Leaders as Stumbling Blocks?
by Fred London
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Leaders as Stumbling Blocks?
A sister in the Lord writes:
Just think of what people like me would be able to accomplish in Christ if we were under leadership that was focused on helping those put under their authority! ??? Think of what the Body of Christ would look like if the leaders weren’t so paranoid about someone being liked or accepted more than them or having a greater anointing than them… If we could just move more together towards what Jesus’ prayer was for us – just think of what we could do! (John 17)
I very much appreciate your sentiments on this all-important issue. This may come as a shock, but the biggest potential stumbling block to the recovery of true church life as it was originally intended, is church leadership. The ascension of immature, inexperienced, unbroken, insecure men in leadership positions gives rise to this sort of obstacle. The British preacher and author, Leonard Ravenhill, one of the most significant voices of the twentieth century had this to say concerning John the Baptist; “He prepared for thirty years and preached for six months. Today, we prepare for six months and preach for thirty years!” It cannot be overstated that the Church has much unlearning to do. We have to rethink "leadership." What does it mean to be a shepherd, a pastor, an elder? What is the essence of true biblical spiritual leadership and what is it not?
First of all, “the ministry,” was never intended to be approached as a secular profession. Whether it is as a full-time minister or as a part-time Bible study teacher, that is not the real issue. The issue is in the mentality of approaching the ministry as a professional pursuit, applying secular means toward a spiritual end. Allow me to present a rather typical case in point. Some years ago, I was attending a particular church where there was a very gifted, dynamic, effective, fruitful, and much loved, Youth Pastor. One Sunday it was announced that he would be away for the entire week. Doing what? He would be out of state giving interviews at various churches within the denomination in order to land an Assistant Pastor position. And, why?” Well, you can apply whatever spiritual spin you want, but the bottom line was, it was simply time for him to make an upward career move in the ministry.
As it was soon revealed, when he first came to this present church, he had made a five-year commitment to remain until this predetermined period of time was up. To his credit, he fulfilled his commitment. As for me, when I was informed of his situation, one word popped into my mind. “Pity!” Here is a godly, multi-talented, young man still in his mid-twenties, and like so many others, he “was sold a bill of goods” at a very young age. However, the Scriptural truth is, “the work of the ministry,” as previously stated, was never intended to be approached as a profession from a secular mind set-“up the ecclesiastical ladder we go!” Is there biblical precedent for such an approach? All I can say to you is, “Happy hunting!”
Paul and Barnabas labored day by day in the local church at Antioch. It never entered their minds to use this fledgling, but rapidly growing local fellowship as a stepping stone, or springboard, into a higher level of ministry. They had an understanding that they were members of that body-period! There were no timetables and no preconditions attached. Ministry was a normal spiritual function within a corporate arena, as a family member, and not as a hireling-until the unexpected day came when THE LORD said, “Set apart for Me...”
Now, let me return to the point of your initial comment. Many in spiritual leadership hide behind the cloak of "sheep stealing" in order to justify their actions to "protect the flock." But, are they truly protecting God’s interests or really their own? Leaders place their names on "shingles" in front of "their" churches, truly believing it really is "their" church. For all intents and purposes, instead of placing their title as "Pastor" beside their name, they might as well be more forthcoming and put, "Proprietor." This is not an indication of biblical stewardship, but rather worldly ownership. This is another form of "sheep stealing" not commonly considered, that is, leaders stealing sheep away from God’s rightful ownership. But, since the Bible is replete with verses that we can conveniently extract to our own personal bias, if not witting advantage, it is not too difficult to do so in this case as well.
Paul, in Acts 20:28-30, spelled out for the Ephesian elders a succinct two-fold criteria for the commonly used term, “sheep stealing.” Interestingly, he does this by actually defining the characteristics of the perpetrators he refers to as “savage wolves.” This is illustrated in V. 30 as follows: (1) those “speaking perverse things,” (2) “to draw away the disciples after them.” Therefore, if leaders are "guarding their flocks" for any other reasons other than besides those stated in the preceding verse, they may have some real explaining to do down the line.
There is a Kingdom truth which desperately needs to be revived. The Church was never intended to look or function anything like the world, and that includes the leadership function. As one man has said, "I went out unto the world to find the church, and when I got into the church, I found the world." We need to eradicate from our mind set and vocabulary, this "raising up" doctrine. Not that God doesn't raise men up for His purposes, but that the church has interpreted and applied this phrase from a worldly standpoint. By nature, people "want a king" to tell them what to do, and unfortunately there are many after the spirit of "Diotrophes" around, ready, willing, and able to accommodate them. But, as Jesus, said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not to be so among you...” And this concept is not exclusive to the New Testament. Along similar lines, God, speaking through the prophet, Ezekiel, rebukes the shepherds of Israel by saying, “...but with force and severity you have dominated them.”
It is so much easier to fill a vacuum than to have to purge and reprogram data, or so much easier to work with wet cement, while it is still pliable and impressionable, as opposed to it long since being passed the stage of hardening. By this point, the only thing left to do is to shatter it. That is why the beginning of any work of God, whether it is individual or corporate, is the most critical part, You only get one shot to lay in a proper foundation the first time. Otherwise, later on, the only alternative is to tear the house down in order to dig up and redo the foundation. More often than not, it is best to cut your losses, abandon the work, and start anew somewhere else. We spend entirely too much time trying to renovate those works which, regardless of how we spruce it up and tweak it, or "reinvent the wheel," will inevitably reveal cracks in the walls, reaching right up to the roof, and ultimately, cave in under its own weight. This principle is no less true of leadership, and pertains to them even more so in light of the added weight of responsibility.
