The Bible has already warned Christians against the emergence of false leaders. As "wolves in sheep's clothing," recognizing them can be challenging. However, as the Lord Jesus Christ states that these individuals can be identified through their fruits, a Christian author shares three indicators of a deceitful church leader.
In his article titled "How to Watch for Wolves: Three Signs of False Teachers," Jon Bloom, author, teacher and co-founder of Desiring God, discussed the characteristics of a "wolfish leader" by revisiting Paul's statement in 2 Timothy 3.
Disguises Himself With 'The Appearance of Godliness'
First, "pious disguise."
As Paul stated in 2 Timothy 3:5, this kind of leader presents himself as a godly person "but denies its power." Alongside such appearance, however, are other worldly traits written in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
Thus, Bloom said that this kind of leader aims for self-indulgence and disguises himself with "the appearance of godliness." However, one will recognize that he is false through his fruit - lacking "personal holiness."
The author emphasized that a leader with selfish motives is hard to spot because he can be very good in hiding his evil intentions but once he gets into a position of leadership, his influence will "cause a decline in the spiritual health of a church."
Bloom revealed that he has encountered such kind of leader himself when he worked with a pastor many years ago. He recalled that prior to the discovery of the minister's "immoral pursuits," he already felt "a growing intuitive uneasiness" around the person. They could not determine what was wrong but they knew something was off, noting a "deficit of spiritual authenticity" and a lack of power in his teaching.
Though he clarified that not "every uneasy intuition is accurate," fruit will become apparent over time. Thus, he advised to "watch for patterns" such as the leader's "permissive application of 'grace' and an orientation toward worldliness and self-indulgence," handling of money, "laxness" on sexual ethics, as well as the "uneasiness" of "other spiritually discerning people" towards the leader.
"Watch for a leader's defensiveness, condescension, and lack of transparency when challenged. And if a culture of manipulation and fear develops around a Christian leader, that's cause for concern, since a wolf tends to appear godly but loves badly," the author went on.
One Who Undermines The Gospel
The second characteristic of a "wolfish leader" is one who opposes the truth as Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:8.
To explain further, Bloom turned to Paul's description of this type of leader in 2 Timothy 3:6-9.
With this, the author said that such leader aims to promote himself, disguises as one who carries "an image of spiritual power and/or theological erudition," but can be recognized as a false one through his manipulative behavior towards vulnerable people, having an "impressive appearance of spiritual power accompanied by advocacy for doctrines that undermine the gospel" and opposition of godly leaders.
"Though Paul isn't necessarily describing wolfish leaders' strategic progression in these verses, it's often the case that such leaders are sneaky to begin with, and only later become more openly oppositional, when they've consolidated a critical mass of influence," he added.
Seeks To Preserve Reputation, Status, Wealth and Comfort
Finally, one who avoids adversity.
As the apostle warns in 2 Timothy 3:11, Bloom said that a "wolfish leader" tends to avoid "persecutions and sufferings." In 2 Timothy 3:10-13, Paul commended the young minister for following his example in serving God and criticized the "evil people and impostors" of their deception.
Given Paul's statement, the author pointed out that a leader bearing the third characteristic aims for "self-preservation," disguises himself as one with "confident assertions" and holds a leadership position that provides an "appearance of courage." His falsehood can be recognized, however, by his fruit which is the "avoidance of personal sacrifice and public persecution for the sake of preserving reputation, status, wealth, and comfort."
Given the three deceptive traits of a "wolfish leader," the author shared Paul's "parting words" to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-30, urging them to pay attention to themselves and to their church members, as well as warning them against the "fierce wolves" which he expected to come after the flock.
In conclusion, Bloom stressed the ultimate agenda of a false leader.
"And if they paid careful attention, the fruits would point to this: a wolflike leader preying on the sheep to satisfy his own ungodly appetites," he declared.