Church Leaders Devotion 16: Woe #4

As we continue looking at the list of "woes" Jesus presented in Matthew 23, we come to Jesus' fourth Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 12.15.11 PMadmonition as found in Matthew 23:23-24:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

These leaders had overextended the Law to apply to irrelevant matters, or as I wrote last week, they were majoring in minors. Their hollow ritualism caused them to be blind to weightier matters that according to Jesus were the concepts of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Before we condemn these men too quickly, do we have any traditions that also major in minors? How about the practice of armor bearers that some leaders deploy? Or how about the attachment to titles like author, apostle, prophet, or deacon? Or corner offices for leaders and cubicles for "lesser lights." Every culture has bestowed certain perks on its leaders, but do those perks contribute to justice, mercy, or faithfulness? If not, then perhaps Jesus is speaking to us as well.

How do you present yourself with justice and mercy through your personal interactions or via social media? By treating others as you would want to be treated? How do you present yourself with justice and mercy to the church or government? By asking them to help you do what you are already doing to express justice and mercy, and not demanding they do it in your place?

Do you have any traditions, ways of thinking, or pet peeves that are blinding you to the need for justice, mercy, and faithfulness in your life? Are you majoring in minors? Are you self-righteous like those people Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23? Don't answer too quickly, for you may be blinded to the reality of your own heart, just like the leaders in Jesus' day were. Instead, ask the Lord to show you where you lack justice, mercy, or faithfulness and then seek to correct your own approach to those matters before you try and correct someone else.


Church Leaders Devotion 15: Woe #3

This week, let's look at the third woe Jesus listed in his sermon found in Matthew 23, in which He had more Screen Shot 2022-10-22 at 8.11.11 AMin the way of explanation than for any of the other six:

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it" (Matthew 23:16-22).

Jesus attempted to show the leaders they were majoring in minors by emphasizing and teaching principles that seemed spiritual but were not. What does this tell us about God's expectations for leaders in and out of the Church?

  1. God is the source of authoritative teaching on what's right and wrong. That source is embodied in Jesus, whom the leaders were contradicting and rejecting. They neither understood Jesus' heart or the truth He represented.
  2. Teachers and leaders must be able to learn principles and then properly apply them to real-life situations that aren't specifically addressed by those principles. For example, some aspects of modern life and ministry aren't specifically mentioned in the Bible. God expects His leaders to address and adapt those modern aspects according to the timeless guidelines from His Word.
  3. A good example of this would be social media and technology. Many leaders today reject or limit their use of technology and assume God approves. Yet, Paul and others used the technology of their day (pen, ink, papyrus, and the Roman road and sea system) to address the Church. How can leaders today take God's command to reach the nations and do it using technology? That is an example of the issues address in this woe.
  4. Jesus labeled the leaders blind (three times in this passage) and had said earlier in Matthew's gospel, "Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:14). If leaders can't see where they are going for themselves, they can't lead others to a good place.

Leaders must constantly study to improve their discernment and gather wisdom, so the Jewish leaders were correct in regularly gathering to study, but their blindness caused them to study the wrong things and/or come to wrong conclusions. This points out the importance for all leaders to challenge their "starting points" to ensure they're starting from an accurate, godly point of view.

For example, the Jewish leaders' "starting point" was that God would never heal on the Sabbath. When Jesus healed, they logically concluded from an incorrect starting point that He wasn't from God and had to be executed. In this third woe, the leaders were doing the same thing: starting at the wrong point (swearing by the gift on the altar) and then traveling down the wrong path that led to an erroneous conclusion. Their conclusions were logical but flawed because of their incorrect assumption from which they started.

Do you challenge your starting points to ensure you are basing your leadership on the truth? Are you growing and learning how to apply past experiences and ancient wisdom to daily problems you face? Who do you have in your circle of influence who challenges your thinking, starting points, assumptions, and conclusions? Are you willing and able to change your starting points so you don't lead people astray?


Church Leaders Devotion 14: Woe #2

Let's look at the second woe and see what we can learn and apply to our own Screen Shot 2020-03-07 at 10.21.32 AMleadership philosophy:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are" (Matthew 23:15).

