Healthy Leaders


3 Dangers of WYSIWYG Leadership

Dan LovagliaDan Lovaglia

You may not be familiar with the term WYSIWYG (pronounced “wiz-ee-wig”), but you definitely know it when you see it. WYSIWYG is an acronym for, “What You See is What You Get.” Combine this with leadership in ministry and it describes an attitude many leaders bring into their spheres of influence every day ‒ for better or worse.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul actually made a case for WYSIWYG leadership in ministry. He told the church, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” It’s hard to believe but he actually had the guts to say, “Do as I do.” In not so many words, Paul communicated, “With me, ‘what you see is what you get.’ If you see anything in me that’s godly, you go for it too! If not, follow Jesus first.”

Paul undeniably set the gold standard for disciple makers and leaders being exemplary; but, WYSIWYG leadership isn’t the same and it’s not always a good thing. It’s especially dangerous when a “What You See is What You Get” approach to ministry is leveraged by imperfect leaders to dismiss bad behavior and mistreat people. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “It’s just how I am, so deal with it!” you know what I mean. It’s true, nobody’s perfect, but that’s never license to stop growing in Christ-like character.

While there are more dangers than three, here are a few shortcomings of WYSIWYG leadership to be on the lookout for in your ministry (and yourself).

  1. The upfront leader hardly changes, so people in the ministry don’t either.

Proverbs 13:20 raises a big red flag when it comes to the impact of wise and foolish people. It simply says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” When WYSIWYG leaders in ministry resist personal change for the better, they fall into the fool category. Unfortunately, they end up steering others down the same path. Don’t settle for being led by someone that never becomes more loving, more patient, more kind, or more selfless. He or she might expect you to grow in these areas, but you won’t ‒ and neither will the ministry ‒ because “What You See is What Your Get” is status quo.

  1. When the potential for real transformation is in question, so is God’s power.

Christ didn’t come to bring incremental change to people’s lives. He lived, died, and rose again to bring eternal life ‒ true life that lasts forever starting now! Romans 8 is Paul’s treatise on what happens when the Holy Spirit is at work in someone. Verse 11 makes it clear that the “Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” is now living inside a person that was once dead in sin. If this isn’t true, then Paul’s claim in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that anyone in Christ gets transformed from “old” to “new” is preposterous. Was Jesus speaking in hyperbole when He declared in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit comes on you …”? Certainly not! If there’s a leader in your world that’s questioning real transformation by saying, “What You See is What You Get,” he or she ‒ and their ministry ‒ is probably second guessing if God’s power can really move mountains!

  1. If leadership allows itself to behave badly, so goes the general reputation.

There’s a popular debate over the connection between public and private life. Some say what’s done behind closed doors, outside the professional spotlight of leadership, is “off the record.” Others disagree entirely. They argue that integrity, by definition, means a person’s character on the outside is a reflection of what’s on the inside, and vice-versa. If you want to find out which side of this debate Jesus stands on, check out Matthew 23:25-28. He looks WYSIWYG leadership in the face and calls them out for their blatant hypocrisy. Christ’s judgment is obvious in verse 28: “… on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” When leadership in ministry looks fantastic but is actually cancerous, the watching world eventually finds out. People begin wondering, “Is everything alright over there? They used to be such a great church or ministry.” If you’re in a situation where the pleasant aroma has turned sour, it may be because “What You See is What You Get” isn’t worth getting anymore.

You don’t have to live with the dangers of WYSIWIG leadership in ministry. Once you spot one, take time to pray it through and then, if God prompts you, speak up. Your word of caution may not be received positively, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing the wrong thing. The intent of “What You See is What You Get” is to remain real, down-to-earth, and approachable. Don’t let leaders in ministry, or yourself, get deceived into dismissing the kind of change Christ wants to do in and through you for His purposes in the world.

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