The weak and transparent leader

Is it ok for Christian leaders to be open, honest and transparent about their failings?  Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians illuminates his perspective in his conflict with the influence of the super-apostles.

Paul appealed to Christians that willingly submitted themselves to authoritarian false apostles that proclaimed themselves as Lord, peddled the word of God for profit, and engaged in underhanded methods as part of their “ministry.”

Paul paints the super apostles as spiritual abusers in his appeal to the Corinthians. 

For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face. (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!) But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing.
(2Co 11:20-21 NET.)

How Paul responds to influence of the super-apostles is nothing less than remarkable.  He doesn’t proclaim to the Corinthians he is more super than the super-apostles.  He doesn’t appeal to a higher human authority, credentials or recommendations.  He doesn’t commend himself as superior…he reveals his weakness.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many.
(2Co 1:8-11 NET.)

Some guys roll in to a church Paul planted with letters of recommendation in hand, start pointing out Paul’s weaknesses and commend themselves as superior.  Less than 10 sentences in to Paul’s response he admits he was burdened beyond his strength in a certain situation.  He went through something he admits he couldn’t handle.

But there was a method to his madness.

In Chapter 3 Paul describes a new covenant ministry in which people are transformed as they behold and reflect the glory of the Lord.  Because it is the Lord that transforms people Paul rejects all sorts of trickery and underhanded methods.  There is no need to use the methods of human influence to try to change people’s behavior. People are not changed through the application of force or manipulation.  It is the Lord that transforms.  Our part in this process is to simply reflect the glory of the Lord unveiled.  The Lord’s glory is best reflected in weakness.

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’sake. For God, who said "Let light shine out of darkness," is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
(2Co 4:1-7 NET.)

One of the key differences between Paul and the super-apostles was that he believed that as a leader the best thing he could do was a mirror image of the glory of God as revealed in the miraculous progression and transformation of his own life.  He aimed to reflect the Lord’s glory, not to proclaim himself.  He did not say that people must follow him because he represents Christ to them.  His goal was to be open, honest, and transparent even in weakness and he trusted that people would see the work of the Lord in his life and then be attracted to the same transforming glory or presence.

People are not transformed by human strength, power, or authority.  They are transformed by God.  Our role in this is to simply reflect the glory of the Lord without distortion, amplification, projection, or manipulation.

Paul seems to quote Jeremiah on the subject of authority

In his letter to Corinth Paul writes:

Because of this I am writing these things while absent, so that when I arrive I may not have to deal harshly with you by using my authority — the Lord gave it to me for building up, not for tearing down!
(2Co 13:10 NET.)

I noticed it is very similar to something in Jeremiah.  Here God is speaking about the exiles in Babylon.

I will look after their welfare and will restore them to this land. There I will build them up and will not tear them down. I will plant them firmly in the land and will not uproot them.
(Jer 24:6 NET.)

Should I stay in a church where I am mistreated?

One of the most common assertions by those that teach covering theology is that people need to suck it up and endure when they have been dealt with harshly.  If people were to leave the “covering” of their church then they would open themselves up to all manner of spiritual attack and misfortune.   Those who leave the church are rebellious and lost.

I don’t believe any of these things.  A friend pointed me to Jeremiah 23 the other day.  This passage then opened me up to other passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel that all speak to the issue of mistreatment by spiritual authority. 

"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: "You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.
(Jer 23:1-3 ESV)

I found this passage very enlightening.  God accuses the leaders of Israel of both exploiting the people and neglecting their needs.  Because of this the “sheep” have scattered.  Notice how God blames the shepherds for causing the sheep to be scattered but also mentions later on that he had driven them out.  In this situation God lead the battered sheep away from their abusers.

Should you stay in a church where you are mistreated and every reasonable attempt to rectify the situation has failed?  No.  If the leaders are exploiting the people and care nothing for their needs God is likely leading you out to a place where you can be safe and heal.  For many this means people spend a long time in the “wilderness” letting God rebuild their faith before they come back to corporate church gatherings.  This is ok, because in this era Jesus has always been our shepherd and He can tend to our needs.  I’ve observed a number of people that have gone through this and most of them return to some kind of committed Christian fellowship eventually. 

If you are in the “wilderness” don’t fret about your anxiety about return to “church.”  Trust that the Lord will lead you to where need to go in due time.  While you are in the wilderness rest in God’s grace.  Meet with true friends you can trust as they journey with you as God repairs your heart. 

For the glory of this house

I’ve been reflecting on Saskatoon Christian Center and the carnage surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministries.  It leads me to wonder what sets a church down the wrong track?  It seems as though the route towards false teaching and corruption is the result of subtle shifts away from the centrality of Christ.  I was a charter member of a church plant many years ago that had a lot of really good things going for it.  The values we started with are very similar to the ones I hold so dearly to now.  In fact we could have been a network of house churches if we were brave enough to be truly different.

Very near the beginning we were given a prophetic word that we embraced so much we made a banner out of it and hung it on the sanctuary wall.

Hag 2:9a NIV "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Our new church was planted in the same building as a previous one that had just closed down.  We proclaimed to ourselves and the world that the glory of our church would be greater than the glory of the church that had just closed down.

