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Some time before I started this community, I observed the tendency for each religious organisation to repeat the errors of the organisation that they were trying to improve on. I knew that it would take some serious thought to come up with something that would stop that depressing cycle. The solution I finally arrived at was simple: Don't put your faith in the organisation; put your faith in God. I came to see the kingdom of heaven not as an organisation, but as an on-going process of spiritual growth. We are only in the kingdom of heaven (or out of it) in proportion to how much we are "walking in the Light" that we now have, or to the extent that we are following our conscience.

I have observed the tendency for religious people to actually replace a true conscience with a social conscience, and to replace obedience to God with obedience to an organisation. Obviously there is a need for organisations, and there are usually people in each organisation (most notably the founders) who have a faith that is higher than faith in some pre-existing organisation. But it doesn't take long for the followers to learn how to parrot what the true believers are saying, and to pass themselves off as the genuine article.

To a certain extent, this is unavoidable. Followers are followers because they do not have the experience, insights, abilities, or whatever that the leaders have. But it is the job of us as leaders to point them beyond ourselves, to something higher. Our ultimate goal should be to lead them to Jesus, so that he can take over our job for us. It is why John, one of the greatest teachers in the early church, said, "You need not that any man teach you; but the anointing itself (i.e. the Holy Spirit) will teach you." (1 John 2:27) Obviously John did teach -- but his ultimate goal (like that of any good parent) was to train people to be capable of functioning successfully for God on their own.

Some have made the mistake of thinking that all they need do to accomplish this level of spiritual maturity is to run off and do their own thing, and to teach some theory of religious anarchy to justify it. But that achieves nothing if it is not squarely based on the Rock of Christ's teachings. The cornerstone is not anarchy. The cornerstone is accountability to Jesus--the Author and Finisher of our faith.

If an organisation is going to go off the rails, it will start with the leadership. If the leaders are on target, they will spot errors in the followers, and they will deal with them. But if the leaders themselves lose their vision, only those followers who have progressed to the point where they have that vital personal link with God will be able to detect the problem and successfully deal with it. And let's face it, by the time a person is mature enough to see the leader's error and deal with it, that person is probably already a leader anyway.

So the bottom line is that leaders cannot count on their followers to keep them on the straight and narrow. The spiritual validity of your organisation (or at least of your little corner of it) depends almost entirely on your own spiritual validity. If you have not developed strategies for recognising error in yourself, and if you have not learned how to root out those errors, you and your followers are in serious trouble.

How is it that history seems to repeat itself? How does each new religious movement end up making the same mistakes of the ones that went before them? It is because leaders find themselves in positions of power and we abuse those powers. We deceive ourselves into thinking that just because we can get away with something, we won't have to answer to God for it, or that it won't have an impact on what God is trying to do in the organisation.

We leaders are the ones, largely, who determine what direction our movement is going to take; and when we choose those directions selfishly, we set up a chain reaction that will ultimately trickle down through the entire organisation beneath us. We will reap what we sow in our followers. They will imitate our bad behaviour and probably take it even further. In fact, we will probably forget to even teach the sort of things that I am saying here, because we will not be practising them ourselves. As the Bible says, "Be sure, your sins will find you out."

I'm not saying that we should feel guilty if God chooses to reward us with rest and comforts and other blessings from time to time. Thank him for the blessings when they come. But they must come from him, and not from our own selfishness; and we must be prepared to let go of them as quickly as we accepted them.

This business of developing a true conscience, or a personal relationship with Christ, is crucial. How much are we able to hear what we don't want to hear? Some followers have difficulty in accepting the truth even when it is being shouted at them by their leaders. But leaders must be able to hear those same uncomfortable truths when there is no one around at all... except God. If you cannot do that, then I can absolutely guarantee that you will abuse your position as a leader, and all that you have taught will be for naught.

It has been said that all power corrupts. Although it sounds a bit cynical, it really is true with only one exception. That exception is in the extent to which the person wielding power has submitted that power to the higher authority of God. Unless we as leaders get clearance from our Invisible Leader before we act, we will simply abuse our power and become corrupt as a result. I can guarantee it.

Sometimes I ask God to show me what is the right thing to do, and I don't seem to get a clear answer. It's kind of scary having to make decisions more or less on my own like that. But when I start to make a decision based on my own selfish desires, God is pretty faithful about pricking my conscience and making me aware that I am acting selfishly. As long as I act on his promptings, he keeps instructing me. But if I put my hand over his mouth (so to speak) even once, it seems to offend him to the extent that he will say less and less to caution me in the future.

God allows us so much freedom to silence our conscience, probably because he values so highly us freely choosing to hear from him and to serve him. More than that, he wants us to hunger and thirst after righteousness before he will give it. He doesn't want to cram it down anyone's throat. And if you don't have this hungering and thirsting after the truth, then you are certainly not going to get it. And you are going to abuse any power that you get. All the doctrines in the world won't stop that from happening.

Even those of you who are not yet leaders need to get the seriousness of this article. You won't just wake up one day as a genuine Christian leader, taking your orders from God if you have not been doing that already for some time as a follower. If you have to be nagged into doing what is right (or even prodded occasionally), then you need to ask yourself where you would have ended up without those prods... because you won't get them (at least not from anyone but God) after you become a leader. It may be that there will be senior leaders who will pick up some problems and point them out to you; but at each stage up the ladder there will be more and more areas of your life where you will have the freedom to cheat. Freedom to be harder on others than you are on yourself. Freedom to indulge yourself. Freedom to slack off. Freedom to abuse followers without anyone challenging you for it. What you will do with those freedoms will largely be determined by what you are doing with your life right now. Are you following God freely and of your own initiative? Or do you wait until your leaders spot problems before you deal with them?

All of us, leaders and followers alike, need to have this one goal, and that is to be so attuned to God that we will be directed according to his will and not according to our own. To the extent that we do that, we will be building his kingdom... whether or not our own organisation benefits from it.

(See also Moral Adults.)

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