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The Prescription for Poor Leadership

The Prescription for Poor Leadership

“Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them…” (3 John 9)

How would you like to be the man who is immortalized in Scripture as a really bad leader? Cain, Saul, Balaam, Ananias and Judas all fall in this category. Their lives went down in history, not as a testimony to follow, but an illustration to avoid. And John, who was the most gracious of all the apostles, adds the name of Diotrephes to the list.


All we know of Diotrephes is found in three short verses penned by the Apostle. John gives us a short but telling picture of this ignoble leader as he warns those he loves. In so doing, he tells us how to discern poor leaders and also what to avoid in our own leadership.

He Loved First Place

“Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them” (vs. 9)

This is the most telling fault-line. He was a proud, self-seeking man. He had not seen himself properly and longed for the recognition that he thought he deserved. He was not broken, in the best sense of that word. He had not come to the end of himself and, consequently, was full of himself. And, it was obvious to any spiritually-discerning Christian.

He Refused Biblical Truth

“…does not accept what we say.” (vs. 9)

What Diotrephes was rejecting was not merely others’ opinions. This was John, who was God’s pen to record the inspired Word of God! The proud Diotrephes thought he knew better. He exalted his opinions over God’s Word, like a supposed leader who once started a sentence in my presence with these telling words: “I don’t care what the Bible says!”

He Criticized Leaders

“I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words” (vs. 10)

Bad leaders have usually adopted the practice of tearing down others to advance their position. “Did you see what he did?” is their constant wording, implying that they would never lead like those they despise. Often, this is driven by jealousy.

Beware. If you listen to the gossip of others, you can easily become their next topic of conversation, because their agenda is to exalt themselves alone.

He Didn’t Recognize Spiritual Authority

“…he himself does not receive the brethren.” (vs. 10)

A man who has not surrendered to the Lordship of Christ will never accept any other authority in his life. If you are unwilling to submit to God, you obviously will not defer to other godly leaders, vainly believing your opinion is supreme.

He Didn’t Do What Was Good

“Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (vs. 11)

John’s bottom-line? This guy did not do what was good. His walk didn’t match his talk. What is good is the “good, acceptable and perfect” will of God. It’s a disastrous decision to follow a man who is not following God.

He Didn’t Have a Good Testimony

“Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself.” (vs. 12)

To illustrate by way of a contrast, John mentions another brother in their midst to help them see the difference between a good and bad leader. Evaluate leaders not by a moment, but over seasons of their leadership. A lack of integrity will always manifest itself, and vice versa.

Everybody leads somebody. We’re all leaders, and it’s not hard to be a bad leader. In fact, it takes deliberate spiritual growth and intentionality to become capable in this crucial task.

Are you leading well? Prayerfully (and repentantly if needed) take the Diotrephes Test:

  1. Do I seek to be first?
  2. Do I submit to biblical truth?
  3. Do I criticize other good leaders?
  4. Do I humbly submit to spiritual authority?
  5. Do my actions match my words?
  6. Do I have a good testimony?
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Bill Elliff is a revivalist, church consultant, and Senior Teaching Pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. His passion is for spiritual revival and methodological renewal in the church–both new wine and new wineskins—for the glory of God. He can be contacted at belliff@thesummitchurch.org.