- Ezekiel 34:1-10
- 1Peter 5:1-4
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Our study of 1Peter up to this point taught us a few major things:
- Our citizenship is in heaven where our inheritance is kept save by God
- Citizens of heaven are those who received the Good News of Christ, who called us our of darkness into his marvellous light. They received a new life—a new birth from above—by the Holy Spirit, and became part of the spiritual temple serving God
- Citizens of heaven live like aliens on earth, because their minds are renewed—and this impacts on the way they live and think
- Citizens of heaven should not think it strange if the world hates them who also hated Christ.
For this reason then disciples of Jesus Christ need to be on their guard and know their enemy.
Last week we had a brief look at our enemy number one: the devil, our adversary, who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour the citizens of heaven.
Today we continue to look at other enemies. The first then is a look at bad church leadership. Not all church leadership represents good leadership. This has been the case in Old Testament times, and has been since the days of the apostles right through church history into our present day.
Our text gives us certain characteristics of bad leaders:
- Bad leaders don’t know the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ
- Bad leaders are bad shepherds
- Bad leaders lord it over God’s people
- Bad leaders are in it for material gain
- Bad leaders set bad examples
Bad leaders don’t know the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ
Peter appeals to the elders as a fellow elder. Peter makes the point that, although the elders in the church to whom he wrote did not physically see Christ, they had to know Him because of the Gospel preached to them.
To know Christ is endlessly more than knowing about Him. An elder must have an experience of the new life by the Holy Spirit which comes the the Word of God. Therefore all elders must be able to openly and publicly declare that they are absolutely sure that they know that a they will share in the glory of Christ when He returns, and their conduct must back it up. This is fundamental for leadership in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If an elder does not have a saving knowledge and life in Jesus Christ, he in all other aspects of eldership has become and enemy to the church of Christ. In fact, no man should be elected and inducted as elder without a saving faith in Christ.
It is therefore a perquisite for every elder is to have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God Himself declared it in the Scriptures. It speaks for itself that and elder would know, believe and teach the Scriptures as the infallible and authoritative Word of God. This what Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus: and elder must
holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. (Titus 1:8–9, NKJV)
An elder must therefore be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:3).
Any Christian parent has the responsibility to spiritually safeguard his Christian family. This applies even to a greater degree to elders. An elder therefore must be a faithful husband, and teach his children to follow and love God. Little wonder then that Paul stresses this truth: an elder must be the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. (Titus 1:6, NKJV). To Timothy Paul writes about elders:
“one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?). (1 Timothy 3:4–5, NKJV)
There is a very real problem in this regard: immature and unsaved members of a congregation can easily elect men who do not display any signs of a genuine walk with God. Should this happen, the congregation can only grow to the spiritual level of its leaders.
The devil has a field day in a congregation with ungodly leaders. Such leaders can never lead in intercessory prayer for those under their care, they don’t have a basic knowledge of the Bible and therefore cannot teach the Scriptures. In fact, they dodge their responsibilities when it comes to the spiritual care of God’s flock. I went to congregations where elders never or hardly attended Bible studies or prayer meetings. In some cases they even attended public worship only sporadically. This is a disgrace to the name of Christ.
So, in the first place: elders must be mature, confession Christians who serve the Lord as Saviour, and men who love the Scriptures, who are able to teach it, and also have the ability to recognise false teaching.
Bad leaders are bad shepherds
The injunction of our Lord in 1Peter 5 is that elders must be shepherds of God’s flock. Shepherds care for the flock.
It is important that we hear these words coming from Peter. We know how he disowned the Lord three times, and three times after his resurrection, the Lord demanded Peter’s love for Him. Peter learned to say he loved the Lord was one thing; the next thing was to show his love for Christ by taking care of the sheep. He was appointed to feed the lambs, care for the flock, and feed the flock (John 21).