I believe this mistake to be a tragic one.  It is one many good churches and church leaders have made.  It is to seek the glory that has always belonged to Christ.  Instead of yielding ourselves  in faithfulness we try to build Christ’s church for Him in hopes that we can become proud and recognized for what we have built.  When we are oriented to receiving the approval of people we open ourselves up to all manner of deceptions and abuses.  We become more and more tempted to engage in coercive, deceitful or manipulative tactics.  Once we start traveling down that road corruption is inevitable. 

The following passage gives us a window to a conversation Jesus had with some Pharisees.  I’ve been pondering it for a few weeks.

"Your approval means nothing to Me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in My Father’s name, and you have rejected Me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the One who alone is God.
(Joh 5:41-44 NLT)

It appears that many of those who opposed Jesus did so because they were jealous of Him or were afraid of those who were jealous of Him.  It would appear that some things haven`t changed very much.

What is gossip?

One of the tools authoritarian churches use to control people is the mislabelling of gossip.  They instruct people not to speak critical things about the church or its leadership to each other.  This is considered gossip.

If someone were to observe the pastor lying and were to tell someone other than the pastor it would be considered “gossip.”  Does this really meet the criteria of “gossip” as mentioned in Proverbs and 1Corinthians.

Here are the passages.

Pro 20:19  He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.

2Cor 12:20  For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;

The Greek word used in the 2Co 12:20 is psithurismos which literally means “whisperer” but it implies slander.  The hebrew word used in Proverbs is rakil and it also carries the meaning of slander.

Slander is oral communication that is malicious and untrue.  (If it is written it is considered libel.)

A gossiper is someone who defames or slanders someone in secret.  For something to be considered gossip it needs to be all of the following:

  • Malicious: something communicated with the intention to harm another
  • Secret: the communication must be intended to go to certain people and not others.  Public communication like blog posts are not secret.
  • Untrue: what is communicated is false or perhaps reckless speculation

If a church member observed a pastor lying and told someone else, it can’t be considered gossip.

Good Shepherds in the model of Christ

I’ve been reading through John lately.  I love John’s perspective on Jesus.  All the authors of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry.  In John we find themes like the word, light, and love.  For John Jesus was light and love and contrasted this with the religious leaders of his day.

He addresses these leaders directly on more than one occasion.  Here is one

"I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice." Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus said to them again, "I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away. "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me –just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me — because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father."
(Joh 10:1-18 NET.)

At first this parable can be kind of confusing because Jesus is two different things in the parable.  He is the good shepherd and He is the door (or the gate).  There is a lot here to consider.  Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and some metaphors work at more than one level.  At one level he is addressing the Pharisees directly.  At another he is giving us principles we can apply throughout the ages.

Jesus contrasts good shepherds, thieves and hirelings.  All those leaders that came before Him were robbers and thieves.  In one sense this is because Jesus is the door.  Before Jesus there was no door.  Now for us Jesus is the door.  A good shepherd will enter through the door.  They will point people to Christ.  They lead the people through the door, through Christ to find pasture.  The thief has no intention of leading people to Christ, just to steal, kill and destroy.  The hireling may indeed offer some comfort and guidance to the sheep until a greater threat emerges.  When the hireling faces a choice between protecting him or herself and those of the sheep they abandon the sheep.  A good shepherd will lay down their lives for sheep.

Is your pastor a good shepherd in the model of Christ, a thief or a hireling?

Good shepherd in the model of Christ False shepherd
Leads you to Christ Leads you circles and takes advantage of you
Listens to the voice of Christ with you Forces you to listen to them
Calls you  gently.  You respond because you feel safe, and loved and you trust the pastor. Drives the you around through fear, manipulation and force.  Expressions of love are proven empty
Is concerned about all the “sheep.”  Shows care and concern for each person based on their inherent worth in Christ Abandons the people that aren’t with the program, stubborn or wounded
Leads you to life in Christ Sucks the life out of you
Knows and cares for each of the people.  In turn the people know the character and integrity of the pastor. Doesn’t care to know anyone that doesn’t further their agenda.  People have no clue what the pastor is really like.
Will risk conflict and will sacrifice themselves for you Will abandon you at the first sign of trouble. 

Things to consider:

  • Are you being lead to Christ?
  • Are lead to hear the voice of Christ directly?
  • Are you being lead gently or harshly?  Are you treated unsparingly?
  • Are church members abandoned or ostracized when they have problems that prevent them from participating fully?
  • Do you have more life in Christ or less?
  • Does your leader know you?  Do you know the leader or is just a game of appearances?
  • Are you being taken advantage of to further a religious  or personal agenda?
  • Will you leader stick up for you and abandon you when they conflict arises?

A passage to ponder

Right after Jesus healed a man the Jewish leaders persecuted him for telling a man to work by picking up his mat.  Jesus has something of lengthy discussion with them.  Here is part of it.

"You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to Me! Yet you refuse to come to Me to receive this life. "Your approval means nothing to Me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in My Father’s name, and you have rejected Me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the One who alone is God.
(Joh 5:39-44 NLT)

Love covers all things

I came across an interesting passage today studying Paul’s perspective on love.  It is found in 1Cor 13:7.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1Co 13:7 NET.)

