How can you tell if someone who has the office of shepherd is actually a hireling?
Discerning good leaders from incompetent / bad leaders is vital in these perilous times.
In Part 1, 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 are led by hirelings and 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.