This is Jimmy Saville. I used to avidly watch his show Jim’ll Fix It on the BBC when I was a kid living in the UK. Children wrote in requests about meeting famous people, doing amazing things or having a wish come true, and Jim fixed it for them. He looks a right weirdo doesn’t he? Which he was. Shortly before his death last year he said in an interview “People think I am straight, but I’m crooked. My reputation will take a dive when I am gone.” Take a dive?! If they could, they would dig his body up and trash it like they did to Oliver Cromwell’s after the Restoration of the Monarchy! Saville is implicated in dozens, if not hundreds, of sexual assaults on young women, crimes he got away with because of his enormous power whilst working at the BBC.
Saville has been exposed. Too late to face his crimes in this age, but not, alas for him, in the coming age and the day of God’s judgement. His statement about his reputation taking a dive when he is gone is significant: It highlights the fact that it takes a lot of time and energy to keep evil actions hidden, if that is what you intend to do. All sorts of lengths will be gone to (and were gone to by both Saville and some within the BBC) to ensure that none of his actions came to light. But come to light they have, and with it, the actions of a number of others who were friends of his and acquaintances. Saville is no longer there to do the hard work of keeping what should be exposed hidden, so it’s all coming out now – every sordid detail.
Why do I write about this obnoxious man? Simply to highlight the difference between exposure and transparency – and to demonstrate how that works itself out in leadership within the church.
Some of the most significant verses about exposure and transparency in the Bible are John 3:19-21
And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out by God.
Do you see it? It’s Exposure versus Transparency. Leaders who fear exposure (of their flaws, weaknesses, sins) have to work hard to avoid light. For these leaders sin, ungodly habits, ongoing unaddressed character issues, are matters to hide. And it is hard work. Leaders who fear exposure will go to great lengths to ensure that the people they work with never get too close, never know too much, and never stay too long if they are the type of person to ask questions. And, sadly, there are plenty of leaders like that. Their primary characteristics are paradoxical: brutal, but brittle. In their desperation to stay out of the light that would expose them, they make brutal decisions which, ironically, highlight that they are not as confident in themselves as they would have everyone believe. Because it is such hard work, they tend to exhibit a dwindling influence over a ever-smaller number of increasingly deluded true-believers. (Think Hitler in the bunker – Ed). Unlike the transparent leader, the leader who fears exposure cannot allow God to get the glory for their actions because to do so would necessitate coming into the light. Consequently they struggle when others do well, or are more gifted in an area than they, as they are glory hogs.
The greatest irony of all, however, is that the flipside of exposure is transparency. Notice v21. The most exposing truth of all is that we are sinners, and that we are exposed before a righteous holy God. Yet, when we turn to him in repentance and faith, acknowledging our sin, the light, which previously was our enemy, becomes our friend. Transparent leaders are personified by an openness that does not hide its sin, but constantly brings it to Jesus for forgiveness. Transparent leaders “sin openly” in that they confess their sins to others within the safety net of God’s grace. They also rejoice in God getting the glory for the good deeds they perform in his name. Here is what else you will find in a transparent leader:
1. They are not condemning of YOUR sin, rather they are able and willing to help you deal with it at the cross.
2. They are not consumed with presenting a busy “leader” image. They tend to make time, have time, and share time.
3. They don’t mind being bested in the humour stakes. This is an important issue. Leaders who hate not having the last word – or getting the last laugh – probably fear exposure in some area of life.
4. They don’t need to be right. Ironically, leaders who fear exposure, for all of their sinful habits and weaknesses, struggle to be wrong. At heart they know they are wrong, but to admit it in one area might breach the defences in another area.
The ultimate example in the Bible of the exposed leader is King David after his sin with Bathsheba. He does everything he can to hide the sin he has committed, busily compounding it with further sin. To no avail. Nathan the prophet exposes him for his hypocrisy then announces this chilling prophecy in 2Kings 12:
“… I [God] will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.”
And that is indeed what happened, when David’s son Absalom staged a coup, kicked David out of Jerusalem and demonstrated his intentions by sleeping with his father’s concubines on the palace roof, like a top dog showing everyone he meant business. David had been exposed!
What saved him? Where did help come from? Psalm 51 is instructive. Ultimately David realised that his sin was exposed “before God’s sight” and that he had to confess it. His consequent confession frees him up to “teach transgressors God’s ways”, “sing aloud of God’s righteousness” and “declare God’s praise”. In other words to be the Transparent leader that he was called to be.
Unlike Jimmy Saville, King David will not be held accountable for his sin. By rights he should have died when his sin was exposed, but Nathan told him that he was forgiven and would not die. Why? Because the uniquely transparent leader – the one who was able to stand before his enemies and ask “Which of you accuses me of sin?”, only to be met with frustrated silence, took the exposure that David deserved. On the cross Jesus was showcased before the world; naked, rejected, forsaken – exposed! He took the exposure for us – the exposure before the world and a righteous God, so that we could be transparent before God and before others. So that we could come into the light and do what David was eventually able to do; to teach, to sing and to declare. To be the leaders that God has called us to be.