We all change. We have also witnessed many leaders fall from positions of influence or impact over the past three decades. As I have known or studied great leaders who later plummeted from prominence, it became clear that they changed over a long trajectory of leadership. It seems the problem has become more endemic these past three decades than it was in the three decades before. Why?
I think there are at least two related factors that contribute to this trend: 1) our culture has bought into “hero worship,” and 2) leaders go through a slow, subtle, and almost imperceptible process of believing what others expect of them.
First, every culture throughout history has had its heroes. Heroes are needed and often motivate people to accomplish more than they would have otherwise. However, “hero worship” catapults heroes to an entirely different status. Hero worship occurs when we want to be like them, think like them, smell like them, talk like them, dress like them, act like them, and even eat like them. We elevate the hero to an idol. Since the 1960’s I have witnessed this phenom with musical bands from the Beatles onward. We’ve seen it in the celebrity culture of the wealthy, Hollywood, athletes, politicians, and artists, which eventually devolved into the social media “influencers” of today.
Many have made a fortune by capitalizing on this phenomenon. The main problem is that most influencers today curate their image by the media picture of themselves they portray.
This same culture has been manifested in the Church. Authors, actors, and large church pastors fall under the same expectations that we see in our surrounding culture.
- We expect the pastor of a larger church to be smarter than the pastor of a smaller church.
- We expect the pastor of a larger church to be a better leader than the pastor of a smaller church.
- We expect the pastor of a larger church to be a better communicator than the pastor of a smaller church.
- We expect the pastor of a larger church to be godlier than the pastor of a smaller church.
- We expect the pastor of a larger church to have more insight into scripture than the pastor of a smaller church.
…and the list goes on. And the same applies to Christian authors, actors, and other celebrities.
These expectations are all lies. They are false narratives bought into through “hero worship.” But these expectations seep into the culture of the church from the culture around us with very little notice. And the leaders in the church, like the celebrities in our society, like the perks that accompany this type of attention or expectations, for a while. For some leaders enjoy them for a long, long while.
The second factor has to do with the leaders themselves. They actually begin to believe what others expect of them. “Hero Worship” by congregants is bad enough, but when the leaders and pastors begin to buy into that, then we have the perfect storm. More on that next week.