leadership, not because the character of God has been developed in them, but because of the gifts that work through them. We are wowed by people who have had powerful salvation experiences or who are moving in the gifts of the Spirit and we launch them into visible positions long before genuine humility has been worked into the fabric of their lives. We forget that it took Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, etc. years of preparation before God could really use them to lead His people. We carnal humans seem to value gifts and supernatural manifestations more than we value character and integrity, but God doesn't look on the outward things. He looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)!

It wouldn't be too bad if leaders chosen for their gifts could remember from whence they came. But all too often, the position of leadership that we have attained because of God's grace in our broken lives becomes the very thing that gives us purpose, value, identity, and the sense of importance that we never had before we surrendered our lives to the Lord. We forget how shattered our lives were without Jesus, and we begin to think that we are somehow more important than the people we lead because God gave us a gift that the "average" Christian doesn't have. Or we think we're more valuable to God than others because our gift attract people. We have forgotten that God is looking for those with a broken spirit and a contrite heart, not for those whom He has gifted (Psalm 34:18, 51:17). After all, we wouldn't even have the gifts we have if He hadn't given them to begin with. But we become enamored with the fact that God is using us.

And what is the end result? Often it is leaders who view themselves - usually without being consciously aware that they are doing it - as the saviors of "their" people. We are sincere in our desire to help, but without realizing it, we see other people as victims of sin and we see ourselves as called to save them. We allow ourselves to be put on a pedestal by wounded people, completely unaware that we are allowing ourselves to become idols in the eyes of the very people we are called to lead to Jesus. We encourage people to place their faith in anointed people rather than in the Anointed One. And if (when?) we stumble, they fall with us because that's where their faith lies. In one word, we have become proud.

The scary part, at least to me, is that both Peter and James said that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). They were quoting principles established by God in both the Old and New Testaments through Solomon (Proverbs 3:34), Job (22:29), David (Psalm 138:6), and Matthew (23:12) - among many others.

I've known numerous frustrated church leaders, discouraged because they've toiled for years without seeing any dynamic change in their congregations and wondering why. Almost without exception, upon further discussion, I discover that they honestly believe that God has given them the responsibility to ensure spiritual growth in what they believe to be "their" people. In short - without realizing it, they see themselves as the people's savior! But if we've taken that position, it could very well be God Himself who is resisting us. God, forgive us!