Three Temptations That Destroy Good Leaders

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.

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15 thoughts on “Three Temptations That Destroy Good Leaders

  1. Agreed Wallace! It is rightly stated in 1 John 2:16, "For everything in the world—
    the cravings of sinful man,
    the lust of his eyes and
    the boasting of what he has and does—
    comes not from the Father but from the world."

    Everyone is prone to these 3 temptations and good leaders are no exception. The key is to cling on to the Cross and surrender ourselves unto Him (not once, twice, or thrice but) everyday, every time.

  2. One thing comes to mind, when reading this; Everyone is human and therefore subject to failure. I think it was Rick Warren that said Anyone can be guilty of any sin in any given situation. People are always so shocked when a Pastor falls into one of the temptations listed in this post, yet, we are all human, including those in the Pulpit! It is sad when it happens, but no less destructive than when a working man and father of 3, does the same thing. It is almost as though there is a line at the pulpit, when you cross it, sin no longer tempts you. I like what he has to say about making lines for himself, to help safeguard against them. Has a plumline for when he does make mistakes to determine what happened and when. Good post!
    Twitter: bryankr

  3. J Warner is fantastic. I've been listening to his podcast for a few years now. I agree with him completely that these three area are were most, perhaps all, temptation and sin begins. I would go a little further though and say all three of these are at their base selfish. Is selfishness not the root of the first sin in the garden and ultimately all our sins today? These three are the next step from that and it is necessary for us to monitor these motives closely and do our best to avoid them.

  4. Awesome post.

    Each of the three things line-up with what Neal T. Anderson outlines as the three human desires that drive us in his book Victory Over The Darkness. He list Security, Significance and Acceptance.

    Security – Greed

    Acceptance – Sexual and Relational Lust

    Significance – Power

    These are desires of ours based on how and who we were created. It all goes back to Adam and Eve. I can’t wait to read Warner’s book.
    Twitter: ericdingler

    • I have been working on memorizing a passage today that I think ties into these 3 very well: Ephesians 1:18-19 in Paul's prayer for the saints,

      "having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope (Security) to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance (Acceptance) in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness (Significance) of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might."

      It appears Paul new and prayed that our complete desires as believers would be daily satisfied in Christ. The Lord is good.

    • I like your lists. I hope you don't mind if I add another one.

      wealth – security – greed
      fame – acceptance – sexual and relational lust
      power – significance – power

      Wealth, fame, and power are just means to an end, given to us by God. The problem is when the end objective is satisfying the flesh versus glorifying God. The Ephesians passage mentioned by Brent reminds me that God is both the objective and the Supplier of the means. I look forward to reading the book.