I’ve been teaching through John’s letters over the past couple of months – one of a couple of evening classes at Belfast Bible College. As we wrapped up the course yesterday evening we were in 3 John, where we met Diotrephes.
In the background of both 2 and 3 John are some travelling preachers – some false and some true. The church is to help the former but not the latter.
Gaius, the addressee of 3 John has done a great job of helping those preachers who have gone out on mission for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus; in contrast to him is Diotrephes.
Scholars have attempted to reconstruct the reasons for his conflict with ‘the elder’ (presumably St John, the Apostle), but the simple facts are that Diotrephes refuses to acknowledge John, he is spreading gossip about him, he refuses to welcome the missionaries and excommunicates anyone who goes against his policy.
And he ‘likes to put himself first’.
Ego leading the church.
A week ago, a prominent evangelical pastor in America resigned from his post. His elders have written on the church website, detailing some of the patterns of sinful behaviour which have led to this situation: they include ‘manipulation and lying’; ‘domineering over those in his charge’ and ‘a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms’.
These are their words and not mine. They tell a story, like 3 John, of ego leading the church.
Perhaps you think of the old dictum that said that power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. It’s naive to think that Christian leadership is exempt from this.
Which calls for some urgent reflection on the nature and practice of Christian leadership. What is the nature of a leader’s authority? Should that be leaders’ (plural) authority? How can a leader recognise when ego is settling into the driving seat? When is it appropriate for a leader to exercise authority (as John appears to do in 3 John)?
And how is the concept of authority coloured by Jesus’ teaching that his followers are to relate in ways that are different from the leaders of the secular world?
Do we need to see more leaders taking up the towel and washing people’s feet?