God expects His leaders to focus on the important things—His priorities—and build His kingdom and not their own. The leaders in Jesus' day were doing the opposite. What's more, because they had not achieved any spiritual maturity and discernment themselves, they were incapable of leading anyone to a better place in the Lord. Therefore, their converts were actually farther removed from spiritual reality and thus incapable of entering into any kind of healthy spiritual place. 

God expects His leaders not to bind up followers under legalistic rituals and rules that limit their creativity and growth. They must teach followers how to apply general principles to the new challenges every generation must face so the Lord is honored and His purpose served and enhanced. This includes denominations, faith-based organizations, and even successful independent churches that delight in having their adherents follow the traditions they have honed over time rather than a life of the Spirit who leads and guides His followers into all the truth. 

What kind of leader are you? Are you setting people free or binding them up? Don't answer too quickly, but instead seek the Lord to help you understand what kind of evangelist you are—one who recruits people to a life of freedom or a life of bondage.


Church Leaders Devotion 13: Woe #1

Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus cleansed the Temple a second time and then gave a message to the leaders Screen Shot 2022-10-08 at 10.13.18 AM that described seven woes. While their content was negative, we can learn much of what the Lord wants from his leaders by learning from the bad example of Jesus' contemporaries. Here is the first of these seven woes, all addressing the issue of hypocrisy among the leaders:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to (Matthew 21:13).

Leaders are not to teach the people to be loyal to them or their church, but teach them how to be good citizens of God's kingdom, part of which is being involved in church life and work. What's more, God expected the leaders themselves to be seeking God's kingdom and to model Kingdom behavior to their followers. Otherwise, they were hypocrites in that they were teaching the people to do and be things they, the leaders, were not embracing in their own lives.

Do you understand the difference between the Church and the Kingdom? Are you yourself seeking to be a good example of a Kingdom leader and not just a church leader? Are you helping people understand what God requires of them to be good members of God's kingdom, which involves how they should behave not just in church but in home, business, and other personal transaction?


Leaders Devotion 12: Sacked

In Jeremiah 23:4, we read what the Lord did to the shepherds who were not caring for the flock as they should Screen Shot 2022-10-01 at 9.47.17 AMhave been doing:

"I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord"

God sacked or fired those whose performance did not meet His standards for care, which was simply to tend to the needs of the sheep. What was the outcome? The sheep would be cared for an no longer be terrifiedneither would they be missing in action.

Shepherds must make it their aim to help set God's people free from fear, not the fear of God if they do wrong, but the fear that is still part of their sin nature as seen when Adam and Eve hid from God because they were afraid. This fear includes fear of getting ahead of the Lord or taking action not in God's perfect timing, fear of failure, fear of the shepherd's disapproval, or fear of making a mistake. What can you do as a shepherd to help the people be freed from their fears?

You can model a lifestyle free from fear. You can remind the people (and themselves) that you too are part of God's flock and subject to the same fears, thus dispelling any notion that you as a leader enjoy a superior spirituality. You can teach the people that God isn't trying to trick or entrap them but wants them to know and do His will, and that they can be confident of His help to get the job done. If you do that, God will commend you for a job well done. If not, then the God who hired you and set you over the sheep can just as easily remove you, replacing you with someone who has a heart for the people.


Leaders Devotion 11: Gathering God's Flock

We continue this week with the word of the Lord as given to the shepherds of Judah through the prophet Screen Shot 2022-09-24 at 2.29.09 AMJeremiah:

"Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number" (Jeremiah 23:2-3).

What can we learn about a church leader's role from these two verses?

  1. Shepherds are to gather, not scatter the flock.
  2. God considers it an "evil" act for shepherds to do anything other than to gather and care.
  3. God will personally intervene on their behalf to gather them and bring them back.
  4. It's important that the shepherd provide pasture for the flock. In other words, the sheep need fed.
  5. God's goal for the flock is that it be fruitful and increase in numbers.

What else do you see from this passage concerning how you are to actively care for God's flock? What changes do you need to make in your leadership style to enable God's goals for the flock to be met? How can you achieve these objectives outside of Sunday worship services? Technology? Small group meetings? How can you reach more sheep of His flock?


