This is a guest post by J. Warner Wallace. Wallace examines these three motives in more detail in his new book, Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
I’m a cold-case homicide detective. In the many years that I’ve been doing this job, I’ve come to recognize that every murder is driven by one of three sinister motives. It turns out that these same three motives lie behind very crime of the heart, every bad decision, and even every fatal mistake made by a leader. If you can be honest about what motivates you, there’s a good chance you can avoid the destruction that results from allowing yourself to succumb to one of these malicious motives. When I first launched a church as a bi-vocational leader, I carefully constructed my leadership template to guard myself as best I could:
The Temptation of Financial Greed
I probably doesn’t surprise you that many murderers are motivated by money, but killers aren’t the only people who are derailed by greed. When I decided to lead a church as a pastor, I deliberately volunteered my services. I was already being paid as a police detective, and I wanted to make sure that my decisions as a church leader were protected from financial considerations. I began by taking money off the table.
The Temptation of Sexual or Relational Lust
I’ve also worked a number of murders that were driven by sexual or relational desire. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the threat that this motive poses for those of us who are in leadership; we’ve all seen prominent leaders from every walk of life (both secular and religious) lose their leadership role as the result of a sexual “miss-step” of one kind or another. When I began to lead my group as a pastor, I consciously decided to do everything with my wife attached at my hip. As a police officer, I understood the appropriately high standard that officers must uphold. We cannot even allow the perception of wrongdoing. The same is true for those of us who lead in every other category of life, especially when it comes to the perception of sexual or relational wrongdoing.
The Temptation of Power
People sometimes fail to consider the pursuit of power as a motive, but I’ve investigated many murders that were committed by suspects who either wanted to hold on to some position of status, or wanted to gain influence within their gang or community. The unbridled pursuit of power can also threaten leaders, and I quickly recognized that this motive was my personal area of concern. Those of us who seek to communicate the Gospel want the good news to be heard by as many people as possible; the greater our position of influence within a community, the greater the opportunity to share the truth. It’s easy to allow our desire for influence (in order to accomplish something good) to become selfishly motivated (and result in something bad). When I planted the church, I made the conscious decision to establish a model that limited the size of our group. Anything above 50 people required us to establish additional leadership and launch a sister group that autonomously continued the mission under their own leadership. I recognized my own area of weakness and did what I could to limit its impact on my role as a leader.
Three motives lie behind every criminal act and every leadership miss-step. When I’m investigating a murder, I typically begin by looking for the person in the life of the victim who was driven by one of these motives. This person is very likely the suspect in my case. When I examine my own leadership failures, I typically begin by looking for how I might have allowed one of these three motives to influence my decision-making. If I can honestly say that none of these factors are driving me, there’s a good chance that I’ve protected myself from the destruction that results from these three temptations.