We were both deeply saddened to read this week of the removal of Steve Timmis from his role as CEO of Acts 29. Saddened, not because of the action of the Board in standing him down for ‘abusive leadership’, but because this action was necessary and right. Others have written about the specifics of this situation (read, for example, the informative Christianity Today article). But, despite our sadness, we also want to learn from (what we must recognise) is not a unique or isolated problem amongst Christian leaders.
‘Success’ in ministry carries great danger for a leader and can function to mask or excuse their sinful behaviour.
Steve Timmis has been admired as a clear, passionate and effective teacher and leader within The Crowded House church he founded in Sheffield, and more recently as CEO of the Acts 29 network. He has been successful in drawing people to Christ and to the ministry and has exercised an influence on others more broadly as a writer and speaker. Even some of those who’ve felt profoundly hurt by his ministry continue to recognise his effectiveness. Unfortunately, ‘success’ in ministry carries great danger for a leader (1 Cor 10:12) and can function to mask or excuse their sinful behaviour.
Lessons for All
There are lessons for us all in this. For those in leadership, those being led, and those developing leadership structures and systems.
Humility is crucial in Christian leadership. Humility begins with a recognition of our finitude before God and moves us to live and be concerned for the other above ourselves (1 Pet 5:2-6; Phil 2:3,4). Humility means we will be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). It means actively seeking out, and valuing, the perspectives, opinions and advice of others (Prov 12:15; 15:31-33). Humble leaders willingly submit to accountability structures rather than insulating themselves from criticism or surrounding themselves with sycophants.
We should all see a lack of humility as a critical flaw in leaders and potential leaders. Those of us involved in selecting leaders must be looking for, and valuing, humility. Those of us training leaders must be teaching humility. All of us should be encouraging and commending humility in our leaders and calling out its absence.
Humility, of course must also be evidenced in us as followers. We in Australia have perhaps reached a point where our reflex reaction is to resist challenge, and we may be too quick to accuse leaders of bullying or abusive behaviour. The Bible calls us to be ready and willing to submit to those over us in the Lord (Heb 13:17), and not quick to entertain accusations against an elder (1 Tim 5:19). However, our submission to another person is not to be absolute or unquestioning. We must be very wary of any leader whose demands blur the distinction between following them and their vision and following the Lord Jesus.
We must be very wary of any leader whose demands blur the distinction between following them and their vision and following the Lord Jesus
In our sadness we’ve been praying for all who’ve been hurt and are grieving as a result of what’s happened, for the leaders and people involved Acts 29, and for Steve and his family. We pray as people who are just as susceptible to sin and temptation, and just as desperately in need of repentance, grace and transformation as anyone. We are praying that God would grow us in humility, and that he would give us great wisdom to recognise and rejoice in humility in others. We’re also praying that God would help us to train and grow humility in those preparing for Christian leadership. Will you join us in prayer?