Shepherds Gone Astray

The book of Jeremiah is essentially a long essay on apostasy. What is of particular interest is its evidence of the incredible power of leaders to influence people for good or for ill. The prophet begins with a pathetic description of the state of spiritual leadership in Judah: “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that did not profit” (2:8). What a tragedy! The very men who were supposed to lead the people to God did not even know God. As a result, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!” (5:30–31). Leaders ruled independently of God because they had already rejected the authority of His Word: “Behold, the word of the Lord has become a reproach to them; they have no delight in it” (6:10). The more the shepherds neglected the ministry of the Word of God and did ministry their own way, being “greedy for gain” (6:13), the more they offered God’s people false forms of healing. “And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace” (6:14). And naïve sheep loved it! But God did not.

Instead, God’s tender love for His flock moved Him to grieve over this neglect. And so it is today. When God’s sheep are “healed” superficially with theories that do not originate in His Word, psychological “felt needs” are stroked by preaching that only affirms, and emotional problems are “treated” by therapeutic counseling, people’s outward symptoms may be nursed while the core problem of the heart is often ignored. As a result, the people of God are given false hope which ultimately leads to disaster. “Hear, O earth: behold, I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their plans, because they have not listened to My words” (6:19). When God’s shepherds neglect His Word, the flock always suffers. There is no way around it. Unfortunately, the general state of church leadership today is not much better than it was in Jeremiah’s time.

Leadership journal has been a prominent periodical directed toward pastors and church leaders for decades. After studying its shift away from the Word of God as well as devotion to theology, David Wells concludes,

As the journal turns away from the Bible to what it apparently assumes are more fruitful sources of knowledge it is redefining Christian ministry and the pastor who accepts its point of view. In the study, the evangelical pastor is now the C.E.O.; in the pulpit, the pastor is a psychologist whose task it is to engineer good relations and warm feelings.

Fifteen years later, in another book, The Courage to Be Protestant, Wells indicates that “the lay of the evangelical land” has not improved, but in fact has worsened, giving way to a new kind of leadership among pastors.

Gone is the older model of the scholar-saint, one who was as comfortable with books and learning as with the aches of the soul. This was the shepherd who knew the flock, knew how to tend it, and Sunday by Sunday took that flock into the treasures of God’s Word. This has changed. In its place is the new “celebrity” style. What we typically see now, Nancy Pearcey suggests, is the leader who works by manipulating the feelings of the audience, enhancing his own image with personal anecdotes, modeling himself after the CEO, and adopting a domineering management style. He (usually) is completely results-oriented, pragmatic, happy to employ any technique from the secular world that will produce the desired results.

In other words, the very nature of the pastorate is being intentionally overhauled and the “new” worldly paradigm does not look much different from that which God condemned in the Old Testament.

[Adapted from my recent book, Discipling the Flock: A Call to Faithful Shepherding. E-book is FREE when you purchase the paperback from Shepherd Press.]

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