At first glance this might not seem like it has much to do with covering and authority.  The word translated “bears” is stego which literally means to cover, like a roof.  Up until now I never found any passage that speaks literally of a covering in church relationship aside from Peter’s famous statement about love covering a multitude of sins.  Perhaps I’ve missed something. 

For this passage lots of translations render stego as “bears” but the NIV/TNIV do not.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
(1Co 13:7 TNIV)

I took a look at Stego in the TDNT and found a strong case to render the word according to its more literal meaning.

Various renderings are suggested for 1 Cor. 13:7. In view of the earlier “bear” the sense “to endure” raises problems, since it seems to be repetitive. “To excuse”, is hardly possible, and the middle would be required for the sense “restrains itself.” The meaning, then, is perhaps that love “covers” all things. In full self-giving to others, the love that is rooted in God’s love keeps silent about unfavorable matters.

Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1995). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1073). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

I found lots of commentators that bring the meaning of protective covering in to their interpretation of this text.  The covering here isn’t about protection from malevolent spiritual beings but more in the sense of keeping in confidence the weaknesses and failings of the people we love.  Love doesn’t broadcast the faults and failings of others.  They believe the text speaks to a gracious amount of concealment.  It does concern me how this might be taken too far if corruption is hidden from view when it should be exposed.

I have my own sense of what this could look like in church life.  There is protection in love.  When people know they are loved and are tangibly supported they can be transparent about their weaknesses and failings.  The community can then respond by supporting that person in the ways that they need support.  We can cover for each other’s weaknesses and be ready with a gentle helping hand.  In another sense genuine love is the best response to a lot of dysfunction.  It is a universal elixir for a great many interpersonal ailments. 

In my experience the most effective ministry is the continual proclamation of the gospel in the context of a relationship flooded with God’s divine love.

New addition to the scriptures collection

Do not let anyone accuse or contend against anyone else:
for my case is against you priests! You stumble day and night,
and the false prophets stumble with you;
You have destroyed your own people! You have destroyed my people
by failing to acknowledge me!
Because you refuse to acknowledge me,
I will reject you as my priests.
Because you reject the law of your God,
I will reject your descendants. The more the priests increased in numbers,
the more they rebelled against me.
They have turned their glorious calling
into a shameful disgrace!
(Hos 4:4-7 NET.)

The futility of other teaching

I’ve been studying the topic of love lately.  As I jump from passage to passage I come across ones that I find are applicable over here.

I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk,
(1Ti 1:3-6 NRSV)

Paul tells Timothy to deal with a problem in Ephesus.  Some people are teaching “different doctrine.”  The word is heterodidaskeleo.  The meaning of hetero is much like it is English.  It means simply different or another.  Homogeneous means everything is the same, and heterogeneous means things are different.   The 2nd half of the word means teaching or doctrine.  Literally it isn’t as strong “false teaching” although some of the major translations render the word this way (NIV, NET, TNIV).  When the word false is used to describe testimony, teachers, prophets or Christs the word pseudo is used. 

I don’t believe Paul’s concern was that the people in Ephesus were teaching things directly contrary to apostolic doctrine, just that it was futile, vain and empty.  They promoted meaningless speculations or controversies.  What they taught distracted people from the grand purpose of apostolic teaching.

The purpose is love.  Love that comes from:

  • pure heart
  • a good conscience
  • sincere faith

I think Paul is giving us some guidelines which we can use to test  teaching.  Does the teaching lead me to love or something else?  Does it tempt me towards showmanship and pretension or sincerity?  Is my conscience clean as I apply it?  Is it about faith or fear?

It has never been my goal with this website to trash any particular stream in the body of Christ.  I have to say though that the Charismatic stream really needs to consider this passage.  I’m watching a video of a prophetic conference and it is filled with teaching that amounts of meaningless speculation.  None of it seems like an obvious false teaching, it just places so much emphasis on things that  don’t matter all that much. 

Here are some blurbs I heard tonight:

  • 2011 is a year of transition as 11 is a the number of transition
  • Every word that came out tonight opened a gate for a new level of intimacy with God
  • Enter in and experience a deeper level in the spirit realms

None of these kinds of things are in direct opposition to orthodox Christian teaching.  But when all the teaching and direction we receive is like this when it seems to crowd out the basic biblical doctrines.  

They seem to be distractions that take us away from Christ and they can subtly lead us away from precious and plain truths in the Christian faith.  People don’t need to go to the next conference to receive the next word to gain a new level of intimacy with God.  The plain truth is that sincere faith leads to love of God and intimacy. 

The covering teaching starts off like this.  It tempts with promises of increased favour, authority, blessing and protection.  I think where it ends up is more like straight up false teaching.  Is the purpose of the covering teaching love or control?  Not just appreciation or friendliness but love that comes from pure heart.  Is the love real, or is it manufactured to fit in with a system?  Is the faith or trust sincere or is derived from coercion or fear? 

If what motivates us to act is manipulation or legalism we won’t be acting out of a pure heart, good conscience and a sincere faith.