Friday, September 29, 2006

Spot the Wolf: Part 2

Today's post is part 2 of Pastor Anton Bosch's series of this title which we began last week 9/19/06.

In our current series, we are looking at the warning signs that a spiritual leader could be a wolf and not a shepherd. Last time we mentioned that wolves are savage, that they say and do not do, and that they lay heavy burdens on people without lifting a finger themselves to help carry the load.

Abusive leaders like to be seen. “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.” (Matthew 23:5). They pray on street corners to be seen by men and have a trumpet sounded every time they do a good deed. (Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18). This kind of leader wants everyone to know what sacrifices he is making, how much he prays, how God speaks to him and how much he is doing for the Kingdom. They love to speak about themselves and will spend hours telling you about themselves without asking once about you and your needs. Such men use the people to feed their greed for attention and are not in the ministry to serve the church, but rather so that the church may serve their massive egos. While these actions may not make the leader an immediate threat to the church, such leaders will never allow the people to develop a personal relationship with Christ as they would then become obsolete and their pride could never handle that. Thus, they subtly make and keep people dependant on themselves, rather than on the Head of the Church and so rob people of the opportunity to mature in the faith and to develop their own ministries.

Wolves love positions of honor. “They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues (and) greetings in the marketplaces” (Matthew 23:6,7). They cannot simply take their seat amongst the Lord’s people. They always have to be up front, occupying special seats, parking spaces and any other token that sets them apart from everyone else. When the church meets socially, everyone is aware that the “big leader” is present. He has to be served first, is the captain and referee of the volley ball team and the one everyone panders to. Observe how people greet them. Do people bow to them and greet him in a different way to which they greet everyone else? Leaders should never be allowed to dominate the landscape like that. This position should be reserved for Jesus Christ only. Godly leaders should be respected but not be put on pedestals. Only Jesus deserves that prime position. Be careful of leaders who have to sit at the head of the table, or who occupy a special table at the social function. The more elaborate and central his special chair in the meetings, the more dangerous he is. Such men are very dangerous because if they don’t hesitate to take the honor that is due to Jesus, they will stop at nothing else.

They love titles “and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:7). According to Matthew 23, these titles include; Rabbi, teacher or father but those are obviously not the only titles that men love. Jesus says that we are all brothers and we should not elevate men with titles. (Matthew 23:8). While some leaders insist that their titles be used whenever they are being addressed, others may not insist on the title as a form of address, but that their position as “big chief” be acknowledged. I know of a brother who was excommunicated from a certain denomination because he would not say the magic words that would change his fate. The magic words in this case were: “you are an apostle.” This demand was being made by a man who had no credentials as an apostle. Why is such an apparently innocuous thing so dangerous? Because individuals who insist on titles do not have a true gift from God and the only way they can force respect from people is by demanding that their position be acknowledged. One of the experiences that is etched into my mind goes back to my first couple of years at school. The playground bully would beat up smaller boys and then sit on top of the defeated boy and pummel him with his fists until the hapless victim would acknowledge that the bully is “the boss.” There is no difference between such terrorists of the playground and leaders who can only stay on top of the Lord’s people by beating them into acknowledging his superiority. May the Lord spare His people from such egotistical maniacs.

False leaders do not enter the Kingdom themselves and prevent others from entering in. (Matthew 23:13). By this Jesus meant that the Scribes did not enter into the Kingdom because they would not concede their positions, titles and honor to Jesus the King of Kings. To bow before Jesus and to acknowledge that he was indeed the Teacher sent from God would jeopardize their positions and so they could never do it. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea followed Jesus secretly for this very reason. According to Matthew 7:21-23, there will be many who will be excluded from the Kingdom who were preachers and other spiritual workers. How do we know that someone falls into this group? Because they prevent others from entering in. In other words they hold people back from going on with the Lord because such people pose a threat to them. These men have many tricks and techniques they use to discourage or even to prohibit folk from growth and spiritual discovery. They make sure that no-one ever outpaces or outgrows the leaders. As soon as a young brother shows promise to maybe go where the leaders have not gone, they will discourage and even censure such a person. A true shepherd revels in others outpacing them and reaching higher than they, themselves were able to attain. In true Christianity each generation should stand on the shoulders of the previous generation, not start from the beginning again. False leaders feel threatened and are insecure.

Abusive leaders “devour widows’ houses.” (Matthew 23:14). In simple English, they are always on the take and their greed knows no limits. They gobble up the houses of the defenseless and poor widows. Televangelists are especially good at this but they are not the only ones. Many smaller operators will virtually strip the fillings from their parishioner’s teeth in order to line their own pockets. They have no conscience when it comes to getting money, all the while masking their greed with the guise that it is “for the Lord’s work.” If these articles have not raised your hackles yet, then maybe this statement will: Be careful of any full-time worker who lives a more elaborate lifestyle than the average member of the congregation. The church is full of leaders who live comfortable and extravagant lifestyles, demanding that people give more while the people are struggling to make ends meet. Listen to what the Lord says to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.” (Ezekiel 34:2,3).

No, I am not being petty. These are symptoms of serious spiritual problems that disqualify any man from a leadership position and that indicate very dangerous characteristics. It does not matter how smooth and charming he may be or how well he preaches. If he is abusive, has a problem with pride and is greedy for filthy lucre, he is not a shepherd but a wolf who will not spare the flock. You must flee from such men and flee to the True Shepherd who cares for you and not for Himself.

(To be continued)