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Entitlement Cancer

John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, delivered a stinging indictment several years ago on televangelists and the tax perks of churches and non-profit ministries. While the show admittedly targeted the tiny minority of over-the-top financially abusive ministries (does a pastor really need a six-million-dollar home…uh, parsonage?), none of us are immune to the cancer of entitlement. Oliver even launched a tax-legit, legal, though short-lived, church to show how easy it is to start a religion: Our Lady Of Perpetual Entitlement. Seriously.

We’ve long warned pastors and churchplanters of the subtle dangers of entitlement and its Three Horsemen: Money, Sex and Power. The slightest improprieties in any of them will topple a ministry. It’s just not smart to even mildly entertain them…or in the simplest terms: never touch the money, keep your office door open, and make sure you’re accountable to a legitimate board (not your wife, son-in-law, and someone you led to Christ last year).

Scott Sinek’s classic book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, articulated the danger of creeping entitlement and how leaders can begin to feel arrogantly bulletproof in their decisions. In describing true leadership, he writes:

"(Leaders) are often willing to sacrifice their own comfort for ours, even when they disagree with us. . . . Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders choose to eat last. . . . The leaders of organizations who rise through the ranks not because they want it, but because the tribe keeps offering higher status out of gratitude for their willingness to sacrifice, are the true leaders worthy of our trust and loyalty. All leaders, even the good ones, can sometimes lose their way and become selfish and power hungry, however. . . . What makes a good leader is that they eschew the spotlight in favor of spending time and energy to do what they need to do to support and protect their people."

We’re all familiar with well-publicized failures of mega-church pastors who got caught in immoral or illegal situations. But their coverage was only due to their oversized platforms. In other words, poor self-leadership has nothing to do with the size of churches: I’ve known very small ones with spiritually abusive leaders and a controlling culture with little transparency.

It simply has everything to do with leadership. Period.

None of us are immune to the cancer of entitlement. It creeps in after years of hard work, or when we’re tired or bordering on burnout, or when the grass that should be green on our side hasn’t been watered well. Or sometimes it’s just the slime life throws at us that wears us down. Or simply not taking care of our soul.

Ask yourself these two simple questions:

1. Do you have a healthy system of organizational and personal accountability and support?

2. How intentionally have you created and nurtured a servanthood-culture in your church?

Dave Workman | Elemental Churches


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