Stupid [Toxic] Leaders: Lessons from Proverbs

Stupid Toxic LeadersA fundamental character trait of good leaders is humility. However, many have experienced quite the opposite in their Christian organizations.

There seems to be a pervading sense of arrogance and hunger for power in our current culture, though I have no statistics to back it up nor do I know the heart of man. Though the business world has made great strides in the development of leadership models that emphasize a form of humility, the Christian community continues to struggle along with the world around them.

We continue to create more James MacDonalds, James Bakkers, Mark Driscolls, Bill Hybels, Jerry Falwell Jrs….etc.

There seems to be a love affair with leaders who thumb their noses at community and authority alike. They operate on the assumption that their way is always right and simply claim persecution when confronted.

My recent reading of Proverbs has given me a glimpse at the kind of people who should be in leadership in Christian organizations and the church. It is chock full of references to humility. And the Proverbs don’t pull punches.

Take for instance,

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Proverbs 12:1

Those who don’t respond to reproof – or criticism – are stupid. I have been on a crusade lately to rid our public discourse, and mine, of words like that. But that word certainly gets to the core of the problem. The leader (or anyone else) who refuses to listen to criticism – who blows off any discussion of how they may have failed – is stupid. They are hurting themselves and hurting others. They are failing to grow and become more what the Lord wants them to be.

Toxic leaders, that are being challenged, market it as persecution. They must retain their image. They must be “right.” But Proverbs has something to say about that:

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)

These people see themselves as right. A toxic leader will always see themselves as right. There is no humility that would mold their response to criticism. They can’t possibly be the one in the wrong.

Dan Allendar, a Chritian psychologist, has written many helpful books. One in particular, Bold Love, discusses the “scoffer.” Scoffer is a title given to a particularly evil person in the Proverbs.

All of us are capable of doing evil things, but evil people are driven by a self-interest that is so heartless, conscious, and cruel that it delights in stealing from others the lifeblood of their soul. Often the one who delights in evil is an ordinary, unassuming person who hides behind a facade of normalcy. Few people who are evil ever appear evil, even after the evidence of their deceit, destructiveness, and hardness is exposed. [Bold Love, page 233]

These are the scoffers that Allendar describes.

A wise son hears his father’s instruction,
but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

Proverbs 13:1 (ESV)

Humility drives out self-interest. Humility answers a rebuke with…well, humility. Exhortation provides an opportunity for growth and community interconnectedness. Not power and self-interest. And in humility, the wise leader will hear it, seaking to grow as a leader and Jesus-follower.

Who are your heroes? Are they like Jesus or arrogant and power-hungry?

Let’s get on top of this. May the church nurture and hold up humble leadership.


Allender, Dan B., and Tremper Longman III. Bold Love. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

Book by Editor of P&S

Kelly Dehnert, Editor of Pearls and Swine, has written a book about his family’s life in Africa as missionaries. The book provides helpful insights to engaging other cultures.

What others say about the book:

[To Africa On a Lark] is extremely readable, with an easy to follow flow. The stories are quite engaging…The overall theme of cross-cultural adjustment, with the “razor” image, comes through clearly. I hope that many will read, enjoy, and benefit from your engaging string of accounts.

J. Nelson Jennings, PhD – Editor, Global Missiology – English

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