Ep. 228 The Tragedy of Imitating Your Favorite Leader

Ep. 228 The Tragedy of Imitating Your Favorite Leader

Photo: ©RgStudio Getty Images Signature via Canva.com

Shows Main Idea – Most Christian leaders have two personalities. There is their public persona that you typically see, hear, and experience, and then there are their private lives. “Split personalities” among leaders is not wrong necessarily. But there is a catch: if the undiscerning follower does not understand this concept, they may adopt the leader’s public style, thinking that is how they should be all the time. In some cases, imitating the “public aspect” of leaders could be a tragedy for a follower and all those who experience him.

Show Notes

You may want to read:

The Exception to the Rule

Regular PreachersLeaders of average, small or larger churches may carry themselves in the pulpit similar to how they live their regular, private lives. What you see on Sunday morning is not dramatically different from who they are privately with their families or close friends.

Regular Worship Leaders – Some worship leaders are this way. They don’t attempt to do more than play an instrument and sing the songs in front of people. In many of these cases, these musicians do not know leadership principles or don’t have the necessary gifting to motivate folks into a more fruitful worship experience.

Some people call this gift of leadership a “gathering ability.” It’s not a sin not to know or not have the vital gifting that helps folks be more than they are currently. Many churches struggle with finding gifted leaders who have the character and capacity to lead well.

The Best Example

Jesus did have this leadership gift. Folks could not stay away from His public presentations of the gospel (Luke 4:14-30). But in private, you see a “different Jesus,” which makes sense because your deportment on a hillside, sharing truths to thousands, will be different than reclining before a meal and instructing a few handpicked men (Matthew 26:20).

Sadly, too many folks chide the charismatic personality uncharitably because they don’t understand the “vital need for split personalities” among leaders. Typically, these critics overreact because of the abuse of the privilege of leadership, which is a valid claim.

Rick's Books on Amazon

The Worst Version

I have had experience with pastors of churches who have been “over the top” with their preaching style, trying to stir up their constituency each week emotionally. Their followers tend to live in fear of them or imitate their personalities in their regular lives. These leaders have not thought through the lack of wisdom of communicating highly-charged emotionalism to “whip up a crowd.”

The worst case of these types are authoritarian leaders who crave to build a little kingdom for themselves, and they use manipulative appeals and stringent commands to create a distance between them and the people while perpetuating a culture of fear that is controlling.

Of course, you’ve seen the wild TV preacher who appears to have no conscience as they sell their prayer cloths or make outlandish promises of what the Lord will do if you send him money. Selfish-ambition, a hardened conscience, and excessive cravings for riches is a blight on Christianity and not what a Christian leader should be.

The Regular Leader

The normal preacher in the average town, preaching to normal people with a shepherd’s heart, is not trying to do anything more than to care for his flock. He desires nothing more than to thank God for those who come each week to hear the Word clearly spoken. He is grateful when the Lord adds another to that number (Acts 2:47). He’s a good shepherd.

It’s not about the size of the crowd, but the calling the good Lord has put on his life. The Lord called Jesus to preach to thousands. Paul was similar though his call was different in scope—he was a traveling evangelist. There is no doubt that the Lord did not mean for Jesus and Paul to labor locally to a handful of folks.

The key for you to know is how God made you, what your capacities are, and you sense a call (internal) that many others affirm (external) on your life. Those who try too hard will make mistakes nearly every time, even to the detriment of others. But those “who let the game come to them” while not passively sitting as though God doesn’t believe in human responsibility, will find their sweet spot, whether it’s in front of 10 or 10,000. Neither outcome has to be wrong.

The More Prominent Leader

Then there are those leaders who have higher ambitions. They hope to do more than be a local preacher. There does not have to be anything wrong with their dreams. May the Lord raise up many men and women who are always praying, thinking, planning, and implementing for the sake of the gospel.

In this episode, I am not addressing the charlatan, wolf, misguided, or the person eaten up with selfish ambition. These folks may have had good hearts, but at some point, selfish ambition began to control them, and they began to strive for fame.

