Discerning good leaders from incompetent / bad leaders is vital in these perilous times.
In Part 1 of this series, I set out some basic differences between good leaders (true under-shepherds) and hirelings. Sooner or later, hirelings will abandon the sheep to the wolves.
All true Christians are sheep when it comes to following Jesus. True under-shepherds are leaders who see themselves as fellow sheep with the flock. True under-shepherds don’t pull the hierarchical authority card when their interests are being flouted. (We see this kind of non-rank-pulling humility in Paul’s letter to Philemon.)
God warns us to discern and not follow hirelings:
… some have erred, and have turned to vain prattle, because they want to be teachers of the scripture and yet do not understand what they speak, nor the things they assert. (1 Tim 1:6-7)
Unspiritual and vain voices pass over. For they will increase to greater ungodliness, and their words will consume even as does a canker (2 Tim 2:16-17)
This understand: in the last days, perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of their own selves … proud … unkind … despisers of those who are good … having a similitude of godly living, but who have denied the power thereof – and from such, turn away. (2 Tim 3:1-5)
Those who are born again and don’t feel any desire or calling to be leaders, will happily follow and learn from true under-shepherds.
Hirelings may wear shepherd’s robes in the church, but their character and capability make them unqualified to be true under-shepherds of Jesus Christ. Hirelings come on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are out-and-out wolves. At the other end are what I have called “sheep-like shepherds”.
I’m using the term “sheep-like shepherds” with a negative connotation. Just as sheep can easily go astray (wavering and carried with every wind of doctrine by the wiliness of men), so “sheep-like shepherds” can easily go off the path.
- Pastors / elders / leaders of churches might be sheep-like shepherds.
- Writers, journalists, social media content creators who are respected and followed by other Christians might be sheep-like shepherds.
How can you tell if someone who has the office of shepherd is a “sheep-like shepherd”, a hireling, who will abandon the flock?
Observe and mentally note the conduct of the person. You can’t tell by their title and formal qualifications, or the size of their following on social media. Ask yourself to what extent is this person adhering to the principles of good leadership, as taught and demonstrated by Jesus.
A natural tendency of sheep is submission and obedience to authority. Sheep are easily led and they usually follow the majority.
When someone is accorded the office or respect of a shepherd, but is more akin to a sheep wearing shepherd’s robes, he is easily led … and easily misled (generic use of ‘he’). He has more fear of man than fear of God. He can easily be swayed by
- his peers who are also deemed shepherds
- academics who propagate mistaken interpretations or translations of the bible
- popular opinion in the congregation
- popular opinion in the online community
- the main stream media
Furthermore, he can easily be deceived by wolves who want to wield power for nefarious purposes.
Such leaders lack the ability to use logic to assess complex problems to arrive at solutions that will benefit all people of good will. They are not problems solvers (peacemakers). See Logic and Authority in the Church.
“Sheep-like shepherds” tend to bristle when confronted by logic and facts that might highlight the possibility that they have made an unwise decision.
Most pastors – even those in the advocacy community – seem to think of themselves as The Answers Man.
The Answers Man responds from the point of view of his authority. He cares for his ego and image. “The hireling does not care for the sheep.” (John 10:13) “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezek 34:2)
To have lots of answers readily to hand just requires memory, it doesn’t require thinking from principles. An Answers Man may sometimes think he is employing principles, but his ‘principles’ will align with his interests. It pricks his pride bubble if you ask him to look at evidence that exposes a wolf (or a wolfish system) when he himself had not discerned the wolf’s real nature. By simply asking him to examine the evidence, he thinks you are bullying him, taking authority over him.
In contrast, Problem Solvers focus on the problem(s) faced by the sheep. They respond by working from principles. That requires understanding: listening to the sheep, hearing their perspectives, gathering information to assemble a complex picture and come up with a peacemaking solution. Problem Solvers know that What is good for the hive is good for the bee. When they are alerted to a problem in the hive, they try to understand what is going on, all the information relevant to the problem. Problem Solvers may have strong opinions but they are not closed minded: they entertain the idea that they could be wrong because they may be missing information.
