Follow My Leader?
Just getting ready to preach on Zechariah 10 tomorrow - I have to confess not one of the easier passages from which I have attempted to bring a message to God's Flock!
After an initial instruction to turn from Baalism and occult guidance to seek promised, timely, blessing from Yahweh in spring rains (v1-2), a stupendous promise is given of the final redemption to come - the LORD's sea-striking work, which makes a path for His sheep, makes the Red Sea Salvation pale into insignificance (v8-11).
It is the middle section of the chapter, v3-7, which deals with the issue of leadership:
My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the LORD of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah, and will make them like his majestic steed in battle. From him shall come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler - all of them together - Zechariah 10:3-4
Yahweh is clearly angry with a collective oversight failure - he promises to replace all levels of ecclesiastical leadership: founder cornerstones, stabilizer ten-pegs, charge-leader warriors, and rank-and-file supervisors, all face the axe swung in heated, scorching, wrath.
Three Warnings for Shepherds
In a rather truncated post, I just want us to notice a few things upon which overseers and leaders can reflect and, if required, adjust: this, I trust, will serve to benefit all the workforce currently engaged in building God's everlasting Temple, which will soon be perfected above:
- When we fail as leaders, we grieve the Spirit, dishonor King Jesus and provoke our Heavenly Father: Zechariah wants us to know that the "anger of Yahweh burns" against misleading, selfish, goat-like leadership, for at least three reasons: first by our practice, doctrine, morals and values we lead sheep astray; second we give an excuse (and provide an occasion) to the sceptic, doubter, gainsayer, unbeliever, blasphemer or covenant-breaking child, to criticize the church, abandon the means of grace, to their potential eternal hurt; third, and most grievously, we cause the Name of Yahweh, our Merciful Covenant LORD, to be blasphemed. Now, brothers and sisters, surely, as the sheep for whom the Good Shepherd shed His own blood, we certainly do not want that! Ask the LORD to give you a portion of His own selfless, shepherd, heart.
- This rebuke of the leadership structures and officers of the post-exilic Church, in BC518, covers every post and person involved in godly supervision, both within and outside the House of God: professors, ministers, elders, deacons, CY leaders, TFI teachers, Bible Class instructors, Sabbath School officers, along with those in positions of governance in the workplace (such as employers, politicians, doctors, teachers, lecturers), and finally in the home (grandparents and parents), fall under the umbrella rubric of "taskmasters" - all are therefore pressed to seek selfless, faithful, Lamb-like, sheep-centered leadership grace.
- In the days when the Second Temple of Zion was being built, there was need to recognize the collective nature of former leadership failure: it was this, in the end, which led the flock astray - it was the princes who cause the rot which eroded the populace, and had provoked the wrath of Exile which God, in His grace, was now putting into reverse. The unvarnished truth is that it goes against the grain of the herd mentality of flesh, to stand for truth, be prepared to break rank, raise an objecting voice, speak out for what is right, and swim against the tide when the majority consents - desire for ease, advance and popularity is a plague that infects the heart of all: none escapes it without a deep, spiritual, work of the Gospel on the heart - only Christ can so deaden flesh and, by His Spirit, apply the self-mortifying power of His Cross.
Six Steps for Shepherds
Are there any practical ways we can address this "goat disease" and walk behind the cruciform staff of the humble, faithful, Shepherd-God? Very briefly, may I proffer a number of suggestions which no doubt can be teased out with, or supplemented by, other similarly Golgothic thoughts:
Step 1 - You need a new heart: if you are a leader who as yet does not truly know Christ in faith, you need to repent and seek mercy from the LORD. Like a sick and humbled 80 year old Sabbath School Teacher & Elder, who approached me three decades ago, you need to ask the Lord: "Can you lead me to God?" If you have that heart, remember it is not of yourself but all God's own handiwork - humbly give Him thanks!
Step 2 - Seek more grace: Good Shepherd Jesus, who laid down His life, in love, for His sheep, has pardon, purity and power, to cover your sins, convert all your ways and confirm you to Himself - so that all steps you take, in service of His flock, in means and manner, follow His footsteps.
Step 3 - Shepherd examine yourself: how easy it is, when called to care for others, to only see their wounds, whilst missing our own disease - motives, speeches and protocols all need monitored carefully, on a regular basis: grasp the torch of truth, to lay bare your inmost intents by the Spirit of the Shepherd, whose eyesight penetrates deep recesses.
Step 4 - Follow the Shepherd's example: look at God at work in the pages of the Old Testament, as He rescues, saves, provides, guides and tends His flock - He gathers lambs in His arms, hugs them to His heart, in order to bring them back. See His mind incarnate in enfleshed Good Shepherd Jesus - never too tired for crowds, always willing to meet needs, mending broken lives, filling empty souls, breaking Satan's grip, all by laying down His life, through often misunderstood, slandered, despised, rejected and, as His crowning act, ultimately killed. Brothers in oversight remember those who cling to a crook must also carry a cross.
Step 5 - Watch your own soul: be vigilant for yourself - leaders easily swell, balloon and inflate with pride. Pharisees were legendary for strictest doctrinal utterances but never lifting hands to help souls put flesh on bones or saints put feet on words. Saying lengthy prayers, fanfares of faithful deeds, most impressive suits and ties, seeking compliments from the sheep, are hypocrite "stock and trade" which those with a trust must be cautioned to guard against.
Step 6 - Live before God: it takes more than a contradictory, independent, free-thinking, stubborn streak or intellectual agility, to avoid falling into the trap of going along with the crowd - you must ask for the grace of deep integrity, fair-mindedness, painstaking willingness to hear both sides of a case - never be unaware of, or fail to make allowance for, potential natural prejudice, family and friendly bias, observational blind-spots or deficits in discernment: these are flood-defenses that help stem the prevailing tide of following the flock when pushed and pressed to lead in the direction most agree. These are deep-seated, character, traits that are essential for faithful, wise, holy, leadership. May the Lord free us from both duplicity and complicity in the church. It is only as we live in reverent fear of Him whose eye we seek to win, and whose searching gaze sees all, that we are freed from the fear of man and nodding approval of the crowd.
Fellow under-shepherds, no matter how small your flock, or how little your charge or task, heed the warning of Christ of his distasted for goat-style leadership. Reflect on your knees of your ways before the Lord. Ask Him for grace, in Christ, to be progressively devoid of offence and aligned with His Shepherd heart. Are there more steps or checks that you would like to add to these six? I trust, brothers and sisters, you have a got a clean bill of recovering health as you lead and feed His Flock: never forget He is "the Good Shepherd" who surrendered His lovely, loving, life for us, His sheep.