The Christian leader’s public persona

A young church leader asked me yesterday if I thought a lot of Christian leaders have a gap between their public persona and their private life.

Great question.

An experienced leader once spoke to me, with searing honesty, about a particularly successful phase in his ministry where he realised there was a gap between his level of giftedness and his level of maturity. God had gifted him with quite spectacular gifts in public ministry but he did not have the maturity to match.

I’ve no plans to survey leaders in search of confessions, but I think it’s not too difficult to find evidence of a problem.

Those of us who have some kind of public persona, whether as leaders or preachers, often come across as those who have it all together. We never worry (because we roll our burdens onto Jesus), we are patient and kind, our wives worship the ground we walk on and are so grateful to be married to such wonderful people, we never get angry, all the prayers we pray in our rich prayer lives are answered, we never have any doubts, questions or fears. The calm conviction that we express so eloquently from the pulpits we grace characterises every waking moment.

If only.

If only they knew.

That our wives sometimes despair of us (I’m reminded of the incident which Paul Tripp recounts – against himself – where he told his wife that 95% of the women in his church would love to be married to a man like him: she declared herself in the 5%!).

That some of us struggle to pray, that we don’t always find our souls nourished by our Bible readings, that our private spiritual lives may not have the vitality everyone assumes, that we get anxious, that we feel guilty, that we may lie awake at night fretting over one thing or another, that we get more angry over some things than we should, that the fruit of the Spirit is not always evident in our lives, that we have questions about unanswered prayer, that we have regrets, that we sometimes get more wrong in our leadership than we get right, we experience moments of self-doubt and self-loathing, that when we cut we bleed, that we sometimes struggle to forgive, or that we have times when we even wonder if we should really be doing this stuff.

That we are not perfect.

Well, some of us at any rate.

And of course we will not be until we see Jesus and we are made like him.

Meantime…

  1. If you are a leader and this is a little bit convicting, that’s OK: none of this should be taken as an excuse for hypocrisy. Before you are a leader you are a follower, a disciple. Your ministry is a gift and privilege from God, but it is not meant to let you off the hook of the call to follow. To change. To repent, believe the gospel and walk in obedience and growth. What you are in public, what you say in public ought to be challenging who you are in private before it challenges anyone else.
  2. And then perhaps some of what you are in private needs to start to colour that public persona. I think that some aspects of ‘authenticity’ can be overdone (read Psalm 73 where Asaph seems to suggest that there are times when even honest doubts are best worked through before being announced to the people at large), but our struggles as imperfect leaders and teachers should tinge our ministries with a does of reality and humanity. A friend of mine talks about ‘leaking leaders.’

What if over time the public and the private converge more? What if we become more holy, more godly, more patient and kind? What if, at the same time, our public ministries are increasingly marked by humility and grace?

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