Really, really early warnings for church leadership

Ezekiel 34

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Unfortunately, mistrust in church leadership is sometimes warranted.  It’s possible that many churches are started by noble men, individuals that have heard the calling of God to begin ministry in a certain place and a certain way, and they  gather a group of sheep to propagate the message that God has purportedly spoken to them personally.  They teach the Bible, feed the needy in the community, and share the good news of Jesus Christ without abandon.

And then, somewhere along the way, they become hungry for something else.  Maybe it’s because the church grows enough whereas the leader’s dependence on a second income lessens and they withdraw from another job, and the tithing of the church becomes a primary source of sustainable income.  More people means more money, and they resort to gimmickry to draw members.

Perhaps the leader recognizes the influence they have on others and inadvertently strong-arms people into a position of submission to “carry out the vision” – because if this doesn’t happen, people will lose motivation and trickle out the door.

It’s possible that they get really puffed up because they have such vast knowledge of the Bible, and the amens of their followers drive the leader to a place of self-promotion, and they begin to seek pats on the back for their clever weekly speeches.

Or, in the worst case, the leader’s motives were any of these before they even began, a nightmarish fact that has tarnished the reputation of churches worldwide.

In John 10, Jesus talks about these people, and compares them to the Lord (Himself), the true shepherd. You know how to read – go read it yourself. Here’s a link, because you’re already on the internet and you’re probably too lazy to look it up.

Even though false teaching was already rampant in Jesus’ day, He didn’t come up with this antidote. After reading Ezekiel 34, it looks like Jesus borrowed a lot of material that was already written about this topic. That’s cool with me, since He already created the world – I think He’s allowed to borrow His own inspired material.

Ezekiel writes about the shepherds who feed themselves.  In a modern capitalist context, this makes sense – of course you raise sheep to feed and clothe yourself if you’re into that industry. And this is the part when you kick my sarcasm aside and recognize that it’s symbolic.  He’s talking about prophets of the day, 600 years before Jesus was born in the flesh.

Worse yet, verse 6 says that the people are all scattered about, and “no one [is] seeking or searching for them.” The love has left – the message is irrelevant beyond the shepherd’s self-seeking motives.

The message in verse 9 is clearly a response to these leaders: “hear the word of the Lord” – if not, the sheep will be removed from them completely.  Of course, with poor motives, the sheep are already subject to predators. I’ll let you imagine who those are. And to quell commentary from neo-conservatives, it’s not gay people or the U.S. government.

It’s not really our job to even lead the sheep under our own awesome ideas or authority. How arrogant are we to even consider an alternative to the instruction and inspiration of the Lord, ignoring discipline and deferring humility!

If you’re a pastor, this is undoubtedly a challenge because you’ve gotta pay the bills, and if there’s no one in the seats, there won’t be any eats. But don’t resort to pulling false humility and subversive tactics to draw in the suckers, only to bleed them dry. Remember why you started in the first place.

And if you’re not a pastor (which you’re likely not), you can see this as a warning to avoid these type, or you can put your pride away and recognize the relevance for yourself. You are equally capable of being selfish and manipulative.

But for all – be encouraged! You know who the true shepherd is. You know He is strong and just, and that in any state of perceived disrepair He is still capable. But it requires us to recognize that we are men, and HE is God!

And if you have happened to take a hard look at Ezekiel 34, it’s talking about Israel. But Jesus promises the same to us.  Hopefully you read it, and take heart today.

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