Leaders Devotion 10: Caring For The Sheep Of His Pasture

When God chooses you to lead His people, it is a great privilege but also an awesome responsibility, not to be Screen Shot 2022-09-17 at 10.50.43 AMentered into lightly. It's not about what you can get as a leader, but God wants you to give that makes it a sobering and holy calling. Over the next few weeks, let's look at what the Lord had to say to His shepherds through Jeremiah, his prophet, in Jeremiah 23:

“'Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:1).

What does this tell us about the Lord and His expectations and relationship with His leaders?

  1. God is watching and evaluating our work.
  2. He likens what we do to tending a flock, so there is much to learn from actual shepherds.
  3. God expects His leaders to build up and not "destroy" His people. The relationship is to be one that gives life, not death or misery.
  4. Leaders are to gather people, not scatter them. and they are gathered unto God and not to the leaders for their benefit.
  5. The sheep are to be fed and cared for in God's pasturewhich involves His love, counsel, and Word.

Are you mindful that God is watching you as you care for His people? Are you ready to give an account of the work you have done? Is your leadership about Him and His people or about you, your title, and your ministry? What steps can you take to become a better leader and shepherd of God's flock?

What else do you see from this one verse? Feel free to post your comments on the site where it is posted.


Leaders Devotion 9: Be Close to the Herd

The writer of Proverbs said,

"Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds" (Proverbs 27:23). Screen Shot 2022-09-12 at 9.54.58 AM

While he was writing to actual shepherds, the admonition is also applicable to spiritual shepherds. You are to know your flock: who they are, what gifts they have, what motivates them, and what the Lord is saying to them. This doesn't mean you must know everyone by name but you must set up a system of care where someone knows their name, hears their heart, and can share with you what the Lord is directing them to do.

Your work as a spiritual leader cannot be done from the pulpit or carried out on Sundays only. It must be a concerted effort to serve the people by empowering them with the power God has given you to care for their needs and encourage their growth. What plan do you have in place to help you hear from "your flock"? Are you interested? Do you use technology and social media to do so? Who can you enlist to help you know the condition of your flock?


Leaders Devotion 8: Be An Example

Peter's few verses directed to leaders tell us much about his leadership philosophy that he obviously learned from Jesus: Screen Shot 2022-08-27 at 9.34.56 AM

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2, 3).

The temptation to use leadership power to dominate others as overlords is powerful yet subtle. Some have become benevolent dictators for the good of others, but Peter's words are clear not to be fooled into thinking misuse of leadership position is acceptable for any reason. No one is immune from power's effects but Jesus provided a perfect example of selfless leadership that used power and position for the benefit of others. Therefore, Jesus is our model for leadership. We are to emulate Him as a model for others to learn from and follow. Peter's comrade Paul wrote, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). What's more, for someone to follow our leadership indicates we are close enough to the people that they can observe and even question our behavior they are to imitate.

Are you close to the people who follow you, close enough that they can learn from your example? Or has leadership power gone to your head, requiring others to keep their distance and address you by your title, affording you special honor simply because you are the leader? One way to tell if you're intoxicated with leadership power is to pay attention to what angers you. If people dishonor you and don't recognize your position and that makes you angry, then ask God to show you if you are walking according to 1 Peter 5 or to the standards of another leadership mentality.


Leaders Devotion 7: Be a Servant

Last week, we took our first look at Peter's instructions to the shepherds of God's church when he wrote,

"Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them . . . as God wants you to be; not pursuing Screen Shot 2022-08-20 at 8.57.58 AMdishonest gain, but eager to serve" (1 Peter 5:2).

The word for 'dishonest gain' in the KJV is translated 'filthy lucre,' which gives us the idea that Peter was referring to money, pure and simple. We as leaders are not to be looking for the monetary reward that can come when leaders manipulate or pressure to give money to God's work, which then goes into the leaders' pockets. Peter mentioned the antidote for this temptation and that is service. Servants don't do what they do because they get paid; they do what they do because that's their role and their master then provides for their needs, if that master expects them to survive and have the strength to carry out their duties.

Service isn't just being polite but it's using your leadership power and using it to empower others, to equip them to carry out the will of God for their lives. Are you a servant? Are you doing what you do as a job for money and benefits, or are you doing it as unto the Lord as His servant and trusting Him for your provision? How can you be a more effective servant? Keep in mind that even Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. You would do well to follow His example, making sure you have a good understanding of what it means to be a servant and how that should look in the role God has given you.