I’m addressing good leaders whom the Lord has placed His hand on because He has big plans for them. These leaders have the character, competency, and capacity to fulfill the large plate that the Lord desires to give to them.

Counseling According to Character and Capacity

Dual-Personality Leader-Types

I want you to look through this non-exhaustive list of leader types who must have a certain kind of public personality with a gathering ability. But understand that it’s not vital that their public persona be identical to their private lives. In fact, in some cases, it would be horrific for those who associate with them if they always were what you see of them in public. I’ll start with me.

Reluctant Leaders

I’m an introverted person. I’m using the word introverted because I’m not shy, as in timid to speak up, and I don’t struggle with fear of man, as in people’s opinions manage me. What I’m saying is that being a talker is not native to me. I have never been a talker in my life. By preference, I had rather be quiet.

It has taken decades of work, repentance, and practice to communicate the way that I do. Though I love public speaking more than anything else about my job, it continues to be work. When I finish speaking, my strongest urge is to take a nap. Talking “wears me out” because it’s not who I am natively without the redemptive force of the gospel activating me.

Lucia, on the other hand, can talk like a fish drinking water. It’s so natural, comfortable, and marvelous. People love talking to her. I’m (biblically) jealous of many of my her traits, and it’s this social skill that is near the top of my long “jealousy list.” Sometimes when she’s talking, I sit back and watch her lips move with amazement. I often wonder, “How in the world does she come up with so many words that just flow off her lips?”

I know several ministry leaders who are like me. You know some of them, too. It might surprise you to know they are quiet (introverted) people. Like me, they have to “work up to their gifting” each time they open their mouths; it’s a testimony to God’s grace in their lives. Many Christians can learn from these leaders by choosing not to disqualify themselves from what could be a higher capacity for God’s glory and the benefit of others.

Sport’s Coach

Imagine a football coach waking you up each morning with a well-cadenced, “Get down on the floor and give me twenty.” In football parlance, he’s yelling at his wife to do twenty push-ups before breakfast. Sadly, I had one coach’s wife tell me that her “coach husband” does not have “two personalities;” what you see on the sidelines is what she has experienced all their marriage.

When it comes to a sport’s coach, you want a person who has the gifting to rally the team with enthusiasm and directed passions, plus a nourishing and cherishing husband, who restores his children gently (Galatians 6:1-2).

Funny People

Let’s play “Ground Hog Day,” but this time, it’s your favorite comedian who wakes you in the morning. I have been around that person who never stops telling jokes. It is grinding to the soul while ditching any hope of going deep with him or anyone else in the room. You bide your time until he leaves so you can carry on in more meaningful ways.

I love humor, and I had my moments as the “class clown” in school, but I don’t want that characterization. These types only have one bullet in their chamber, so what you get in public is what his friends get all the time. Sigh! Many of these funny people are masking personality quirks and fears, i.e., afraid to have deep conversations. You pray for their repentance, along with a more mature person helping them overcome their fears or social inaptness.


These gifted folks remind me of the inverse of the “bland worship leader.” Imagine them standing and waving a pom-pom while monotoning a chant. You would lose interest, ignore them, and maybe pull for the other team—your mortal enemy—because they are more into it. Alternately, imagine waking up to that cheerleader with more smiles than a used car salesman, and more energy than the Energizer Bunny. I would give this couple less than six weeks before they hit counseling or a divorce court.

Military General

You want that person who can “take the hill” while everyone else is following him. But if he can’t rally the troops (gathering ability), he tops the hill alone, and his career will end tragically. He’s similar to the football coach.

Radio Personality

Millions of people love Rush Limbaugh because of his conservative values and gathering ability. But I’ve heard from multiple sources that he’s a humble man, who does not like to take credit, and will shy away from unnecessary fanfare.

Rush is an excellent example of the problem of imitating the “leader you see in the pulpit” without discernment, discretion, or self-control. I have heard many of his followers who speak rudely about those on the “other side of the aisle.” I don’t fault Rush for their harsh choices. We can choose to imitate anything we want. It’s intellectually dishonest to say, “Rush made me do it” when a yearning Savior is saying, “Be like me.”

