by Pearson Johnson

I read a very interesting article over at the Harvard Business Review blog called “The Dark Side of Charisma,” which provides some helpful insights from the secular world on the dangers of focusing on choosing or promoting people to leadership because of their charisma, or charm. These insights should be taken into consideration when choosing leaders in ministry as well.

In the article, the author notes:

There are only three ways to influence others: force, reason, or charm [charisma]. Whereas force and reason are rational (even when we are “forced” to do something, we obey for a good reason) charm is not. Charm is based on emotional manipulation and, as such, it has the ability to trump any rational assessment and bias our views. Charismatic leaders influence by charm rather than reason and when they run out of charm they tend to revert to force.

The author goes on to point out that charisma (1) dilutes judgment, in that the basis for leadership becomes emotional, rather than rational; (2) is addictive, as both to the leader and the followers crave more charisma and its effects, leading to delusion and imbalance; (3) disguises psychopaths, in that charm disguises very dangerous personal characteristics; and (4) fosters collective narcissism, promoting a cult-like following rather than a well studied group of followers (my summary).

God has given churches sufficient and vital resources to evaluate the leaders they choose. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, we are given a list of necessary qualities for church leaders which outline their character, competency, and conduct (as my pastor has outlined them in his recent Sunday night series, which I commend to you). So many churches focus on finding and promoting charismatic leaders while ignoring or assuming these significant lists of character-based and Spirit-based qualities. They do this to their peril, and even the world recognizes this. In all too many situations in local churches, lives have been manipulated, misguided, and ruined by personalities rather than shepherded toward the Person of Christ. Let’s be careful to avoid “The Dark Side of Charisma” and, instead, follow the light of God’s Word in identifying and promoting Godly and gifted leaders.