Many church members rail against what they perceive as ‘heavy shepherding’. Heavy Shepherding is a term used of church leaders who wield their authority too heavily and are far too controlling and authoritarian over their churches. This actually flies contrary to the teachings of Jesus and of Scripture generally. Bluntly, leaders who wield their power in this way are not following the teaching of their leader (Jesus) and they will have to answer to God himself.
However, in the churches I have led, I have frequently encountered an attitude in people which makes them, simply, unleadable. They say they will follow the leadership in their church, but in reality this only happens only when they agree with the lead being given. When they disagree, they resist leadership, they disregard leaders, they gossip, moan, stop cooperating with others, and in some cases, they leave the church altogether for another which they DO agree with. Bluntly, they are really only following themselves. They live out their Christian lives in a manner which is very reflective of the people of God described in the book of Judges which comments that: ‘in those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 21:25).
Here are some reason which I think might be at the root of this attitude:
- ‘We are all part of the universal church’. Which is true, but often used by people to deny or sidestep the importance of the local church in their lives.
- ‘We are all priests’ (priesthood of all believers). Again a Biblical truth, but often used as a reason to ignore the authority of those in leadership over us.
- ‘We live under grace, not law’. Yet again, truth. But is often weaponised against Godly leadership trying to exercise Godly authority which is not ‘legalism’ at all.
- ‘My relationship with Jesus is personal’. Yup. Truth again, but this doesn’t give individual believers carte-blanche to do what ever seems to be right in their own eyes.
I have had to tackle all of these attitudes over the years. Sometimes all of them in one person! They all add up to arrogance: the antithesis of the humility we are all called to.
So, what is the solution?
Simply put, Godly leadership is wielded under God. Leaders must follow the example of Christ, and the exhortations of Scripture. Epitomised in Jesus’ own words:
‘Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:42–45). ‘“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’ (John 13:13–15).
These are just two texts, there are plenty of others. Jesus’ example is seen in everything He said and did in his life and ministry. Up to and including laying down his life for the sheep.
Leaders should be acutely aware that they won’t just be judged by God for the effectiveness of their leadership, they will be judged for the manner in which they wield it as well.
Again quite simple. Obey your leaders EVEN IF they are leading badly. Just as leaders will have to answer to God for how they lead, you will have to answer for how you followed. Leave any judgement about the efficacy of their leadership to God. After all, it’s His prerogative, not yours.
There is, however, a Caveat.
If a leader commands an action or attitude which God forbids, or forbids one which God commands, you are not only entitled to disregard and disobey it, you have a duty to do so.
At The Seed
At the Seed, we try to work on a ‘minimum control : maximum accountability’ model.
In other words, there will be little or no control over how much or if you come to church, give to the church, support the activities of the church and so on.
How you live your life is under your control, not ours. We will point out sin and other issues as they become apparent, but ultimately, responsibility for dealing with them, repenting and following Christ as a faithful believer rests with YOU.