Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Leadership

Our Present Leadership Idolatry

On the eve of Winston Churchill’s birthday, he was asked if he was ready to die. His response is etched on his gravestone: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Like all too many leaders on the world stage, Churchill was full of himself. As a young man, he threw himself into battles for he was certain he would not die. “I have faith in my star” he wrote his mother. “I do not believe the Gods would create so potent a being as myself for so prosaic an ending.”

Churchill made the tragic mistake of believing he was necessary to God. It’s a common leadership disorder. Leaders get a taste of power and like to believe they are the “soul of a nation”. The “dominant player in the grand narrative.” “The center of our democracy.” These are the non-sensical phrases I read in the news.

The greater disaster are the fawning sycophants who give fuel to the thought.

To those leaders who believe they have their hand on the tiller of history, who believe they are indispensable to the divine, God makes it clear they are not. God needs no one. A.W. Tozer’s writings on God make the point—”Need is a creature-word and cannot be spoken of the Creator.” 

Given the political circus we wake up to each morning, it’s time to resist the notion that leaders are necessary to God. God is not bound by any necessity except to be who he is. Paul’s words to the intellectuals of his day bear repeating—“The God who made the world is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:24-25).

So much noise comes out of Washington these days. Impressed with their power, leaders of multiple parties and stripes would have us think everything rests upon their decisions. The media plays into this lie as well. The real sadness is seeing so many Christians sucked into their present parade and need for adulation.

Have we forgotten that earthly leaders no more bring the world under their control than they guide the wind into a paddock for the night? This is how Leithart puts it in his reflection on Solomon, another leader overcome with self-importance. We may think we leave an enduring legacy, but our projects are no more permanent than “cloud castles on a windy day.”

It is God who holds all things together (Col 1:17). Leaders are but shadows, phantoms who rise and make their noise, but it is all hebel, vain, a whisp of steam (Ps 39:5). The prophet asks, “Have you not heard,”, for we often act like we are deaf—“He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” No sooner do they take root, then he blows on them and they wither (Isa 40:21-24). Any assumptions of necessity are stripped away.

God uses leaders to give direction and order. They invent things. Lead teams to victory and armies into battle. In the hand of God, they serve his purposes. We could not live without them. But God can. And we should live in light of this. These are days for the church to regain our perspective. Leaders come and go. Today’s hope is tomorrow’s material for SNL. But God’s purposes will stand. Whatever he wills to do, he does. His news is what matters.

  • Poppy smith
    4:31 PM, 13 December 2020

    Idolatry is exactly the word that comes to me as I watch and listen to deluded followers creating chaos.

    • Deborah
      9:40 AM, 16 December 2020

      Deluded followers? Interesting term.

  • Greg Smith
    8:55 AM, 18 December 2020

    Good words, as always… thank you for your healthy perspective.

  • Bill Chapin
    12:54 PM, 2 January 2021

    Well said my friend. It gives me pause to think that when the focus of leadership slips from the knowledge of God’s intentions for others to self that it becomes an affliction for others because of self. Thanks for provocative reflections…

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