Lousy Leaders, Empty Churches

Third in a Series on 3 John,
Delivered July 19, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
3 John 9-12
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will
have nothing to do with us.
10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping
maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to
welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so
and puts them out of the church.
11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone
who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is
evil has not seen God.
12 Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone–and even by the truth
itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our
testimony is true.

When a spiritual leader gets off base it always reeks havoc in the lives of others. Like the time a state trooper pulled over a Mother Superior for driving too slow on a major highway and the conversation went something like this:

Why in the world are you driving so slowly?
Well officer I saw all of these signs that had the number 20 on them and I assumed that was the speed limit.
No, no, no, Sister, that is the highway number.
Oh, officer, I’m sorry, I had no idea.
Then the trooper looked in the back seat and he sees three nuns with panic stricken faces and white knuckles from clutching the seats and he says What’s wrong with the nuns in the back?
and the Mother Superior says
Oh – well we just got off highway 101 a few miles back.

In our sermon series going right through third John, so far we have seen the importance of reproducing ourselves spiritually in others. Just like Gaius was the spiritual child of the apostle John who penned this letter, we have also seen the importance of hospitality to strangers and the link between that and faithfulness and effectiveness in missions.

Now today, we see what happens when a spiritual leader gets off base. How crummy leadership can wreck a church. So turn with me in your Bibles to third John and we are going to look at verses nine through twelve.

Oftentimes you and I tend to romanticize the early church. Oh if we could only get back to how it really was in the New Testament times Whoa! Wait a minute – have you read what the church was like back then? Hey, friends, the church of Jesus Christ from the first century down to this very day has been made up of nothing but broken, fallen people. This place is and always has been and always will be a hospital for sinners. It is a branch of Sinners Anonymous and thus it is always riddled with hypocrisy and deceit, conceit and poor leadership. So today we look at a case study of poor leadership as we look at verses nine through twelve of third John. Please keep your Bibles open as we are going to be referring back to the text. Third John verses nine through twelve. This is the Word of the Lord:

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone–and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

Join me as we pray: And now Father as my words are true to your word may they be taken to heart, but as my words should stray from your word may they quickly be forgotten through Jesus Christ Our Lord – Amen.

How would you like to have your name in the Bible? What if your name was in the Bible except that the only thing it said about you was that you were a real jerk? That’s the case with Diotrephes this morning. He was a leader in the early church and that’s about all we know about him. This is the only place that he is mentioned in Scripture; but look at the epitaph that is left about this guy’s life. He was really messing things up. Spiritual leaders, when they get off base, wreak havoc in the lives of others and that’s what is going on here. We have a case study where the apostle John writes to Gaius and he contrasts the lousy leadership of Diotrephes with the good leadership of Demetrius and he is basically saying Gaius – as a church leader, model yourself after Demetrius not Diotrephes. That is a word that you and I need to hear today whether we are leaders or followers in the church of Jesus Christ. You know, we can always learn some good things from negative examples and so let’s take a look at what’s wrong with this guy Diotrephes.

Basically, Diotrephes, is a nay-sayer. Don’t you hate nay-sayers? People that always say no to any idea you have. I see my kids nodding their heads. The person who is always going around finding the black lining in every silver cloud.

Listen to this newspaper account from The Baltimore County Advocate of 1863: “A man about 46 years of age given the name of Joshua Cockersmith has been arrested in New York for attempting to extort funds. Some ignorant and superstitious people believed him when he said that he would convey the human voice any distance over a metallic wire so that it will be heard by the listener at the other end. He calls this instrument a telephone, which is obviously intended to imitate the word telegraph and to win the confidence of those who know the success of the latter instrument without understanding the principle on which it is based. Well informed people know that it is absolutely impossible to transmit the human voice over wires as is done with dots and dashes and that were it possible, the thing will be of no practical value whatever. The authorities who apprehended this criminal are to be congratulated. ”

Nay-sayers – Diotrephes was a nay-sayer and he said no to just about everything. He said no to four crucial, critical, cutting edge things in the life of the church, and anytime spiritual leaders say no to these four things churches dwindle and die. Let’s take a look at what those four things are that Diotrephes says no to.

