Imaging Leadership: When Image is More Important Than Anything

Imaging Leadership

One of the surest ways to kill an organization is to be driven by image.

One of the surest ways to identify a toxic leader is to find one driven by image.

The Bible is repleat with examples and the modern business and Christian organization world is full of them. It is a huge temptation for any organization that feels more dependent on donor funds than God.

Only in the Christian organization it is spun as “being an example for Christ.”

In other words, truth does not really matter. What really matters is if appearances are kept up for the public. Then Christ is glorified.

And it just so happens, the money flows better that way. Contributions roll in unabated.

But, Jesus never told his people to fake it until you make it. In fact, He most commonly called those who do hypocrites and that was not a positive assessment of their spiritual state (Matthew 6).

Saul and Image

King Saul reigned in Israel approximately 1021–1000 BC. He was their first king, which is a story in itself (not to be discussed here).

At one point he was told by the prophet Samuel to attack Amalek. He did as commanded by the Lord. But, though being told to destroy everyone and everything, Saul spared the king and held onto the best of the sheep and oxen.

Samuel came to Saul having been told by the Lord, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” (1 Sam. 15:10)

As Samuel confronted him, Saul immediately began shifting the blame to the people. Samuel told him the Lord was stripping him of his kingship. Saul responded,

“I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.” (1 Samuel 15:30 (ESV))

“I have sinned.” Sounds like he got it right. But listen to those words following.

“Honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel. . .” His image is of greatest importance here. His confession is only a ploy to please the prophet. His desire for honor far outweighs his relationship with the Lord.

Samuel seems to think so as well.

He tells Saul that he will not return with him and walks away. However, Saul won’t stand for it and grabs the prophet’s robe, tearing it. Samuel in turn uses Saul’s disrespectful action as a metaphor and tells Saul that God is tearing his kingdom away from him just as he tore Samuel’s robe.

And then Samuel returns with Saul and finishes the job Saul was supposed to do.

Outward Appearances

Saul is a good (evil) example of the image-driven pastor, organizational leader, or business CEO. The Lord does not look on outward appearances (2 Cor. 5:12) and you will never get away with being driven by an image rather than the real deal (1 Sam. 16:7). God sees through that. God knows your character through and through.

You cannot put on airs with Jesus like you do for your adoring public.

Jesus will bring it to light at some point.

If you have the opportunity to join an organization that seems to have it all together and never airs its dirty laundry . . . run.

It is unhealthy and hypocritical.

If you have the opportunity to join an organization that seems to have it all together and tells you all the ways that it does ministry better than anyone else . . . run.

It is unhealthy and they are lying.

We Will Crush You

When an organization is driven by image, you can be assured it will do anything to keep that image alive.

That means the leaders will lie about wrongdoing. They will crush dissent. They will refuse criticism . . . even constructive criticism. They will put on a facade for the donors.

On a side note, this is of what NDAs are made. NDAs are often intended to keep that image alive through silencing its victims while offering cold cash for the buyout.

I worked for a mission agency like this. I watched it in action. And I drank the Koolaid for several years. I am not above being sucked in.

My wife had to confront me (in her gracious way) following a missions conference when I came away all blustery about how our mission was so much better than all those other missions.

It was less than a year later that all that image crumbled before me and we left the mission beaten and bruised by the toxic leadership.

It is insidious. Don’t take part in it . . . it will kill you.

For helpful information on “impression management” by Wade Mullen:

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