THIS GUY I know would make every “emerging leader” list around. He has charmed audiences and congregations across the country and around the world. He is warm, witty, wise, and well-dressed. He moves in elite circles and has a legion of admiring fans on social media. And he is a fraud.
No, I can’t say for certain what’s in his heart, but I have gotten to see him up close. The person away from the platform doesn’t practice what he preaches. His public words sound truthful, but they are not matched by his private actions. I believe the technical term for this credibility gap is hypocrisy.
I have come across a bunch of people like him through my years working in Christian media. Sadly, the church has its own shadow celebrity culture, very similar to the one in the rest of the world about which it moralizes.
In some ways, this faith-based fawning is worse, because it’s hidden. In the world it’s more blatant: people are allowed to get away with stuff because they make money. In the church, people are allowed to get away with stuff because they are “anointed” (many times this is Christianese for making money).
I’m not suggesting people in ministry have to be perfect. We all have our stuff; anyone who has spent any time around me knows that to be true. But there is a difference between being flawed and being a fraud. Flawed means you’re trying, but failing to be all you know you should. Fraud means you are failing to even try, because for some reason you don’t think you need to—that what you are is enough.
The litmus test for flawed or fraud seems to be how you approach “falling” (many times this is Christianese for doing something you clearly know you shouldn’t. See “sin.”).
If you are flawed, you acknowledge it. You recognize your own weaknesses and failings. You name them as part of who you are, at least for now. You identify them as areas in which you need to grow, not just occasional hiccoughs that catch you by surprise.
If you are flawed, you act. You make efforts to overcome obstacles to growth, to tear down barriers to change, to heal wounds of the past, to change your way of thinking, to replace destructive habits. You go after that stuff.
If you are flawed, you accept help. You invite people into your struggles, open yourself to accountability, and ask for wisdom, insights, and even reproach. You don’t need to tell the world, but you do need to tell someone(s).
If you are a fraud, you distract. You avoid having to look at those less-than-rosy parts of your life—and keep everyone else’s eyes away from them—by talking long and loud about all the good stuff you are doing. Often in a slightly self-deprecating way; don’t want to be too obvious about it, after all.
If you are a fraud, you deflect. On those occasions when you are not able to ignore an uncomfortable issue, you point the finger elsewhere. It was their fault. If they hadn’t this, you wouldn’t have that. It’s not your responsibility.
If you are a fraud, you deny. When you get unavoidably called out, you simply ignore the evidence. You call black white. You question everyone else’s interpretation, not yours.
King David summed up the heart of it all pretty well in his confessional known as Psalm 51. This was written after he had, in all likelihood, coerced Bathsheba into adultery, and then arranged to have her husband killed to try to cover his tracks.
“You delight in truth in the inward being,” he told God (Psalm 51:6). Not on the platform or on Instagram. In his own life, away from the spotlight.
Photo by hapticflapjack on Foter.com/CC BY-NC