Another problem is that leadership often has a tendency to want to perpetuate their name and works, sort of like a royal dynasty. These works become idols because they are, in reality, the works of man's hands. They become "idols of worship" in the Name of God. They are kept alive by artificial life support systems when “Ichabod” has been placed over their doorposts long ago. And, furthermore, men want to leave them as monuments unto themselves, but God, says, "My glory I will not give to another!” A prime example is found when connecting Numbers 21:9 with II Kings 18:4 in reference to the bronze serpent during the Exodus. Originally, God provided this instrument as a vehicle through which Divine healing could be obtained. Many generations later, we find this same bronze serpent being worshiped as an idol. It is not until Hezekiah, a man of courage and conviction arrives on the scene as Judah’s new king, that this bronze serpent is “broken into pieces.”
One other example worth noting is in the case of Saul in I Samuel 15:12. As a fruit of his rapidly declining spiritual condition, it says of him, “ ...and behold, he set up a monument for himself,...” And, right up unto today, this malady still persists. We must recognize the tendency of fallen humanity which is given to self-worship, to build monuments to ourselves and to perpetuate our works on earth. It is a human tendency, or carnal trait, if you will, that does not stop at the door of the House of God. We, too, left unchecked, will and have, aspired to build and leave for posterity our own versions of “The Tower of Babel.” Even great churches like that of Ephesus did not survive indefinitely. God performs His desired purpose in a given time or generation, and He moves on. We pass on, and God moves on.
Paul spoke of the sin of those “who worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.” We are to extol the Potter, not the pottery, the Inventor, not the invention, the Builder, not the building, the Master, not the servant. As Paul wrote, “What do you have that you did not receive, but if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” We must come to the realization that it isn't about us. We are not the “Alpha and Omega” of God's purposes in the universe. So, let us be diligent to “serve the purpose of God in our generation,” and leave its value and legacy to the judgment of God, and not be so quick to either create, or believe, our own press clippings.
But, this is where another work, primarily hidden behind the scenes, is being prepared and groomed, a pasture of refuge, if you will, for God’s sheep, and in the process, also in secret, God is raising up shepherds after His own Heart, being "raised up" His way, and not man's.
A Postscript to this Letter
On the other hand, I have also learned that it is often wise not to "speak your whole mind" to someone who is not yet ready to be fully informed of his or her calling. And, what about our perennial favorite exception, Timothy, as an example of someone called into “ministry” at a young age. Well, here is the entire written record of how this event, if you can call it that, occurred, “Paul wanted this man to go with him...” That was it! No prophetic word, no laying on of hands, no fanfare, no promises, “no nothing,” accept to have the extraordinary privilege of observing how men of God with an apostolic call, lived, worked, endured hardship and persecution, and how they handled slander from those inside as well as outside the church. And, yes, he was quite busy “serving” in his own right, serving as a baggage handler, launder, and messenger boy, Yet, all the while, he was acquiring the finest ministerial education and preparation that all the money in the world could not buy. In a very real sense, God had granted Timothy a full scholarship to “The School of Christ,” and he made the most of it. Expanding on this point further, I believe many a young man and woman have been ruined by well-intended people revealing to them, "before the time," what their giftings and callings were, and we, wittingly or unwittingly, encouraged them to run off half cocked and half baked, without the necessary spiritual maturity and character development which is required of "a vessel fit for the Master's use," or as Paul expressed it, "lest after preaching to others, I, myself, am disqualified."
As one who was very active as a young believer, and certainly a typical product of the "Jesus Movement," everything was about "ministry." "We are all called to do this and to do that for the Lord!" "We all need to be doing something for the Lord!" "What are you doing for the Lord, brother?" "What are you doing for the Lord, sister?" "We all need to fulfill “The Great Commission!" I am going to make a radical statement. Young people should not "serve the Lord!" They should invest their time learning from elders (true spiritual elders), and getting to know their Lord, and what it means to be a member of His Body, what church life is all about, and beyond, having the opportunity, or maybe another way of stating it, a fighting chance of becoming all that God intended them to be, and all the while learning to be normal, to be a simple brother or sister in the Lord, along with being a responsible human being, both inside and outside the Church. This is true spirituality. Since, we only get one, first chance to lay in a proper foundation, we need to make it count, and do it right, the first time!
In my experience of seeing young believers
"serving the Lord in ministry," there have been two predominant outcomes. Either, they remained in ministry, but their spiritual maturity was greatly stunted, having to devote most of their time and energy to ministry rather than what should have been a time of investment in their own personal spiritual growth and development, or, they eventually burned out and burned up, some of whom are not even walking with the Lord any longer. And the carnage doesn't end there. The greater tragedy is the people they were in leadership over proved to be unwitting victims, being practically used as guinea pigs, young and ill-prepared leaders "learning the ropes" at the sheep's expense, and it isn't even "their" sheep! It's as though the admonitions of "not setting in a new convert" or of "not laying hands suddenly on any man," are somehow rationalized as being the exception rather than the rule. When my children were young, I used to say to them, "When you disobey, something bad always happens!" It is amazing how adherence to the simplest of principles can have such a profound impact on life.
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