Monday, October 19, 2009


There's something to be said for loyalty. I haven't said much about it because I've enjoyed so much of it over the course of my ministry career that I've probably taken it for granted. But if you follow Christ, you will get to experience what he experienced, and that includes knowing what betrayal feels like. You will be initiated into the "fellowship of Christ's sufferings." You will get to understand why Jesus kept asking Peter, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). You will relate to Jesus asking the twelve, "You don't want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67). You will get why Paul bemoaned the fact that Demas had deserted him (2 Timothy 4:10). You will have to wipe a traitor's kiss off your cheek (Matthew 26:49). Jesus would be the first to tell you it's hard to build a movement out of people who are fickle, finicky and flighty, but Jesus also warned that fickle, finicky and flighty are what we'll get to work with.

I find loyalty hard to talk about because there is such a narrow path between cavernous extremes. On the one side I am sensitive to the many abuses of loyalty that have been seen in Christian circles, where the domineering pastor or Christian leader has everyone running scared. He keeps everyone silent through grand proclamations of authority and submission. The sheep meekly stumble along. But that is not actually loyal behavior. It's cultish behavior (loyalty is for the overall good; cultishness is only good for the leader). On the other side, there is a drop-off into gluelessness (not cluelessness, although probably that too). People come and go randomly. No one has any idea who is going to show up. No one stands by their word. No one trusts anyone. No one has the other person's back. I'm not sure which is worse. Too much loyalty or too little of it.

I'm still learning on this subject, but here's what I've discovered so far about how to engender a healthy loyalty, and process disloyalty when it occurs.

1. Another word for loyalty is team. Loyal people are team players. They think constantly, "How do we win together?" Individualism, on the other hand, is at the heart of disloyalty. A disloyal person is unwilling to put others' interests above their own. Their personal agenda ends up trumping all others, and eventually, when they don't get what they want, they leave and take their toys with them.

2. In a Christian context loyalty must be aligned with Christ. Paul said, "Follow me inasmuch as I follow Christ." If a leader is not following Christ, then all bets of loyalty are off (this is not Enron, here). We are only signing up to follow someone, because they are following Someone. But provided that our leaders are pointed in the right direction (toward Christ) then loyalty is godly and good.

3. Good followership is as important as good leadership. Just as there can be bad leaders, there can also be bad followers. Bad followers have a tendency to blame leaders for their lack of loyalty. Bad leaders tend to blame followers for their lack of leadership. The only way out of this death spiral is for everyone to over-own their own stuff; leaders need to step up their leadership, and followers must step up their loyalty.

4. Loyalty can thrive in a context of disagreement. For us to be loyal to each other, we do not necessarily have to agree with each other on every point. In fact, until there is disagreement, you will not be able to tell whether or not someone is loyal or just following along because it's going their way. Christian unity is embracing diversity within the will of God. It is an awesome thing to be on a team where people don't have to necessarily agree on every point, but when they leave the room they are 100% united in their direction and efforts.

5. The closer people are to the center, the more loyalty cannot just be encouraged but demanded. Not all disloyalty is created equal. Cracks at the edge can be cosmetically concealed. Fissures at the center threaten the very existence of the organization (can you imagine if the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not united?). Because of this, a pastor-friend of mine who is intent on this point tells staff when they are hired, "Disloyalty will get you fired." Some might see this as a self-serving threat. He views this as a protective measure against the Enemy.

6. When you are betrayed, keep in mind the bigger picture. A very small percentage of people are truly disloyal. In Jesus' case the ratio was one in twelve. The pain of such behavior can be so intense, however, that it can cause you to lose sight of the faithfulness of the majority. Going back to the garden of Eden, it has been one of Satan's strategies to get us focused on what we don't have and think we need, and get our eyes off of the abundant blessings we already have. Don't fall for this! Recognize and rejoice in the majority of folks who keep their commitments.

7. Talk is cheap...and a red flag. The more of it you hear, the more skeptical you should be. Peter was vociferous in his declarations that he would never deny Christ. Jesus smelled a rat. Even Judas tried to play off his traitorous ways at the Lord's Supper. Maybe this is why James (Jesus' half-brother) said, "Don't tell us, show us." I believe you will find that the most loyal people will not be the ones promising to be. They will be the ones who keep their eyes on the Lord and week after week show up and carry out their ministry with a smile on their face, and joy in their heart.

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