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The New Age emphasis that is causing a lot of problems for the world spiritually at the moment is the idea that all of us are gods, all of us are basically good, that we need only look inside ourselves to find God, and that we don't need to be accountable to anyone but ourselves. There were hints of it in what Tolstoy said, and it seems that this error has proven to be more popular than all of the really valid truths that he taught.

What the New Age teachers choose to overlook is the reality of human nature. Remember the Nullarbor walk? Critics all said that it was not God, but rather the good nature of human beings that provided for the walkers.

But when we challenged all of these people to put their faith in the inherent goodness of others to care for them, not a one was willing to go out on the road and put their faith on the line. Down deep in their hearts, even they know that you cannot trust human nature to do anything more than express its natural badness.

It is because of human nature that we have such a thing as leaders to be accountable to. People are not so spiritual that they all just naturally do what they should. Organisations would always be needed (even in a utopian society) in order to work out group consensus on things. But they are needed for more than that. Because of human nature, you cannot count on each member leaving a meeting and all carrying out their responsibilities faithfully. People forget. They get sidetracked. They lose interest, slack off, and just plain shirk their responsibilities. So that is where leaders come in. It is the job of the leader to help us to overcome human nature, by making us accountable, i.e. putting pressure on group members to each perform their duties.

Leaders also inspire and encourage people, by pointing to the personal benefits that come from working together and being accountable. But even this more positive side of leadership would not be necessary if people were so inherently good. They would just naturally keep the vision, and they would just naturally be "inspired" by the "spirit" that is within them. So even soft, pastoral, inspirational leaders are still consciously seeking to overcome the weaknesses in human nature.

It is politically incorrect to suggest that leaders "control" or "manipulate" followers in any way. But, like it or not, they do. Even those who argue against control still do it. But they are more sleazy about it, which, in my books, is less ethical than being up front and honest about it. If there is no control at all and no effort at all to manipulate, then you have to ask yourselves what the heck they are doing as leaders. They can give their jobs pretty names like "facilitators", but it still amounts to "directing" the group toward certain goals, which, at best, the leader perceives to be the basic desire of the group as a whole.

We join groups with an unspoken understanding that the group is going to help us achieve goals that we might not (because of our human nature and lack of discipline) be able to achieve on our own. As long as the goals of the group (and the leader) coincide closely with our own goals, there should be no problems with giving account of our actions. When the goals seem to be quite different, then we leave and go elsewhere.

I've said this before, but it needs to be said again: The basic difference in the relationship between Christian leaders and followers is that the leader's first responsibility is to love the follower, and the follower's first responsibility is to trust the leader. If you switch these over, there will be problems. Trust and love may, respectively, become the secondary aspect of the relationship, but primarily, the leader needs to love the follower, and the follower needs to trust the leader.

Think of it in relation to God and people. Sure, we love God, but ultimately, even that is only possible because he first loved us. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

It's when people do religious acts of their own choosing to demonstrate their supposed love for God that religion gets off the rails. The church is full of spiritual Marthas, who have convinced themselves that Jesus would be more impressed with expensive building programs than he would be with having them sit at his feet and listen to what he has actually told them to do. They're so convinced that they "love" God, (because of all their frenetic religious activity) that it's unthinkable that anyone could even suggest that they are not true Christians.

Imagine what a mess the world would be in if God started trusting humans implicitly. Sure, he has given us a lot of freedom; but he's not stupid enough to think that we won't abuse it. It's why he sent Jesus. And it's why he created hell and death. He is trying to "manipulate" us into heaven, through fear of hell and death and through response to his love.

A good leader will recognise where followers have a proven record of reliability, and then trust those followers within those limits. But the trust must always have limits. Just like God, you need to recognise human nature, and work around it.

Is it fair to compare our relationship with God to our relationship with human leaders? Within limits, I think we must... particularly when it comes to leaders in the kingdom of heaven. It is inherent in the nature of the job that the leader take responsibility for leading or directing the actions of the followers. A good leader will have the best interests of the followers at heart (i.e. he or she will really love the followers), but if the leader's primary job were to trust the followers, then it would be the followers who would be calling the shots.

Leaders in the church are supposed to be representing God. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells husbands to love their wives. He ends the chapter by saying, "This is a great mystery, but I am really talking about Christ and the church." (Ephesians. 5:32) In other words, leaders should love their followers the way Christ loves us. The leader-follower relation is a reflection of our relationship with God.

Leaders need to love followers as Christ loves us; so followers need to trust leaders in much the same way that we all must trust God. Trusting someone does not mean you cannot examine their actions critically and choose at some stage not to trust them (just as God leaves us free to choose not to trust him).

We get a certain amount of choice with regard to leaders, and we should choose our leaders wisely, based on evidence of their faith in God, their wisdom and their deep love for us and concern for our spiritual welfare. There is good reason for not trusting most worldly leaders, who show all the time that they are in the job for what they can get out of it selfishly. Even in the church, most leaders are hirelings, arguing over pay rises, yearning for retirement, and just generally deserting the sheep when it suits them.

Many of us in this community have difficulty coming to terms with the idea of a leader acting as a policeman toward the rest of the community, by being suspicious when people do not answer questions clearly or when their production drops off. They argue that we are all basically sincere, and that it is an insult to our sincerity for a leader to ask such questions. But once again, we must go back to questioning human nature, including our own.

A sincere person is an honest person. Can we honestly say that we are not dishonest at times? If you think you can answer "yes" to that question, I would ask, "Can you honestly say that everyone else in the community is not dishonest at times?" (It is usually easier to see the dishonesty in others than it is to see it in ourselves.) The Bible says, "The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) Perhaps the most deceived of all are those who cannot recognise their own dishonesty.

Sometimes we just have to take it by faith that we are less than perfect. Our "heart" may tell us from time to time that we have little or nothing left to learn. (It happens to all of us.) But our heart is deceitful, remember? The fact is that each of us have blind spots, and it just takes someone with better understanding of the truth to help us see those blind spots, those prejudices, those double standards, those tricky little ways of escaping responsibility and shifting blame onto others, etc. And that is why we join organisations and choose leaders. By being accountable, we can help to correct each other. Together we can work at overcoming those blind spots.

Like the weak-willed person who must start by being willing to be made willing, we only need enough honesty to admit our need to be accountable, and then significant progress can be made.

One reason why it is difficult for me to talk about the role of leaders in making followers accountable for what they do, is because I know that systemites in general accuse (or at least suspect) me of being an evil cult leader. And one of the key phrases that they use in identifying a cult leader is that he tries to "control" the followers. Cult leaders, they say, are "authoritarian" type leaders. They impose harsh "disciplines". Well, we don't want to be a cult now, do we? We don't want people thinking that we are controlled by our leaders. We leaders don't want to come across as authoritarian. We don't want to be guilty of imposing harsh disciplines.

But hold on a minute! Who says that all of these things are wrong? While the world today reacts against most discipline, there are two fields where they continue to make heroes of the most authoritarian disciplinarians. Those fields are sport and war. Check almost any war movie, and you'll see: The heroes are usually harsh authoritarian sergeants who demand total trust from their men, and who impose harsh disciplines if anyone steps out of line.

Doesn't it sound just like the sort of thing that the devil would do to take over the world, i.e. to condemn discipline for God and glorify discipline for war? If you start thinking that our discipline is too harsh, just stop comparing it to some airy fairy utopian dreamworld, and compare it to the real discipline that the system demands of its soldiers. We're fighting a spiritual warfare, and, as Jesus said, "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)

There was a time when the church taught that character requires people to do the right thing at any cost. But in today's selfish world, the only way the gospel can be preached is by making it appeal to human nature. People must be convinced that there is something in it for them, that they can use God, faith, love, and/or the church to get rich, to become successful, to win friends, and to influence people. If it doesn't do those things, they aren't interested.

Even classic novels like The Little Mermaid have been rewritten so that the heroine does not die for her faith. Instead, she gets everything she wants in the end. Stories about sports teams always end with the heroes winning. Heroic losers are rarely recognised in today's world. Where is real character, the kind of character that does the right thing even if it means persecution and death? That is the kind of discipline that we Jesus Christians are striving for. Others dropped out when they found it too costly. They were seduced away from the truth and into deception. Will it happen to you?

And now one final thought to put this whole study into perspective. We believe in the "priesthood of every believer". In other words, we are all spiritual leaders. Our leaders are expected to exercise authority in love. But that should not stop the followers from also exercising authority in love. Accountability is something that we must mutually agree on.

Unfortunately, most of us see the words love and authority as opposites. We think that love means ignoring people's faults, and authority means oppressing others. But real love means taking an interest in others (enough to make them accountable), so that you will recognise problems before they become serious. And real authority means that you will take responsibility for helping people to overcome their problems.

I need to emphasise that this article is more or less to all of you... not just to leaders. By this time, just about every one of you has been in this community long enough that you should be able to see most problems for yourself.

People seem to think that if they don't have the title, then they don't have any responsibility for whatever may be happening right around them. They turn off when a letter being read out at mail call addresses something that isn't their specific area of responsibility. In fact, sometimes it seems they even turn off when it is their area of responsibility, thinking that someone else (in particular, the official "leader") will handle it, or at least cop the blame if it isn't done. But God doesn't see it like that. You are accountable for all the good you could have done, but that you left undone because of your laziness or indifference.

Perhaps that is enough for now, and I can sum up.

I have said that we need leaders to help us achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves. To do that effectively, they need to make followers accountable. Followers need to choose their leaders well, and then learn to trust them; and leaders need to use their authority in love, rather than using it selfishly. Leaders should not be afraid to exercise authority just because it's not trendy to do so. But followers can also play their part in keeping the group as a whole on the rails. I hope that all of this will lead to greater group unity and more effectiveness for Christ.

(See also Anarchy and Pacifism, and Hard Decisions.)

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