It can be pretty daunting at times to speak against the shepherds, the church leaders who feel they’re fulfilling their calling and serving God… but there are times when the right thing is to speak out against what’s going on. So I’ve been sticking my neck out, talking critically about the shift from shepherds to CEOs and the fact that we like it that way, and even about Surviving Church. Sometimes I get to wondering if it’s all just me, if I should really be saying critical things about situations that so many others have accepted… after all, these folks are the leaders of the church, aren’t they?
Ezekiel 34 conveys the message of a time when it was right to speak out, when God called ol’ Zeke to speak out. God weren’t so happy about the job his shepherds were doing… there’s more, but the first 6 verses run like this:
Then this message came to me from the Lord: â€œSon of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldnâ€™t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.
Wow. Despite it being the perfect “proof-text,” this chapter had basically slipped my mind when I wrote “The Rise of the Pastors & The End of the Megachurch Era” some two and a half weeks ago. Then via Bill Kinnon, I found Susan the Philosophical Pastor talking about it, saying “When you understand the depth of the love of God, you understand why God is so serious about leadership.”, and advising leaders, “The fact that a lightening bolt has not hit you today is not necessarily a sign that everything is hunky dory, and why wait until thatâ€™s all God can do about you?”
Well done: this nails it. Unfortunately though, my experience suggests that leaders are not generally open to the fact that they’re in danger of lightning bolts, or that they tend to welcome being told that they’re not caring for the flock very well. I suppose that Zeke couldn’t expect a warm reception to the words he levied in the direction of the leaders of his day, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise if not much has changed in this area between his time and ours.
As I had said last week, I donâ€™t really “settle” well, which is why I can’t seem to make peace with some of the practices that others seem able to. It isn’t my responsibility to hold particular leaders to account, but I do feel it’s appropriate to speak out in general terms about the ways that we’ve practicing leadership in the church… and what we ought to be striving for. As Bill commented on Susan’s post, it’s a word in season.
Look at Ezekiel’s description of the state of God’s people and how the leaders had let it develop… the leaders treated themselves preferentially, ruled harshly, ignored the weak. He says the “sheep have been scattered without a shepherd” and “have wandered …across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” Is there even a remote chance that this does not describe the landscape today? Should I be putting the question to the “leavers” or the “stayers”? Doesn’t that distinction alone tell you something’s amiss?