Four Temptations Christian Leaders Face

For more than thirty years, I have worked in the publishing field with Christian leaders, authors, and other creatives. During this time, I have witnessed the corrosive effects of fame. Very few have been able to handle the temptations that come with increased influence.

A Hand Reaching for an Apple - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #2307155

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I have seen leaders get prideful, greedy, and demanding. Sadly, it has increasingly become the norm in a world that values charisma above character. To paraphrase Jim Collins in his epic book, Good to Great, you can build an enduring organization with charisma, but it is more difficult.

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As I have reflected on my own experience with prominent leaders, I see them struggle with four temptations:

  1. The temptation of priorities. Weak leaders put themselves last. They mistakenly think this is more spiritual. As I wrote in another post, it is a dangerous temptation that has left many leaders cynical and burned out.

    But successful leaders face the opposite temptation. They put themselves first. In fact, some are outright narcissists, putting themselves at the center of their own universe. The correct position, I think, is second. Strong leaders put God first and themselves second. They know that they can’t meet the needs of others unless they attend to themselves.

  2. The temptation of entitlement. Weak leaders become convinced that they deserve something different. They lose any sense of delight or gratitude. They come to believe what others tell them: they are special and thus deserve preferential treatment.

    Successful leaders are alert to this temptation and war against it. It can sneak up when they least expect it. So they work hard to thank the people closest to them, knowing that their position is a privilege and likely temporary.

  3. The temptation of resentment. Weak leaders take offense at every slight. They are hyper-sensitive, reading into every situation more than is warranted. In the “movie” about them, there has to be drama.

    The reality is that offenses are inevitable. Jesus Himself said, “offenses must come” (Matthew 18:7). In fact, I would go so far as to say that God often sends offenses—for our good and for our sanctification. Strong leaders thus overlook offenses, knowing that this is the true mark of maturity and character (see Proverbs 19:11).

  4. The temptation of popularity. We live in a world that places a high value on fame and “personal branding.” We seem to have a list for everything, including the top 100 largest churches and the 100 fastest growing churches. It is difficult for me to imagine the early church—the church of the martyrs—compiling these kinds of lists.

    In reality, Jesus was a publicists’ nightmare. He eschewed fame. He miraculously healed people and then ordered them to keep it to themselves, telling no one about their experience (see, for example, Luke 5:12–14). Strong leaders are quick to give others the credit and avoid the limelight. They would rather be effective, even if they labor in obscurity.

The bottom line is this: Be careful what you pray for. Leadership is a burden—and a privilege. It is best held with an open hand. “The Lord giveth and Lord taketh away” (see Job 1:21).

Question: What temptations do you face as a leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Arnold Adg

    Temptations are 4G`s: 1. Girls, 2. Glory, 3. Gold, and 4. Guys.

  • Pam

    Great article. Very helpful. Short and sweet. The expressing gratefulness and the overlooking an offense points are what I see as lacking in leadership. Thanks for writing this.

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  • scottvolltrauer

    The benchmarks – like hurdles I set up in front of me – always go up!

  • Joshua

    Thanks for this post. Your last point is hard to keep in check. How can we build our platform while fighting against the temptation of popularity? In other words, how to be build a platform in a God-honoring way? Also, what are God-honoring reasons for building a platform? Maybe you already have a post on these questions! Thanks for your dedication to helping other leaders succeed Michael.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Joshua. I think it’s about getting the message out, not making ourselves famous. If we can stay focused on that, everything will be okay.

  • Tom Manzke

    Michael I think I struggle most with number 3. In ministry you work long hours, get phone calls in the middle of the night. When someone attacks, or takes you for granted I tend to take it personally, especially if I have been neglecting taking a day off, or not taken the time to recharge and refresh.

  • Sharon Norvell Leukert

    So where does this leave us? I’m enjoying your “Platform” book where you have a lot to say about branding and here I see the issue with self branding as a temptation for Christian leaders. Are you saying then that Platform isn’t for Christian leaders? I just need a little clarification, not trying to be obstinate in any way.

  • Medhat

    I enjoyed this particular post, but agree with some of the other posters in that, these are temptations that all successful leaders, Christian and otherwise, can/will face. Successful in that, unsuccessful leaders don’t have to deal with the trappings of success that can lead to these temptations (although they want to!). The Christian element is revealed in your thoughtful commentary, referencing “what would/did Jesus do/say” regarding similar situations. I suppose other religions have similar at times outlooks relating to “serving a purpose greater than yourself”, we tend to personify that in Christ.