The first thing he says no to you will find in verse nine. He says no to whatever it was that the apostle John had already written to that congregation. In other words he says no to apostolic writings and thus to apostolic authority. Friends, that is just about the biggest mistake that any Christian leader or any Christian period can make – to say no to apostolic authority. What’s our apostolic authority in the church today? Well it is the whole of the inspired, infallible word of God. God has given us Scripture so that we might know who He is, that we might know who we are and what it means to live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. We are to be a body of believers who say yes to the authority of Scripture. When we say no, we unhook ourselves from apostolic authority and I guarantee you anytime a leader or a church does that churches begin to dwindle, shrivel and die. But hey – our culture today, this post-modern culture, encourages us along that dead-end street. It says Hey – you are your own authority. No pope, no church and no Bible is going to tell me what I have to believe or how I should act. It sounds so good, but unchecked personal ambition, unchecked rampant individualism and anarchy is totally opposed to the Word of God and kills churches.

As believers you and I are to say Yes to scripture and then order our lives under its authority. Solid disciples and healthy churches are built when the Bible is elevated as the supreme authority. Beware of preachers who put themselves up as the number one authority, who preach politics or feel-good therapeutic topical sermons or their latest hobby horse, who relegate the Bible to the sidelines, who toss out the authority of Scripture and place themselves as preaching a direct word from the Lord. Hey – if they are not preaching a faithful exposition of the word of God, don’t have anything to do with them. It is the Word of God on which solid disciples and healthy churches are built.

The second thing that Diotrephes says no to (we find it in verse ten) is the ministry of John and others. In fact, John says that Diotrephes is going around and maliciously slandering them. Hey – beware of church leaders who cut down the ministries of other people or who torpedo other people’s ministries in order to enhance their own. Beware of Christian leaders who slander and maliciously gossip about other Christians — and folks that includes you and me. What about you and me when we maliciously gossip about other Christians? Oh I was just meaning that to be a prayer concern I was sharing with someone. We try to put ourselves smugly above all that, but folks, anytime you and I gossip that is a cancer on the body of Christ and needs to be cut out. This church is committed to coming alongside of and working with any individual or any ministry that exalts Christ and is under the authority of Scripture. We say yes to any other valid ministries out there.

The third thing that Diotrephes says no to you find again in verse ten. He says no to missions. John says He refuses to welcome the brothers. Remember how last week we saw that the brothers were those traveling missionaries who went around on an evangelistic and a teaching ministry and it was up to the churches to receive them and put them up and take care for them and send them on their way. But Diotrephes says No – I am not going to have those missionaries staying in my church. And anytime spiritual leaders say no to missions, churches suffer.

In our denomination, (Presbyterian USA) thirty years ago we had nearly two thousand missionaries on the mission field worldwide. Then we got some folks in leadership positions entrenched in those positions in the headquarters — who began to question the need for missionaries around the world and who began to discourage missions and who actually began to pull missionaries off the field to the point where just a few years ago our missionary force had dwindled down to about between four and five hundred. During the same thirty year period of time the membership of the PCUSA went from near four million down to about 2.6 million where it is today. Do you think there is any connection there, folks? Now praise God things are turning around. We’ve got some new leadership in our denomination. There is a rebirthing of a worldwide missions vision in the PCUSA for which we are very grateful. I’ll tell you this: this congregation has never backed away from missions and never will back away from missions. We are unapologetically a missionary society at heart. That is why you will see on your bulletin that we support over 70 missionaries and ministries world-wide.

The fourth thing that Diotrephes says no to is there in verse 10. He says no to anybody who is supportive of missions and who welcomes missionaries, and John goes as far to say that Diotrephes actually puts them out of the church; he kicks the mission people out. Anytime a spiritual leader does that you better believe that you’re going to be putting plywood on the stained glass windows of that church pretty soon because it is going to kill that church.

I know pastors who have actually told me and been proud of the fact that they have run off Young Life leaders and Youth For Christ leaders and FOCUS leaders in order to protect their youth group. I’ve had pastors tell me that they have urged their congregations to cut missions out of the church budget so that they could balance their budget. They were proud of booting people out of the church and running them off – you know all those evangelical types. It kills churches folks. It kills churches. Here at Central we are in the business of raising folks up who have a vision for world missions – not running people off.

