Posts Tagged ‘Ezekiel 34’

I’m sharing with you today on the topic of the importance of good leadership.

I’ve been involved in churches since I was 14 in various roles, including as a pastor for many years and also working with educational programs that train church leaders. And so let me begin by just saying, what I think you know, which is that –

Congregational leadership can be hard

1. It can be hard because leaders are called to follow the example of Jesus in laying down their lives for their people, walking in humble, sacrificial love.

As Jesus said in Mark 10:45, he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And he said this after giving teaching on how leadership is to be done among his people.

So this is the model and this isn’t easy!

2. It can also be hard because the world and God have different ideas about what good leadership is.  

Perhaps in other areas of life leadership can be judged by things like always growing, getting bigger and being well known — but not so in the kingdom of God.

In the kingdom, success is defined as faithfulness to God’s ways, which in some cases can even inhibit growing, getting bigger and being well known. Not always, but sometimes. Faithfulness and “success” aren’t always the same thing. But faithfulness is what’s required by God of good leaders. That’s what true success is.

3. It can be hard because being faithful to God can mean upsetting people who only want to be comfortable and fit in with the world around them.

We would all rather come to church to be affirmed and comforted – maybe even entertained. But God cares more about our growing in Christlikeness – about our being transformed into his image. And this means that leaders have to challenge us and even admonish us at times.

They have to talk about difficult things. Or as Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, they are to “speak the truth in love.”

4. Congregational leadership can be hard because, well, how can I say this, they’re leading people, and sometimes people can be difficult!

We all, including myself, have shortcoming and weaknesses; flaws and foibles. And we say and do things that we shouldn’t; that aren’t loving or kind.

This is the background to Hebrews 13:17 which talks about leaders as those who are “keeping watch over your souls.” And then it goes on to say, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Did you know that was in the Bible? Here’s a question maybe we can ask ourselves from time to time, “Do I make our congregation’s leaders groan?”

5. It can be hard because they bear the weight of the wellbeing of the community on their shoulders. And this can be very heavy and stressful.

They can’t just think about what they want. They have to think and act for the good of all. What keeps the flock together? And as well, what is God’s will for us as a group?

6. It can be hard because we live in the age of the almighty individual. We place more value on the individual over the community. Yet, to be in a community means being flexible and not always getting just what you want.

So people tell leaders, “Lead us!” But they often don’t mean, “We’re ready to sacrifice and give up things to follow your leadership.” Rather they mean, “Do what I think is right.” And then there are many saying this and each one likely has a different view on what they think is right. It can be a no-win situation and a source of deep frustration for leaders.

7. It can be hard because there’s a lack of trust in leaders these days, including church leaders.

We all know of the scandals and moral failures that’ve happened. And the good leaders, who are honorable, self-sacrificing and doing what’s right, end up under this shadow as well.

The role of leadership simply isn’t valued or held up like it used to be.

8. It can be hard because, often church members put the work on their leaders.

The actual job of congregational leaders is to equip you to do ministry. This is what Ephesians 4:12 says, they are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” – not to do it all themselves. They do their share, for sure, but it’s to be a team effort with everyone using their gifts.

9. It can be hard because moving forward as a congregation often means dealing with disagreements.

But churches tend to avoid this at all costs. And when we do finally have to deal with it, we often don’t do it in a healthy way and things get worse. So we’re stuck.

So what should leaders do?

I think we can all agree, and the examples I’ve given you should help us to remember that congregational leadership can be hard.

Yet despite all this –

Good congregational leadership is crucial

It makes a tremendous difference in the health and well-being of a church community. I want us now to look at two very different sets of verses on leaders, that point this out.

And the first is Ezekiel 34:1-6. In this passage the Lord is talking to the shepherds of Israel. This would include, for sure the kings of Israel, but also other rulers, priests and prophets. And the Lord has some very strong things to say about these faithless shepherds.

2Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

Three things stand out in these verses:

  • They have not fed the sheep the word of God and so they have not led them in God’s paths.
  • They have taken advantage of their roles as leaders to get what they could out of it. As v. 2 says, they fed themselves, not the sheep.
  • And they didn’t care for the sheep, you know, encouraging the weak, binding up the wounded and seeking the lost. They were not gentle and caring, but rather they were harsh with the people.

So this is an example of terrible leadership. Here they were so bad that it says in v. 5 that “there was no shepherd”; or no true shepherd.

The result? The sheep were scattered

5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

  • The phrase in v. 6 – “wandered on every high hill” is a reference to idolatry at the various high places. Because they weren’t fed God’s word or led in God’s ways they went to other gods and idols.
  • The phrase “scattered over all the face of the earth” refers to how they were sent into exile in Babylon as judgment from God.

So you can see how crucial good leaders are, by taking note that bad leaders can destroy a people!

But then listen to what good leaders can do in our second passage Ephesians 4:11-16

11And he (Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

If bad leaders can destroy a congregation, we learn here that good ones can:

  • build up the community
  • equip it for the work of ministry
  • and lead it to a mature, rooted faith

In this light, what a gift good leaders are to us!!! They are so precious to congregations. And given this let me end by saying –

We should honor and celebrate good leaders

My hope is that you don’t take good congregational leadership for granted. They should indeed be cherished, encouraged and blessed.

And finding new leaders should be seen as a priority. And they should be nurtured and trained. Invest in them and in their ministry.

Scripture teaches us to honor good leaders:

Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17 – Elders who do their work well should be respected – and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. (NLT)

And Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 – We ask you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (Also Philippians 2:29; Hebrews 13:7)

We are to honor them.

And not to be outdone, God himself will honor such leaders on the final day.

  • Peter says this in 1 Peter 5:4, talking to elders, “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
  • And in a parable on leaders, Jesus says this about a good leader in Luke 12:44 – “the master will set him over all his possessions.” That is, in the kingdom of God. Wow!

God honors good leaders and we should too.

And it’s at this point that I want to say, yes, congregational leadership can be hard. But it’s worth it! It’s the Lord that we serve and he will reward you. An unfading crown of glory given by the chief shepherd himself. And a place of honor in the eternal kingdom. It will indeed, be more than worth it!

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