Often when one thinks of idolatry, images of manmade objects that people bow before come to mind. But idols of the heart are as offensive and destructive as idols of the hands. Things we set up as gods in our hearts are idols, and they determine and drive how we live. Martin Luther said, “Under every behavioral sin is the sin of idolatry.” Tim Keller, David Powlison, and Dick Keyes have written much more extensively and eloquently on the idols beneath the surface, but here is a snapshot of four root idols that drive our behavior.
- Power: a longing for influence or recognition
- Control: a longing to have everything go according to my plan
- Comfort: a longing for pleasure
- Approval: a longing to be accepted or desired
The idolatry of leaders impact more than just the leaders, as teams and entire organizations are affected. The idolatry in a pastor’s heart impacts more than the pastor, as the church and community are affected by a waning passion for the Lord.
How do these four idols manifest and work themselves out in the lives of leaders? And how are teams, ministries, and organizations adversely impacted?
The Idol of Power (Result: selfish decision-making)
When a longing for power takes root in a leader’s life, the leader leads to be recognized. The motivation is not to serve and bless others but to be known. In the leader’s heart the first question is “What is best for me?” and not “What is best for the organization?” or “What is best for the team?” The result is poor decision-making as decisions are made to advance the leader’s name, to bring renown and accolades to the leader.
The Idol of Control (Result: micromanaged organization)
When a need to be in control dominates a leader’s heart, the leader will inevitably micromanage because after all, “no one can pull this off like I can.” Plans move slowly, people are under-utilized because they are not trusted. The result is an under-developed ministry or organization as new leaders have a difficult time being developed in an over-controlled environment.
The Idol of Comfort (Result: unresolved issues)
When a longing for comfort rules in a leader’s heart, painful and necessary decisions are delayed. The leader fears change because comfort and routine would be disrupted. Stagnancy and issues that are never dealt with are the result.
The Idol of Approval (Result: tolerance for mediocrity)
When a longing for approval reigns in a leader’s heart, the leader leads to be liked rather than to fulfill the assignment faithfully. Instead of leading for the good of those the ministry or organization is designed to serve, the leader really leads so others will like him or her. The result is a culture that tolerates poor performance or poor attitudes, as the leader fears the confrontation could lower his or her likability.
Because leaders set the pace for others, idols in a leader’s heart harm others too. Leaders are wise to heed the apostle John’s encouragement: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”