Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge.

Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites.

I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence, and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti-denominational churches: They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hardly just the antidenominational folks. Any church can undermine or ignore all their safeguards.

So we gotta keep our eyes open! Watch for fruit. Mt 7.15-20 Good fruit and bad.

And it’s hardly just the leadership’s duty to watch out for hypocrisy. Every Christian needs to watch out for hypocrisy among our leaders. If they’re acting fake, take ’em aside privately, and call them on it! “You said such-and-so happened, but I know it actually didn’t,” or “You say you’ve never committed such a sin, but I know different,” or anything else which feels fraudulent. Yeah they’re gonna balk at the correction. Too many people think of accountability as judgment, and they don’t wanna be judged! But Christian leaders know (or should know) that judgment is part of the job. As is accountability.

Especially because it’s so easy for Christian leaders to slide into hypocrisy. Believe it or not, most leaders never intend to become hypocrites! It starts subtly and casually. First we preach against sin… and never happen to mention we commit such sins ourselves, ’cause we figure (wrongly) it’d undermine our message. Or the church’s respect. Or it’d just be personally embarrassing.

Or—and I’ve actually heard a pastor teach this!—we claim our sins are none of the church’s business. We have a right to privacy! People are looking for any excuse to sin, so if we publicly confess our sins, even if we denounce those very same sins, they’ll still use it as an excuse to commit these very same sins. And yeah, that’s bunk. Sinners look for any excuse to excuse our behavior, and anything’ll do—whether it’s a pastor refusing to confess, or a congregant looking for a reason.

In the end, leaders lie because they covet power. Jesus’s power. They don’t just wanna supervise his churches for him; they wanna be little feudal dukes running fiefdoms in his kingdom. Never mind his kingdom doesn’t work that way at all. We only have one Lord. 1Co 8.6 But they wanna create some unbiblical chain of command where they rule the people God means for them to serve. Part of unrighteous rule, since time immemorial, has been to convince the people the ruler can do no wrong; that they exist on some pedestal of virtue. But these pedestals have three horrible side effects.

LIES GROW. Frauds have a way of multiplying themselves.

We start with one lie. We tell it once. We expect to only tell it once. But at some point we’re obligated to repeat it. And tell it again, over and over again—and to defend the first lie, we gotta invent new lies to support it. Then we gotta invent lies to support the supporting lies. And so on. Lies pile upon lies.

Next thing you know, our lives are all lies.

I’ve seen one pastor’s life, thanks to this kind of hypocrisy, degrade horribly. He couldn’t keep his chain of lies together in front of his family, so he forced them to become complicit: They had to lie. He felt he had to tightly control his family, paranoid lest they let slip any of his faults. He made their lives miserable, friendless, secretive, and hell. And with their unwilling support, he slid further and further into even worse secret sins. He, and they, were living the worst-case scenario. It finally ended with his suicide. I wish that were an exaggeration, but I spent a lot of time with this pastor, thought I knew him, and had no idea… till he died and all the secrets spilled forth.

We see this throughout history in the lives of dictators and kings. They have no accountability, so they get more and more warped over time. Happens to church leaders too.

DODGING GOD. God doesn’t get along with hypocrites, and they don’t get along with him either. They stop listening to him: They ignore the Holy Spirit’s rebuke. They stop producing fruit. They go to churches which will never call them on their fruitless behavior. If they lead a church (God forbid), they’ll slowly eliminate any program, any Christian, who dares call them on their fruitless lives.

I’ve attended such churches. They’re dysfunctional families. They only produce fake fruit. The pastor—because nobody can tell him any different—starts preaching some really freaky interpretations of the bible. The church can even get abusive and legalist, forcing its members to behave in very rigid, controlled ways in order to be more perfect hypocrites. Next thing you know, you have a cult.

I know; sounds like a worst-case scenario. It is. But it happens way too often. Every single independent Fundamentalist Baptist church I’ve ever visited, without exception, is this kind of cult. Every single angry preacher is the potential leader of such a cult. Their fruitlessness is your warning.

GETTING OUTED. Of course, once you embrace a life of hypocrisy, you kinda have to turn your church into a cult. God may permit the blind to lead the blind, but when the blind are leading the sighted, the sighted tend to call the leadership on their bad behavior… so the leadership tends to drive them away.

And if the Holy Spirit is still in that church, he’s not gonna permit this behavior for long. He’ll insist the blind get cured.

Every time Christian leaders get caught, their lies get exposed, they’re humiliated, and sometimes even arrested, have no doubt: The Holy Spirit was totally behind it. Oh, those fallen leaders and their followers will claim the devil was the cause, or blame some other disloyal follower. They wanna maintain the façade that God’s on their side. But that’s not so. God corrects his wayward kids.

Contrary to what a lot of leaders teach and assume, God is totally okay with shattering people’s trust in their leaders. After all, they’ve made themselves into idols, and God will have no other gods before him.

We’re meant to follow Jesus. We only follow our leaders so long that they likewise follow Jesus. If our leaders claim God wants us to blindly trust and follow them, regardless of where and how they lead, it goes entirely against the scriptures. “It’s necessary to obey God over people,” the apostles told their wayward temple leaders, Ac 5.29 and that goes for every single authority but Jesus.

Depending on how far the leaders’ lies go, exposure can be a minor embarrassment and a simple public apology. Or it can escalate into felonies, ruin families, shatter Christians’ trust in leaders, shatter Christians’ faith in God. And that last thing is absolutely the hypocritical leaders’ fault: They lied about who God is, so of course the false faith they taught must be shattered. Chains must be broken. But it’s gonna be hard for these Christians to embrace the real God, as he is, when they’ve been brainwashed for so long.