I’m not afraid to examine and scrutinize church leaders. They have put themselves in a position of authority, hopefully directed by God to do so, and they set the human, earthly example of what Christians should strive to emulate apart from Jesus Himself. I don’t expect pastors to be perfect — humanity and sin still exist, and grace abounds — but we should be able to see a marked difference between a man set apart to do God’s work and a recent convert, and hopefully even more so compared to a person that is ignorant of the gospel.
Jesus tells his disciples, “Beware of the scribes.” (Luke 20:46). Scribes are the guys that study the law and teach it. He implies about the scribes that a) they know the law and b) they are in a position of authority to teach it. Jesus is definitely not making scribes look good — He lists their vicious practices after this sharp warning to beware.
Before we look harder, it’s important to draw modern comparisons. We should. The Bible is alive today. Jesus’s warnings also bear relevance right now.
So, do you know these guys?
1) They like to look flashy. Jesus depicts these guys wearing “flowing robes”. They go around the public arena so they’re seen and noticed. Does your leader dress exceptionally well, in designer clothes, perhaps, before beginning his Sunday discourse? Does his car belong on Top Gear? Jesus suggests we avoid teachers that make a scene with how they look. They’re probably trying to distract us from what they’re saying.
2) They like attention. Jesus adds that the scribes love “greetings in the marketplace.” In this case, the marketplace is a central location with lots of people around. This could be church, but it could also be your local coffee shop, a supermarket, or even a social networking site like Facebook. It’s okay to make appearances, but to announce your coming and draw attention to yourself is vanity. If your pastor shows up at the church outreach just to check off his pastoral deed for the day and make sure everyone notices, for example, look out.
3) They demand priority. Does your pastor insist on being called “Pastor So-and-so”? It’s okay to address the pastor that way, because he’s still your pastor. However, if you call him by first name and you spot a nostril flaring, the man needs a humble sandwich. Without cheese. The scribes preferred the best seat in the synagogue or the “place of honor” at feasts. Your church leader shouldn’t do similar. Does your pastor require particular amenities all the time? Does he reserve seats at the conference or church event? No pastor, by definition a shepherd, humble before God as His vessel, should reign supreme over his congregation or trumpet his importance.
4) They take advantage of people, particularly the weak. The scribes of Jesus’ day apparently used the widows of the region for financial gain, because they were weak and easily manipulated. This habit means disaster in a church setting, especially if the behavior comes from the top. Does your pastor ask people to serve in the church knowing they won’t say no to him? Does he “delegate” often to avoid responsibility and still take the credit? You should never feel guilty for saying no to serving in some capacity in a church. Acts of service should only be performed out of love for the Lord and for people.
5) They act spiritual. There’s a generation of people that will not put up with hypocrisy, especially in church. Devoted followers of Christ find spiritual acts for the sake of self-adulation sickening: “Wow, how articulate and anointed that man is!” people might say, but it should be easy to see right through it. Jesus warns the disciples that these teachers use “long prayers” to show off. Does your pastor have to out-pray everyone in the prayer circle? Does he discuss his spiritual disciplines at length and tout his walk with the Lord? Be careful of this behavior; deception is the name of the game.
David writes that the wicked “speak peace to their neighbors, but evil is in their hearts.” (Psalm 28:4). We have to be aware of these people, and avoid them at all costs. Do not be swayed or flattered! Stand on what the Word says. On the other hand, we have to recognize that these are men, and that the Holy Spirit is much stronger and that Jesus dispenses limitless grace — we must continually pray for our pastors, not just so they’ll correct their behavior, but that they themselves would see the love of God as intended.