Complicity Versus Confrontation


"The great privilege of leadership is in influencing other people’s lives. The grave responsibility of leadership is confronting sin in people’s lives. This is part of the price of leadership. Complicity is knowing about immoral, illegal, or unethical activity and covering it up through silence. It is saying nothing when something should be said.

Those who accept the privilege of leading must also accept the responsibility. Invested leaders help mold and shape the actions and attitudes of those they lead. They offer correction as needed, especially if certain actions and attitudes negatively impact the lives of others. Leaders set the moral and spiritual tone for what happens around them.

The Old Testament prophet Eli is an example of a leader who refused to confront the sins of his own sons. As a result, God punished the sons and held Eli responsible for his silence. (1 Sam. 2:22–36)

It takes courage and kindness to confront people in the right way. No mature leader—whether a father, mother, manager, teacher, coach, mentor, or spiritual leader—enjoys confrontation. What could cause a leader to fail to confront people when needed? Most often, it is dependence on the approval of others.

In the Maxwell Leadership Bible, John Maxwell says courageous leaders are willing to do “the unpopular to accomplish the unforgettable.”

Jesus could confront people in the temple because He did not need their approval. He was not leading out of a desire to be accepted by people. He was secure in His identity as a servant leader and therefore, courageous and free to commit to righteousness.

When Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, those with spiritual discernment knew He was a loving shepherd who was serious about confronting injustice.

People feel safe when they know their leaders will speak up for them, defend them, and not allow false teachers, false prophets, or unethical people to harass them or divide the church.

How did driving the money-changers out of the temple show good leadership?

  • A strong leader defends his followers, as well as the marginalized and oppressed.
  • A loving leader stands up for the underdog.
  • A courageous leader won’t allow anyone to hinder his people from having the opportunity to worship freely.
  • A godly leader speaks out against economic injustice.
  • A God-fearing leader won’t allow conflict of interest.
  • A Kingdom leader will not be complicit with sin.
  • A discerning leader will not allow others under them to compromise their reputation by remaining silent, rather than speaking the truth in love.

I recently received a letter from a young man, thanking me for confronting him. Two years prior, he had been allowing a serious compromise in his life to continue unchecked (and was quite boastful about it). I knew I could not simply turn a blind eye. Accepting this responsibility wasn’t easy. I had to be willing to face a potentially uncomfortable conversation. It meant setting aside time for many meetings with him, as well as spending hours in prayer and Bible study to make sure my attitude and scriptural position was in line. The young man was very popular in our community and everyone was watching to see how I handled the situation.

The invested hours proved fruitful and the man was rescued from deception. The situation also provided an opportunity to model how to be patient, yet firm—both to the young man and to those looking on.

There is a great pressure in our society not to be a “snitch.” Young people are especially under pressure not to “tell on” others. It’s true, there is a right way and wrong way to bring things to light. We need to pray before speaking to discern whether our motives are pure or impure. Our motivation should not be self-righteous, or to point a finger. But God’s Word is clear: if we know about sin in people’s lives yet remain silent, we are an accomplice to the sin in God’s eyes.

What might prevent you from speaking up about sin? Ask God to search your heart and reveal any insecurity or need for approval (see lesson one). It is important to teach this principle to those we lead, to arm them for the day when they will be tempted to commit the sin of complicity.

How could you go about training those you lead to appreciate this important leadership lesson?"

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The Principle of Saying Hard Things

John 6:22-71, especially verses 30-34 (The Message): "They waffled: "Why don't you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what's going on? When we see what's up, we'll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' 

 "Show us what you can do", they said. When the crowd that was fed the loaves and fishes could not find Jesus, they went searching for Him. When they found him, they asked him what sign he would perform for them. Their demand demonstrated their obtuseness. They were shallow, filled with selfish curiosity. The feeding of the multitude was sign enough if they were willing to obey Jesus. The issue was not belief, it was obedience. They had to act on what they already knew to be true if Jesus was going to teach them more truth. 

If people fail to act on what they already know to be true, then giving them more knowledge only serves to harden their hearts and deepen their deception. Spiritual leaders have to be willing to say hard things to their people.

 True shepherds must be willing to lose sheep. Many of Jesus' disciples turned away from him (John 6:60-66). It is sad to see people leave us. It is disheartening to lose good people. But if we speak the truth in love, and people will not receive it, what happened to Jesus may happen to us as well. 

"From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more". John 6:66 (NKJV)

Never bind people to you. What Jesus did next was astounding: he gave those who were closest to him opportunity to leave as well:

"After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: "Do you also want to leave?" John 6:66-67 The Message

Your disciples must always have the freedom to leave. Obedience is voluntary. It has to come from the heart, not because we demand it or coerce it from people.

 Disobedient people want to hear words that please them. They want signs to tickle their fancy and they want pastors who don't confront their unbelief. Don't fall into that trap. You must remain free to disciple for obedience.