In the 50+ years I’ve been a Jesus follower, a variety of English speaking Christian influencers have held prominence, attracting reverence and a following among evangelicals and charismatics: Billy and Franklin Graham, Benny Hinn, James Dobson, Henry Nouwen, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, Bill and Vonette Bright, Beth Moore, N.T. Wright, Richard Foster, Jim Wallis, Steven Furtick – just snippets from a long list. Loyalties to the vision and teaching of these influencers can be just as strong as those described by the apostle Paul in the first century:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? (I Corinthians 1:10-13a ESV)

This 2,000 year gap between Jesus’ advent and the Christian luminaries named above illustrates our human tendency to pledge allegiance to and sometimes slavishly follow tangible, charismatic leaders – or we ascend to superior-spirituality and boast we follow “Jesus only”. Why do we tend to pick a favorite leader, and why could this be a problem?

The “why” is simple. As humans we crave, even need, tangible leaders of impeccable character. The problem is that all human leaders have weaknesses that tarnish character. Therefore caution is required to guard against giving human leaders the kind of trust reserved for God alone.

So what is the solution for Jesus’ followers, so we can move toward the unity Paul encouraged in the Corinthian church? I suggest our first caution is to be reluctant to burden church leaders with inordinate responsibility and power. Therefore we each must cultivate the willingness to discover and operate within our own individual gifts the Holy Spirit has granted us as members of the Body of Christ.

Think about this admonition found in a later chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV)

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul again elaborates on church unity:

And he {God, the Holy Spirit} gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

Jesus is real, he’s alive, he’s the head of his body – exalted over his church for all time – worthy of our deepest loyalty. Paul’s Ephesian outline,:describing committed, faithful Christian leaders with the mature body of Christ operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, promises the unity Paul envisioned. This is true for churches throughout all time.

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal whether you’ve drifted into unfruitful or excessive loyalty to gifted Christian leaders/influencers not operating within your church body. If this isn’t a problem for you, keep focused on Jesus, serving the Lord and his church with the gifts he’s given you. If an unfruitful loyalty surfaces, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how that unadjusted allegiance hinders fully serving Jesus within your local body while giving proper honor to the leaders who care for your soul. Hebrews 13:17. 1 Thessalonians 5:12.