There have been few things more damaging to the church’s witness than how it has handled moral failure among its leaders. Not simply that there has been moral failure – that is damaging enough – but how it is then handled by the church. Too many times it has simply added to the pain and disdain. Whether pedophiles, serial adulterers, or those who misuse church authority and discipline, headlines and blogs are filled with outrage and indignation over not simply the acts, but the church’s response. So why do so many churches bungle moral failure among leaders?
Many churches today are experiencing numbers that are declining and conflict within itself because its leaders exercise a level of authority over the members that Jesus himself urged not to be so. This has resulted in members becoming frustrated and apathetic about their role in the body of Christ.
A wise man once said, “If you’re a leader and no one is following, you’re just out for a walk.” Success rises and falls with leadership. A church leader must be involved with his or her people. If involvement does not take place, the Church will not grow. I have seen too many instances where leaders have become more concerned with authority, power and control than how they can be a servant and true shepherd to the people who are a part of their flock. Members become frustrated; they don’t really feel that their opinions really matter because they have no say in what happens.
The most dangerous leader in churches is the person, who by reason of insecurity or lack of leadership skills, demands a particular level of authority and control over the church that was never intended. In fact, Jesus prohibited the use of this kind of authority. Anytime you hear people talk about “not speaking against God’s anointed,” watch out! Just because a person is a church leader does not qualify them as God’s anointed! If you have used those words, please consider what it might mean. God may very well call a man to a special office and give him a special anointing to carry out that office. But the role of the pastor is to be a shepherd who leads, and not one who drags the flock, or pushes them. Yes, they may need to spiritually prod according to God’s Word, but never are they instructed to Lord over the flock. (I Peter 5:3)
Who’s voice are you listening to?
True leadership is about influence, not authority. As Jesus said, “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-5)
When sheep hear a shepherd’s voice they know it will lead them to cool waters, green pastures and his protection at night. They know their shepherd “goes on ahead of them.” He doesn’t drive them like cattle. It’s interesting that right after Jesus said those words in John 10 about shepherding, John commented on the fact that “Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.” (v6) Sadly, too many leaders today don’t understand it either. If you’re a pastor and wondering why you seem to be embroiled in constant conflict and your members don’t seem to be following you, Jesus gives the answer: “They don’t know your voice!”
We need to know Him
There are two Greek words for “know”. The word “ginosko” speaks of a surface knowledge, a simple understanding. But the other word “horad” speaks of a deep, intimate knowledge. I have many friends and neighbors who “know” (ginosko) me, but my wife really “knows” (horad) me. She has a deep, intimate knowledge of me that very few other people have.
The first century Church had this deep, intimate knowledge of God and grew at breakneck speed. Yet at the same time, the level of personal care and love for their fellow believers grew also. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. ” (Acts 4:32-35)
Can the same be said of the Church today? Are we growing, both spiritually and numerically, as the early Church did? Sadly, in most cases, no. So back to my original question, “What has happened to the Church today?”
The problem is that too many people have only two ideologies about the Church today. If your ideology is worldly, you’ll have a set of core values that are probably pretty warped, and focused on the pleasures you can receive in life, reflected in your beliefs, actions and experiences.
The other option is having an ideology of the Church as an institution. For too many people their ideology of the Church has changed from the Church as the body of Christ, to the Church as an institution. If your ideology is the Church as an institution, the core values that you develop will eventually lead to overpowering controlling leaders, negative atmospheres, declining numbers, maintaining the status quo and uninvolved members who are content to sit through stiff and lifeless worship services. You’ve seen it. You might even be experiencing it right now.
So what’s the answer? We need to get our focus, our ideology, back to Jesus, our Messiah. When we do, our core values will change. We will begin to value serving others, living to please God, and understanding that we have been uniquely gifted for ministry. We will begin to see the Church as one body, and not as just belonging to our own particular denomination. Our worship will take on a whole new meaning, our involvement will become a natural expression of our desire to please God, and our leadership will become focused on shepherding a body of believers rather than managing them.
Once our focus comes back in line where it needs to be, our churches will no longer be a diverse group of denominations, but we will truly be on our way to true revival and becoming the Church that God intended!