“Don’t trust your church leader” is a command that one might never hear taught in Bible study or preached in church! As with my previous post–Christians Leaders Can Be Told They Are Wrong–this title is intended to be provocative. Yet it is a sound biblical command and teaching. Even Jesus would not trust people who seem to be very good, people who enthusiastically and excitedly came to him (Jn 2:23-25).
Why should you not trust your church leader? I’ve been studying and preaching on Isaiah the past six months (Isaiah sermons from West Loop). A repeated theme is Isaiah’s harsh, scathing and pointed rebuke to the leaders of Judah (southern Israel), including the religious leaders and Bible teachers (Isa 1:23, 27; 2:11-12, 17, 22; 3:14-15; 5:21; 9:15; 17:10; 22:11; 28:9-14; etc). Isaiah primarily blamed and accused them for the eventual demise, downfall and destruction of their nation. Though the people at large were also at fault, but to Isaiah, the failure of God’s people was primarily a failure of leadership.
What is their problem? It is pride. Invariably pride results in self-sufficiency and trusting in their human wisdom and alliances and politics rather than simply trusting in God (Isa 22:8-11).
Thus, Isaiah says bluntly, “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” (Isa 2:22; 51:12-13) Jeremiah 17:5 says the same thing, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed in the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.’”
It is unfortunate that people trusted in their leaders who were proud and arrogant. They enjoyed their power and authority. They oppressed others and benefited themselves (Isa 3:12; 22:16). They blindly presumed that they were God’s own special and chosen people who could do what they wanted. When Isaiah encouraged them to trust God instead of trusting their own power, plans and politics (Isa 2:6-7), they scoffed and mocked and ridiculed him (Isa 28:9-10, 14, 22).
A short and contrasting illustrative story of leadership is that of Shebna, an obviously bad honor-seeking leader (Isa 22:15-19) and Eliakim, a good leader whom God blessed and firmly established as a solid peg (Isa 22:20-24). But interestingly, even a good faithful leader like Eliakim did not have a good ending, as “the peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down” (Isa 22:25).
Even though Eliakim was a good leader, a dependable and responsible man whom God blessed, yet the end result was not good. Why? How could a good leader end up with a bad result? Perhaps, people depended on him, rather than on God. Perhaps, he expected people to depend on him and so he took on more than was warranted, rather than entrusting matters to God’s hand.
How does one apply this teaching of not trusting in man to life in the church?
My sentiment as a pastor is that I would love for others to trust me, as I’m sure other pastors would. Yet I know that I am a frail, flawed, fallible and fallen person. Sometimes when some people trust me (too much perhaps?) they might place on my shoulders what only God can do for them. To those who look to me to solve their life problems an eventual outcome may be varying degrees of disappointment and disillusionment, because I could not live up to their expectations of me. I learned that sometimes I need to intentionally “cut the cord,” so that unhealthy human dependency does not develop, and that a genuine friendship rooted in God may be established.
Yet I see the temptation within me that prompts me to take on others’ expectations of me because I want to be a “good shepherd” for others. Once I tried to help two people to “marry by faith.” Their unspoken hope was in me to make it happen. So I did. But after several years the marriage ended. I was heart-broken. I knew that I allowed my pride and vanity to think that I could bless them and establish their marriage. I thought I was trusting God. But in essence I was trusting my own experiences and assessment more. It was a moment of painful self-reflection for me.
Do you rely too much on people, including your shepherd, to help you?
Does your shepherd or church leader expect you to simply trust him without question as though he or she represents God to you?
Do you just obey the command to “Stop trusting in mere humans” (Isa 2:22)?