The prophet Ezekiel recorded the neglectful shepherds of Israel. We read about it in chapter 34. “Should not the shepherds take care of the flock?” This is a rhetorical question which has an obvious answer: “Yes!” But, what did the leaders then do? They abused the flock for their own gain.
They did not strengthen the weak, or bound up the injured. They could not care about the strays or search for the lost. This led to a scattered flock, with no one searching for them.
I read these verses and a shudder before the Lord who appointed me as shepherd. My heart crumbles in the knowledge that I stand in guilt before Him. Has our society left its mark on my heart to not bother out of so-called respect for people’s privacy and personal choice? Are we maybe using the busyness of our daily program as an excuse to not really care? I confess my sin before God and ask his forgiveness for neglecting in this task.
Yes, we live in different times and circumstances. We’re always in a hurry, we’ve got commitments, but somewhere along the line we need to stop and count the cost of cruising like ocean liners past one another in the dark ocean of our reserved lifestyles. I beg of you too to not allow your fellow brother and sister slip away and do nothing.
There’s so much more about good shepherdship, especially in the light of Christ’s all sacrificial shepherdship. Do pray for your elders, but also willingly give them entrance to your spiritual lives to care for you the best they can.
Bad leaders lord it over God’s people
Peter writes to the elders who are called to care for the exposed flock under persecution and pressure, the sheep who hear the prowling lion—and he says elders are not more, but nothing less, than overseers. There is something of the idea of caretaker: the one who takes care does not own what he takes care of, but he has the responsibility of a steward who needs to give account to the owner for the care he provides.
There is a beautiful verse in the Old Testament which describes God’s care of the Promised Land:
“a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.” (Deuteronomy 11:11–12, NKJV)
This is the picture of “care”.
Bad leaders forget that the people they must care for do not belong to them. So they act as lords over the congregation. Ezekiel 34 describes such leaders: Thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:10, NKJV)
There are many examples of church leaders who have enriched, and are enriching, themselves at the cost of the flock. There are examples of elders who control the movements, spending patterns, and even where and how their church members go in on holiday; even if they may have cars with radios. There is such a thing as spiritual abuse where church members do not respect their leaders, but fear them. That is not shepherding; that is lording it. Let’s be clear, there is no hierarchy in the church of the Lord. A minister, or and elder or a bishop—or for that matter even a pope—who has no right to be feared as spiritual policemen or be regarded person of status. An elder does not hold a position, he merely serves.
Bad leaders are in it for material gain
Right from the beginning it was clear that elders should be men who hates dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21). Hophni and Phinehas in the time of old Eli are examples of bad leaders who loved the job because of personal gain. The shepherds in Ezekiel 34 were the same: they ate the curds, clothed themselves with the wool and slaughtered the choice animals for themselves.
How many church folk went hungry and became destitute before the Reformation because they were told that their sins would be forgiven through their offering on the bag, only to enrich the church hierarchy!
Thank God for the system of the Presbyterian church were there is accountability at every level. May God protect us against leaders who may enrich themselves out of the coffers of poor widows.
Bad leaders set bad examples
Leaders in the church of Christ must lead in the way they set examples of godliness and purity. Paul writes to Titus about elders:
For a overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled. (Titus 1:7–8, NKJV)
He adds to this in 1Timothy 3, “He must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
I recently spoke to an elderly lady who could not get herself to go back to church for more than 20 years because of an elder’s ungodly behaviour towards her in her own home. What a shame!
The Bible is clear, bad leadership in a church leads to the spiritual corruption of that church. Bad leadership plays right in the hand of the devil whose one and only aim is to destroy and devour.
We as your elders are not perfect. We stumble, we fall short—and with sorrow we admit it. May God give us mercy and may we constantly strive to become better shepherds. Our Saviour is Jesus Christ who gave up himself to rescue us from the clutches of the devil—now no one can ever snatch us from his hand. Where we fail, friends, look at Jesus—He will never fail us.
And, my dear friend, please don’t ever stop praying for your elders. And ask God to raise up more godly men to shepherd the flock. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 July 2018