Direct Video Messages

Popular Christian Leader

These few illustrations bring me to the point for this episode. I have tried to make a valid case for the “dual personality types” among leaders. Now I want to address two concerns I have within our evangelical culture. What I don’t want you to hear is any criticism toward these two men because it would be untrue, you would show your lack of discernment, or worse, a sinful motivation.

Similar to every “dual-type” already mentioned, there does not have to be anything wrong with leaders stepping up to God’s gifting in and grace on their lives. Some leaders are not “working that hard” to maximize their capacities. For others, like me, it takes a lot of effort to do what I do publicly. Either way, the Lord has chosen to provide these leaders with a larger than average following.

I Follow John MacArthur

Nobody can entirely articulate how much treasure John MacArthur has in heaven. It’s fair to say there is a consensus that God has elevated this man for a specific purpose, which we see more clearly now than ever. With the fracturing of Christianity, the rise of the social justice movement, and the never-ending manifestations of hedonism, John has been a faithful, steadfast, and courageous leader for decades.

Then there are the “MacArthurites.” Perhaps you have not heard that term. It’s not a slight on John but a descriptor of some of his followers who imitate his strong pulpit personality as he combats the evil in our culture. There is objective harshness that pours out of their mouths, the MacArthurites.

It’s real; it’s unkind; it’s distinguishable, and it hurts the body of Christ. My opinion is not something that I’m making up, but a commentary I have heard many times over from folks who have been affected by the harshness of some (not all) of his followers.

Many of these hurt folks are my friends. I’ve had time to talk to them extensively about what they have heard, seen, or experienced from the following. You either see it, or you don’t. If you are one of his followers, you either respond with humble self-reflection and assessment, or you don’t. If you do respond with humility and wisdom, and you see this problem, praise God for you. Please keep on following John (1 Corinthians 11:1) while always imitating Jesus (Ephesians 5:1).

I Follow Jay Adams

There is no question that Jay Adams was the instrument in God’s hands that brought psychology from the culture, ran it through the hermeneutical spiral, and gave us the foundation to the biblical counseling movement. I liken Jay to Martin Luther, in that he took something the church needed and made a path that did not exist. Then John Calvin came along and brought more refinement to Luther’s work. And then the Puritans, like Jonathan Edwards.

In the counseling world, David Powlison is our John Calvin. He took Jay’s enormous and masterful work and ran it back through the “spiral.” I’d like to think that I’m part of that “large group of Puritans” who are standing on their shoulders, bringing more refinement, though I’m doing it on a minuscule level compared to these giants.

But here is the problem: most people only know Jay from the pulpit, where like MacArthur, he’s pounding out truths in a hostile culture, about a hostile culture, that would find no greater joy than to see him defeated. MacArthur and Adams are unique historical heroes of the Christian faith. But what we experience from them in the public space is not to be exported to the more private confines, i.e., homes and counseling venues.

Undiscerning biblical counselors have made the detrimental error of imitating Jay’s public personality and arguments in the counseling office. And thousands of folks have experienced the worst aspects of biblical counseling. Ironically, I have had a private lunch with Jay, and testify that he’s a gentle, understated, unassuming, kind, and gracious man. (I have never met MacArthur privately and have no comment about his private demeanor since I don’t know, and don’t listen to folks who want to tell me about him.)

John and Jay, like all these other leaders, had to step up to the responsibility of the great call to leadership. Praise God for all of them who are fulfilling their gifting well. The question for you is, are you more like Christ in your life, or are you imitating the public personalities of those who inspire you in private spaces? A more practical question is, how do others experience you?

Call to Action

Would you share this episode with someone who is not afraid of you? Will you ask them their opinion of it when they think about your public leadership skillset and your private deportment? How do they experience you?

Need More Help?

  1. If you want to learn more from us, you may search this site for thousands of resources—articles, podcasts, videos, graphics, and more. Please spend time studying the ones that interest you. They are free.
  2. If you want to talk to us, we have private forums for those who support this ministry financially. Please consider supporting us here if you would like to help us keep our resources free.

Learn How to Become a Mastermind Student01

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Filed Under: