James Galvin’s I’ve Got Your Back, A Leadership Parable: Biblical Principles for Leading and Following Well (2012) revolutionized the way I think about leadership. I have never read a book on leadership before and may never do so again. Galvin’s work is that good, although I have theological issues with some omissions. What impacted me most were his thoughts on follower abuse, the three leadership types, and God’s design for the leader-follower dynamic.
Leading and following are two sides of a coin – a living dynamic like the perfect sports team, married couple, or dancing pair where each one has the same vision and works toward a common goal. Leadership is still God’s idea. The biblical ideal occurs in the relationship between God and Adam, then Adam and Eve, in Eden. It also occurs in the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Father and will occur again during the millennial reign of Christ. However, sin ruined this ideal. Now the world is filled with abusers instead of good leaders and rebels instead of good followers. Jesus Christ can still restore the ideal through our repentance and conversion. He can help us become better leaders and followers in each area of life.
- Type 1 leadership: God. Obedience is mandatory, but he never abuses us. Through conversion, we can become perfect followers of Christ. We can also partner with him (leading) in evangelism and personal holiness.
- Type 2 leadership: parents and government (law). Obedience is mandatory except in matters of faith and conscience, but abuse happens often. We must learn to follow well.
- Type 3 leadership: people in non-parental or governmental roles, i.e. businesses, non-profits, churches. Obedience is a choice. We can obey or disobey, follow or leave. We must disobey if such leaders ask us to break the law or our conscience. Abuse happens here too. If we choose not to leave, we must learn to follow well.
Galvin says that type 2 leadership trumps type 3, in legal and moral conflicts, and type 1 leadership trumps both. In other words, we do not have to follow employers, parents, or government officials if they ask us to break the law or disobey God. The problem is Galvin’s discussion of spiritual leadership. He places pastors in spiritual roles (pulpit) under type 1 and non-spiritual roles (church business) under type 3. So, Galvin thinks that congregations must always obey what pastors say in pulpits. However, only God fits type 1 leadership and only he is perfect, so only God should be obeyed at all times. The act of putting any human being in the type 1 box leads to idolatry and corruption.
Galvin never mentions doctrinal error, spiritual and sexual abuse, or wolves in sheep’s clothing. All three problems have plagued God’s people for millennia. This past century has been the worst. Benny Hinn, T. D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Rod Parsley, Rick Warren, the Roman Catholic Church, and other cults spring to mind. As a result, Galvin’s omissions have led the unbelieving world to see Christians as mindless sheep rather than thinking people. Images of greedy pastors fleecing the flock or lustful ones abusing innocent children are a recurring joke among unbelievers.
God’s word to Israel on doctrinal error was simple. He told them that if a prophet used a fulfilled sign to tell people they should forsake God, then he was to be ignored and killed (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). The same was true for family members (13:6-11). Any prophet who presumed to speak a word in God’s name was to be killed, if God did not speak through him or if his word was not fulfilled (18:20-22). God also told people not to fear or admire this prophet (18:22).
Doctrinal error and corrupt practices in bad leaders still plagued Israel from the time they left Egypt until they entered Babylon 850 years later. Moses’ brother Aaron made an idol in the form of a golden bull; when the people saw it, they said that this idol was their God who led them out of Egypt (Exodus 32:1-5). God punished them by making them drink the ground-up powder of the idol and killing three thousand men (32:20-28). He later wiped out the descendants of Eli because he would not discipline his two morally corrupt sons (1 Samuel 2:29-34, 3:11-14). They lay with women who came to worship and treated God’s sacrifices with contempt (2:12-17, 22-25). This is the first biblical record of a spiritual leader sexually abusing God’s flock.
Saul, Israel’s first king, was little better. He disobeyed God because he did not have a heart that followed him (1 Samuel 13:14). Before fighting the Philistines, Saul offered burnt sacrifices to God instead of letting a priest do it (13:9-10). He then made a foolish curse by refusing to let his army eat until evening, so that Saul could take vengeance on his enemies (14:24-26). When his son Jonathan ate honey after routing the enemy, Saul threatened to kill him (14:43-45). Jonathan saw the folly of his father’s curse, which had prevented a greater victory (14:29-30). Saul’s final disobedience occurred when he refused to kill King Agag of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3-9). The prophet Samuel told Saul that “to obey is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams. … Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he also has rejected you from being king” (15:22-23). Saul was later tormented by an evil spirit (16:14), tried to kill David his successor (ch.18-26), and sought a medium instead of God (ch.28). He died in battle against the Philistines (ch.31). Eventually, both Israel and Judah suffered under evil kings, priests, and prophets – leaders who worshipped idols and practiced child sacrifice. So God led his people into captivity, Israel by Assyria and Judah by Babylon.
Six hundred years later, Jesus Christ had many run-ins with Pharisees and scribes over doctrine, practice, and his divine identity. For example, Jesus told them the Sabbath was made for man and that the Lord of the Sabbath was here (Matthew 12:8). His final word to the Pharisees was “woe”; among other things, they increased people’s spiritual burdens (23:4-29). After Christ’s resurrection, Pharisees often arrested the apostles for preaching the name of Jesus (Acts 4:1-3, 17-18, 5:27-28). Should they have obeyed and quit? No. Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (5:29). Galvin should have declared this truth in his section on following spiritual leaders.
After Cornelius’ conversion, Judaizers plagued the church. They wanted Gentile converts to obey Moses’ Law – dietary laws and circumcision – but the Jerusalem Council tried to stop this corrupt doctrine (Acts 15). Paul then chastised Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles because he was setting a bad example (Galatians 2). Decades later, the apostle John warned his readers of false prophets who denied Christ’s incarnation, transgressed in sound doctrine, and refused to receive missionaries into their homes (2 John 7-9, 3 John 9-10). He then told his readers not to greet or receive false teachers because that would be sharing in their “evil deeds” (2 John 10-11). Peter also warned his readers of leadership abuse – false prophets and teachers who wanted to bring “destructive heresies” into the church (2 Peter 2:1). Then he said that scoffers would deny Christ’s Second Coming (3:3-4). Jude’s warnings are similar (vs. 4-13, 16-19).
Doctrinal error and moral corruption have led the church to produce many statements of faith. The early church knew that leaders were liable to error and that fallible people needed external truth to remain doctrinally and morally sound.
Yet from its inception, the Roman Catholic Church has wrongly elevated spiritual leaders. The Pope, both office and person, is not God but a fallible human being. When fallible people are made infallible like God, they become little gods and fall into error. For example, the Pope has said “yes” to both theistic evolution and Islam. Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church prefers the word of the Pope to that of God. This leadership error is one seed of the homosexuality now rampant in the church. Another is enforced celibacy in nuns and priests. What does the Bible say? “Some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons … forbidding to marry” (1 Timothy 4:1, 3). As long as people submit to the authority of Pope and Vatican rather than Jesus Christ and the Bible, they will be led astray doctrinally and abused morally by corrupt leaders.
Likewise, Joseph Smith was led astray by a demon and preached false doctrine. The Mormon cult has now deceived millions worldwide. Although the Church of England is mainstream, it is now approving gay marriage. Some Anglican leaders have decided that the UK government is “god” instead of Jehovah.
The current situation in Christian denominations, cults, and leaders shows that “this wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, [and] demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:15-16). Following the doctrine of Paul the seed-planter or Apollos the seed-waterer is carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). The only remedy is laying Jesus Christ as a firm foundation, giving all glory to God for the spiritual increase, and waiting until heaven for the reward of one’s earthly labor (3:7-11).
Should congregations always obey what pastors say from pulpits? No. They should see if their words agree with God’s Word instead. Regardless of spiritual authority, pastors must still submit to God. They are flawed people who can make serious mistakes. Too many pastors today lack authenticity and clear motives as well, especially when worldly success and money are involved. These people must learn to be R.E.A.L. (responsible, ethical, authentic, and loving).
Obedience to God trumps obedience to any spiritual leader. Doctrine also trumps person and God’s word that of man. He takes the life and doctrine of spiritual leaders seriously. Pastors who lead unholy lives, preach false doctrine, or abuse members of their congregations should watch out. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing and God will judge them.
 New King James Version (NKJV), unless otherwise noted