And here’s another thing to consider:
When a leader is swayed by wolves in sheep’s clothing, the leader effectively becomes a proxy wolf.
So the more you observe any or all of the following behaviours in someone who is seen as a leader / shepherd, the more likely that person is a hireling and effectually a wolf.
Leaders who are focused on preserving their authority will
- neglect their responsibility to pursue the truth of any conflict or problem
- refuse to listen to the facts, even when those facts are provided by diligent researchers who cite their sources
- take offence when asked to examine logical arguments and facts that might expose their lack of information and faulty conclusions
- denigrate whistle-blowers, calling into question their competence, morals and motives
- seek to coerce using anger and fear
- take a neutral stance when wolves are chewing true under-shepherds or sheep
- approve things that wolves have said or done.
If you wanted to, you could replace the term ‘whistle-blowers’ with ‘true under-shepherds of Jesus Christ’. The list would still be applicable.
And remember, true under-shepherds may not have any formal leadership position in churches.
There is ample evidence to suggest that there are wolves in the advocacy community. Should we be surprised, as this is the method of operation of the enemy. If you openly question an abuse advocate’s judgement, and that advocate does a 180 degree turn on you, becoming cold, antagonistic, impatient, it’s a red flag that the advocate is at the very least unqualified to be an advocate, and at worst may be a double-agent, a gatekeeper who controls the narrative for the evildoers.
To sum up
- Hirelings come on a spectrum.
- Hirelings are concerned for their authority.
- Hirelings neglect their responsibility to pursue the truth of any conflict or problem.
- When leaders are swayed by wolves in sheep’s clothing, they become proxy wolves.
I hope this has helped you discern bad and incompetent leaders in their different forms.
The final part of this series (Part 3) will be titled “What happens when sheep don’t know they are led by wolves?”
I want to thank Sister, Reaching Out and James for contributing ideas to this post.
Logic and Authority in the Church – by James
Why is the church so slow at responding rightly to the epidemic of abuse? – by Barbara Roberts
Jesus on Violence – by James. This addresses self-defence and defence of folks who are oppressed by wolves.
“Keep your focus at the foot of the cross” is often dished out by those who consider themselves Christians. It’s a common mantra in Christianese. It’s used by accredited Christian counselors, church leaders, pew warmers, tin-pot evangelists… you name it.
The saying is easy to learn and repeat parrot fashion, like a mantra. Or like the instructions on the medicine packet: “take one with water three times a day with meals, and one at bedtime”.
Have you ever pondered about what “keep your focus at the foot of the cross” means? If you have, you may have wondered
1. Which cross? — because there were three crosses
- the cross of the man who repented
- the cross of the unrepentant man
- the cross on which Jesus was nailed
2. Which individuals at the foot of the cross / crosses?
- good individuals? — perhaps including soldiers
- bad individuals? — including whited sepulchers
- “average” individuals?
- the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’s clothing?
- individuals present but not referenced in the Bible?
3. Perhaps Jesus’ foot, nailed to the cross?
“Jesus’ foot nailed to the cross” is a legitimate interpretation of “the foot of the cross”. Folks who interpret words concretely and folks who think about the multiple meanings of the word “foot” may well ask the question: Whose foot? Jesus’ foot?
Over to you, dear readers
What are your experiences, thoughts and reflections on the advice to “keep you eyes on the foot of the cross” or “keep your focus on the foot of the cross” or “keep your eyes on the cross” …or any other variants of that saying.
Have you been told to submit to church elders? Have you heard the ‘rule’ that we must obey church leaders?
What is the basis for this ‘rule’ that you, as a professing Christian, must (must) obey church elders?
Definition of terms…so we all start on the same page.
I will be using the term ‘elders’ to refer to those who have been appointed to spiritual leadership positions: pastors, church elders, ministers, reverends, presbyters, moderators, bishops, archbishops…and you can add cardinals & popes to that list. Some translations of the bible use the word ‘overseers’. For the purpose of this article, all those titles are interchangeable.
