- Revd Peter Breckwoldt
Shepherd my sheep: Leading a local church. Part I
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
The local churches are facing crisis and challenge on several fronts. We have the crisis in the Anglican Communion that will affect the direction of the denomination. There is also a theological crisis, which we see in LLF process and the church’s compromise with modern culture. We face a worldwide pandemic, a growing national financial pressures that are engulfing many local churches and are clearly shaping diocese policy. There is pressure of continually decreasing the number of Stipendiary clergy in the country and diocese, but with more buildings and fewer congregations to support and oversee them.
Closer to home there is the shortage of local Christian leaders willing to take up responsibility, because of shying away from formal structures: so the recruitment of Wardens, deanery synod members, PCC’s and home group and youth leaders is becoming more difficult. The local leaders of churches are feeling the pressure to compromise over the kind of leaders we need and should appoint.
While it would be easy to get buried in the details, I’m going to attempt to keep it simple. Our aim will be to teach the Bible and seek to learn what God’s word can teach us about leadership in the light of this challenging crisis.
The prophet Ezekiel writes the book during the Babylonian captivity. Here we have the Israelites who were carried out of their home and, away from their relatives, friends, and homes, and yes even their beloved temple at Jerusalem. Many had gone astray from God and followed many gods. This is the main reason that God allowed them to be carried off, so that they would once again turn back to Him.
In chapter 34, the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the leaders of Israel. The Jewish leaders are prisoners in exile. Samaria and Jerusalem are destroyed. The lessons in Ezekiel about how to lose a kingdom -and in our time- a church are simple:
Turn your back on God.
Worship some other alternative.
Sleep with the enemy, the devil.
Israel did the lot and they lost the kingdom. Is the Church (Local & denomination) in danger of doing the same?
Today, we meet against the backdrop of the LLF process. What lessons can we learn about how a kingdom is lost? It all had to do with its leaders. What is true for the National Church is also true for the local church.
What we discover is that even in exile, God's people are still being led by inept, proud, self-interested and ungodly leaders. There is much for us then to consider when we think about the type of people that are call under God to leadership in the local church? The passage gives us what God did about the issue in Ezekiel’s day? The Lord Condemned the Leaders; The Lord deals with the ungodly Leaders and The Lord reveals a Godly leader.
The Lord Condemns the Leaders (v. 1-6)
God called the people under Moses from Egypt and gave them the law and blessed them. He linked the latter to their obedience and so when God’s people rejected Him, they lost their Kingdom. But they did not do it alone, their leaders had a lot to answer for. This is why God has three crucial issues against these leaders.
First of all, these leaders’ priority was themselves. (v.2-3) Yet it seems that the account of Ezequiel shows that Judah's leaders were only concerned about power and not caring for the congregation. (v2) Instead of nourishing the sheep, they lived off the people.
There seems to be a constant temptation to abuse the ownership of power; this is also a challenge to us as leaders in our local church settings. When the focus is put on the need to receive the benefits of being in office and the reputation, the real purpose of caring and tending the sheep is overlooked.
Secondly, these leaders failed the weak. (v. 4) Whilst the leaders fatten their pockets, the weaker members of society received scant attention and the sick had to provide for themselves. Furthermore, the leaders intimidated and oppressed those who caused dissent or questioned their authority. Their rule was insensitive and cruel (v.4). We ought to ask ourselves if we are also failing the weak. It might not be by becoming rich at their expense but perhaps at neglecting their care.
Thirdly, these leaders ruled by force and not by love. (v.5-6) Under dishonest leadership, God’s people were at the mercy of the pressures of the world. They had no one to stand up for them, no proper protection, or care or spiritual nourishment. The result was not only that the strong and powerful dominated the weak, but a loss of the unity amongst God’s people.
This comes about because it is the spirit of the age, rather than the word of God, that is shaping God’s people. When God’s people no longer look to what God has said, we discover that people of God are no longer joined together by Christ. A loss of leadership always leads to the disintegration of God’s people and to personal and corporate heartache and injury.
At the end, these dreadful leaders brought about indifference, disarray and disintegration. Without a good shepherd to lead them, the people of God went astray and scattered among the nations and sadly, this is how they lost a kingdom.
The lack of godly leadership always leads to spiritual disintegration. This is why leadership carries an awesome responsibility. In the second part of this article, we will explore how God deals with ungodly leadership and we will look into principles for a healthy leadership in the church.
Click here to check out the Latimer Trust resources on church leadership.