In the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, a young child exclaimed what everyone else in the crowd was thinking, “the king isn’t wearing anything at all!” Similarly, I have to believe that in spite of an apparent silence, many people perceive how Christian leaders struggle with profound spiritual temptations when they pursue leaving a legacy.
Whether it be a business, the university, the church or simply managing our own homes, a problem arises with legacy building and just about everything else. Matters of the heart will steer our course. When someone is in a leadership position, the consequences become amplified.
Nothing is inherently wrong with money, legacies or friendships. Nor is there anything wrong with a 1001 other tools or accomplishments.
And yet, scripture repeatedly reminds us about the danger their allurement poses to a Christian’s heart, tempting our hearts to organize our lives around pursuing them (1 Timothy 6:10; 1 John 2:16; Luke 12:15,34; Matthew 10:37). Perhaps we can see most clearly this danger when we consider how competing forces can tear at the heart of those in leadership.
A Christian business executive desires the company to flourish under his or her management. What if a particular path forward could ensure one’s legacy at the company, but would involve utilizing chemicals or technology that could pose a serious health problem over time? Which would be more important: upholding Christian values such as the Golden rule and loving people in the same way as one desires to take care of oneself or serving the bottomline to gain a legacy?
A Christian university wants to attract clients (students) by offering a great product (graduates experience a high employment rate because businesses recognize their quality). Universities, just like living organisms, want to thrive and grow, not shrivel and die.
Yet, what happens when the cultural base of its potential client base moves away from Christian values and beliefs? Will the university accommodate its teachings to the surrounding culture in order to attract clients and survive or will it faithfully promote Christ and the biblical authors’ intended messages throughout its academic and social activities?
Furthermore, consider the decisions preachers and elders can face. God does not want any to perish, so church leaders should want their ministries to impact more and more people. However, sometimes the goal of building one’s own legacy by establishing a large congregation can eclipse the goal of serving Christ. Which will be more important to the leadership? Leaving behind the legacy of a church whose numbers swelled by sophisticatedly pandering to societal values or being a faithful steward of what Christ has entrusted to us?
This is the age old problem of legacies, friendships, money, athletic ability, portfolios, exotic experiences, success and possessions. All such tools, experiences and acquisitions can become our Master. And when our hearts desire to serve those gifts that God has provided, what should have been our tools in serving him have now become our heart’s Master. And that Master will issue a series of attitudinal and behavioral decisions contravening serving God … regardless if we are Bible professors, Christian business executives or blue collar Christian employees.
The good news is that Christ has overcome the world. And if we are focused on Christ, not this world, we will be victorious with him. Whatever tools God might provide us, let’s use them for his glory, not serve them.