Let us examine the two verses in Hebrews 13 which speak about obeying or submitting to elders. Most pastors focus on Hebrews 13:17 which says:
Obey those who have the oversight of you, and submit yourselves to them, for they watch for your souls even as those who must give accounts. Let them do it with joy, and not with grief. For that is an unprofitable thing for you.
However, verse 7 in the same chapter says:
Remember those who have the oversight of you, who have declared to you the word of God. See that you look upon the way they live out their life, and follow their faith.
The ones who have oversight over the congregation need to be able to rightly divide the word of truth: rightly explain and apply what the Bible teaches. If the elders do a poor job of that, if they twist, selectively hammer, and misapply the Word, they ought not be in the position of overseer!
It is not a sin to ponder whether the elders are rightly dividing the word of truth.
Verse 7 also tells us to look at the way the elders are living out their lives. In other words, use your brain, your capacity to think independently, and ask yourself: Is what this elder says consistent with what he does?
If you have not been brainwashed…if you observe and are discerning and can think independently, you may notice gigantic inconsistencies between their rhetoric and their conduct.
Often these discrepancies are particularly obvious when it comes to the way elders deal with interpersonal abuse and oppression, i.e., injustice perpetrated by the more powerful onto the less powerful.
The conduct — the pattern of behaviour — of arrogant / prideful church leaders shows you that they are hypocrites and Pharisees. Instead of defending and vindicating the oppressed, they are ignoring or re-traumatizing the oppressed. One of the ways elders do this is to give the impression they support the abused…but when it comes to the crunch, they let them down.
It is clear from Hebrews 13:7 that every true Christian is urged to scrutinise and evaluate the pattern of conduct of church leaders.
You need not obey or follow a church leader whose pattern of conduct is glaringly inconsistent with the whole counsel of the Word.
How can you evaluate the pattern of conduct of elders?
James 1:27 is a good verse to use when evaluating the pattern of conduct of church elders. Pure devotion, and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their adversity, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
If you think that women abused by their husbands are not widows, I encourage you to read this: The Widows and Orphans of Our Time.
Apart from Hebrews 13, there are only two other passages in the New Testament which allude to submitting to church elders
Here are those two passages in context. The ‘submit-to-elders’ parts are in purple.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
We beseech you, brethren, to recognize those who labour among you, and have the oversight of you in the Lord and give you exhortation – to have them the more in love for their work’s sake, and be at peace with them.
We desire you, brethren, to warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, bear up the weak, and have continual patience toward all people. See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and among all people.
1 Peter 5:1-7
The elders who are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the afflictions of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. See that you feed the flock of Christ that is among you, taking the oversight of them not as though you were compelled to it, but willingly; not for wrongful gain, but of a good mind; not as though you were lords over the parishes, but so that you are an example to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you shall receive an incorruptible crown of glory.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to the elders. Submit yourselves everyone, one to another. Knit yourselves together in lowliness of mind. For God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you when the time is come. Cast all your care upon him, for he cares for you.
Scripture quotations are from the New Matthew Bible (NMB).
Salvation is much mis-taught and misunderstood in Christendom.
ABUSERS who claim to be Christians could be roughly divided into two groups: the ones who genuinely think they are Christians, and the ones who intentionally lie in their claim to be Christians. The abusers who genuinely think they are Christians may be thinking they are saved because they’ve made some kind of spiritual bargain with God.
It’s also possible that there are VICTIMS of abuse who think of themselves as Christians — yet they may not be saved. They, too, may be thinking that salvation is some kind of spiritual bargain you can make with God.
This guest post by Helovesme might help you think about these things.
Barb thinks there are two ways this post might help you, dear reader:
- It might help you discern and detect the abusers in your life.
- It might help you test your own faith. The Apostle Paul urges all believers to do this: “Prove yourselves, whether you are in the faith or not. Examine your own selves. Do you not know your own selves that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you are castaways.” (2 Cor 13:5)
End of preamble by Barb. Now read on for Helovesme’s post….
Being a slave to sin, imprisoned by sin (as the Bible speaks of) does NOT mean you have no choice but to blindly obey its commands. Being unsaved does not mean you “can’t help yourself.”
Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. (NLT)
Thy sin lieth open in the door. Notwithstanding, let it be subdued unto thee, and see thou rule it. (William Tyndale’s translation, 1537 Matthew Bible)
Those words in Genesis 4:7 were God’s words to Cain when he was intending to murder his own brother. Those words still stand. You do not HAVE to let sin be your master.
Abuse is sin.
The abused have nothing to repent of in being sinned against. The darkness, the brokenness, the suffering, are things victims unfortunately deal with — but they have no one to blame but the abuser for what they caused.
[A victim of abuse is not to blame for being abused — that blame belongs wholly to the person or persons who did the abusing. The responsibility is fixed to the abuser, not the victim — the blame must be sheeted home to the abuser. Sheeted home is an idiom that is commonly used in Australia and the UK.]
When I was in the kingdom of darkness, I suffered from my own sins (which were many) and from the sins of others (which were also many). Nevertheless, one did not trump the other. No matter how much or how often I was abused, none of it reduced the culpability of my own personal sin. And no matter how much or how often I sinned, none of it reduced the culpability of who sinned against me.
Can you imagine the Lord telling me, as unsaved person, that because I was abused, the severity of my own sins were “decreased” in His eyes? Can you imagine the Lord telling me, “Sure, I get it: you were hurt by bad people and that’s why you are so bad yourself.”
Let’s say this really happened (it didn’t). My repentance, and becoming born again, would have been something of a joke. My old self, that Christ told us to “reckon” as dead, would not have been fully reckoned as dead, because I had just been given permission to downgrade my own sins, and upgrade the sins done to me — sort of like a “spiritual” bargain. So I’d only be sort of born again, kind of forgiven and possibly a new creation in Him. If I had refused to be held fully accountable for my sins, that would not have fully exited me from the kingdom of darkness — where excuses and denial of sin rules and reigns.
Thanks to Helovesme for allowing her words from this comment to be used in this stand-alone post.
Barb added William Tyndale’s translation of Gen 4:7, as cited in The Story of the Matthew Bible by Ruth Magnusson Davis (p 65).
Words in square brackets within Helovesme’s post are Barb’s.
I hope these two hymns will encourage you and build your faith. They are not particularly Easter hymns, but they certainly speak of the power and love and mercy of God. I encourage you to sing them out loud. Find the tune below the lyrics.
Hail our once-rejected Jesus
1 Hail, our once-rejected Jesus!
Hail, our Galilean king!
You have suffered to release us,
hope and joy and peace to bring.
Patient friend and holy saviour,
bearer of our sin and shame;
by your merits we find favour,
life is given through your name.
2 Paschal Lamb, by God appointed,
all our sins on you were laid;
by almighty love anointed,
full atonement you have made.
All your people are forgiven
through the virtue of your blood;
opened is the gate of heaven,
we are reconciled with God.
3 Jesus! Heavenly hosts adore you,
seated at your Father’s side;
crucified, this world once saw you,
now in glory you abide.
There for sinners you are pleading,
and our place you now prepare;
always for us interceding,
till in glory we appear.
4 Worship, honour, power and blessing
you are worthy to receive;
loudest praises, without ceasing,
right it is for us to give.
Help us, bright angelic spirits
joined with ours, your voices raise;
help to show our saviour’s merits,
help to sing Emmanuel’s praise.
These lyrics can be sung to the tune in this video.
We trust in you, our shield and our defender
1 We trust in you, our shield and our defender;
we do not fight alone against the foe:
strong in your strength, safe in your keeping tender,
we trust in you, and in your name we go.
2 We trust in you, O captain of salvation—
in your dear name, all other names above:
Jesus, our righteousness, our sure foundation,
our prince of glory and our king of love.
3 We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
and needing more each day your grace to know;
yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We trust in you, and in your name we go.”
4 We trust in you, our shield and our defender:
yours is the battle—yours shall be the praise!
When passing through the gates of dazzling splendor,
victors, we rest in you through endless days.
I couldn’t find a YouTube version with the above lyrics, so I’m sharing this instead. The lyrics are almost the same. To my way of thinking, the hymn is better sung a little slower than is done here.
PS—the lyrics I have reproduced here are not copyright.