Boy, this Diotrephes is a pretty sorry person isn’t he? He emerges out of this text as an arrogant, egotistical, self-centered, control freak. His motto is Just Say No. His theme song is Sinatra’s I Did It My Way. He is not the kind of guy you want in a leadership position in a church and yet he’s there, not just back there in the first century; he is still around in a variety of churches across this nation and across this globe.

Just recently I heard about an interim pastor who had gone into a once vibrant, growing, evangelical PCUSA congregation. This guy is unhooked from the Word of God and he has begun to institute high church ritual in place of authentic faith and he has begun to quash or question ministries like the Promise Keepers. He has gone into that church not to build up the body of Christ there but in his own words To shake that church up and that church is emptying. People are voting with their feet and they’re leaving.

What do we do when Diotrephes gets entrenched in power? Well John tells us in verse ten – expose them. He says When I show up Gaius I am going to tell everybody what Diotrephes is doing. That sounds easy, but that never comes without pain and conflict. Diotrephes rarely ever rolls over and plays dead. He is always up for a fight. But when leaders like Diotrephes, leaders who strong arm people and who work on the basis of fear and coercion and intimidation, when they get in leadership positions it is up to you all as the body of Christ to unmask them; to call a spade a spade and to hold them accountable to the larger community of faith. It is not easy but it has to be done and that means right here at Central with Jerry and me. We need to be held accountable. When we are out of line and there is a little bit of Diotrephes showing in us, you need to come and tell us.

We also need to be sure that we elect men and women like Demetrius to offices here at Central Church. For the last three weeks you have had in your bulletin a ballot for the nominating committee. A lot of you probably have looked at that and said Ah – this is no big deal. It’s a very big deal! As Presbyterian-type Christians we have the privilege of choosing and electing our officers. Deacons, elders and pastors. And the nominating committee is charged with the very high responsibility of making sure that the slate of deacons and elders they present each year are held to the highest standards according to Scripture and our Book of Order; that these folks on that ballot are Demetrius’. That’s why it is important to have the right people on the nominating committee who will really go to work doing that to make sure that here at Central our leadership is always held accountable and that we are Demetrius’.

Then lastly if you are a deacon or an elder or pastor here this morning we need to examine ourselves. We need to put our lives up against this text, up against this contrast between Diotrephes and Demetrius. Good spiritual leaders are first of all good followers, followers of Christ. Good spiritual leaders are folks that don’t cut down other people’s ministries but come alongside and encourage other ministries and work hard for the advancement of the kingdom even if they are not going to get any credit for it. Good spiritual leaders have a missions vision. Good spiritual leaders are involved in raising people up into ministry not running people off. Good spiritual leaders are willing to hear the truth about themselves.

Look at verse twelve, where John says that Demetrius is spoken highly of by everyone. It was public knowledge what people thought about him. You need to make sure that it is public knowledge what the body of Christ thinks about its leaders and that includes me and Jerry and the elders and deacons of this church. Good Christian leaders, when they look at themselves in the mirror and begin to see more of Diotrephes than they do of Demetrius, they need to repent and change or step down and that goes for us and all the leaders of this church. I’m not resigning – don’t get too excited. Yes, Diotrephes emerges in me every once in awhile and I have to look that in the face and say Get behind me, Diotrephes. You know cliches are cliches because there is some truth to them and a cliche that fits this passage is water rises no higher than its source. A church advances no further than its leadership does. That’s why in the body of Christ you need to hold the leadership at Central to the highest standards according to the Word of God. Leaders that are full of themselves, empty churches.

Join me as we pray:
Father we thank you for the leadership here at Central and that you have raised up men and women who have a humble spirit that reflect the leadership style of Demetrius rather than Diotrephes. And Lord, we pray for sister congregations here in the city and around the world who struggle under leadership that is leading them in less than a good direction. We pray that you would remove those leaders or change their hearts that they might begin to lead in conjunction with your Holy Spirit rather than with their egos or ambitions that are unchecked. And Lord, we pray that you would protect this congregation and continue to lead us in the right direction in order that we would always be willing to move out past our comfort zones and risk following your Holy Spirit into uncharted waters. That we would be a missions congregation that has a passionate heart to see boys and girls and men and women come to faith in Jesus Christ here in this place, across our nation and around the world and may you be exalted through our ministry here for we pray it in Jesus name. Amen.