    I especially relate to (and see in others) “The Temptation of Entitlement”. When things are going well, it’s pretty to easy to look in the mirror and see how great you are and how all good things happened because of you. Conversely, when things don’t go as well it’s equally easy to blame others for not carrying out your schemes to the letter. All the while forgetting, for a time at least, that Christ has a hand in both the ups and downs. As I’m writing this I notice a stark difference in the outlooks posed by a) purposeful pursuit of goals, business or otherwise, that have as their ultimate goal glorifying God, versus b) the singular pursuit of self-interest and gratification, the so-called “invisible hand” referenced by the economist Adam Smith.

    Great blog!

  • Qarau

    GLORAYYY!!!! Praise God for words of wisdom! Love this – “They would rather be effective, even if they labor in obscurity.”

  • Prophecy Dude

    Awesome message.

  • TorConstantino

    This post is still relevant today – I would add that leaders can give into the “temptation of insulation” – in that there’s a tendency to surround themselves with like-minded individuals. While this is necessary and helpful to a point, it frequently leads to homogenized insight that excludes diversity of opinion. In corporate America, I’ve seen many subordinates of top executives spend days massaging bad news to share with the leader – just so the leader won’t “freak out” – group think is a serious risk that accompanies leaders who are overly-insulated…

  • Michael Paddy

    Reminds me of Patrick Lencioni’s “Five Temptations of a CEO” thanks Michael for this good reminder!

  • Becky M

    It is so important to keep a good balance in all we do. I’m sure we all can attest to this, but for myself, it’s important to constantly stay in fellowship with the Lord to avoid temptations. People are so dramatic & negative & if not careful it’s easy to get sucked into just about anything. I like what Jeremy said, and it’s so true, if we get preoccupied with other things, it’s easy to lose our focus! For myself personally, I have to do a self check daily & want to remain humble, always being able to take the constructive criticism from my circle. Definitely agree with Mark & others on the accountability! Without that & the humility, the “big head” is sure to come our way, it’s only a matter of time. Great post Michael! (FTR….I am not leading a church as a woman ;)) blessings

  • Missy Caulk

    Thank you Michael, I needed to read #1 again…easy to let it slide.

  • Steve Walker

    The temptation to omni-competence: leaders who have enjoyed some success are reasonably competent in many areas, and usually care about the quality and effectiveness of the organization. The temptation is to do more instead of delegate more as you grow. Trusting others with what matters to you and realizing that God never expects you to do it all is a challenge.

  • Travis Spencer

    The temptation of “Riding the wave of yesterday’s success.” Sometimes after a few wins we hit autopilot and then slowly lose momentum for achieving future success.

  • Jeffrey Mach

    I know this is an old post, but it popped up in my fb feed after a tough, long day where I was tested as a person. Evidently the big guy knew I needed a lift. great post Michael, thanks.

  • Bob Kuebler

    I used to be a guy who lived in a semi rural area and attended suburban churches. I knew nothing about the inner city. I viewed impoverished folks who lived in a violent city as weak people. Then God immersed me in their culture. My heart broke on a weekly basis as I witnessed their personal struggles. My haughtiness fell into the chasm of my broken heart. I no longer looked at them through snooty eyes. I became one of them in empathy and love.

    Life is changing now and some of the direct personal contact is being diminished. We spend more time in schools rather than street corners and alleyways. As God’s territory in our hearts is expanded and we reach into more classrooms, I don’t ever want to go back to my old ways. Sometimes I still struggle to blow the prideful chaff from the threshing floor of my soul. When I feel that haughty spirit begin to seep in, I stop and turn to Him: “Create in me a clean heart O God.”

  • LouAnn

    Thank you Michael. As a minister, blogger, and leadership coach I can totally relate!!! Some of my most painful experiences have been at the hands of fellow ministry leaders. We must all be very careful and remember the truth that we are merely servants of the most high. A high calling indeed but a humble one too. Have a blessed Easter with your family.

  • Jonathan

    A great reminder. Thank you.

    “Never live like you don’t have a sinful nature.” #onguard

  • Ernest Dixon Murrah

    If you have a sinful nature, you are not saved.