What is a Christian Leader?

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Matthew 23:1-12

There’s a pattern that continues throughout the Bible: God reaches out to people, people slap his hand away, and people bemoan the distance between themselves and God.

In Exodus, for example, God tells the Israelites: “Good news: I will be your God and you will be my people. If you need anything, you can talk to me about it. If I need anything, I will tell you.”

The Israelites are terrified. They huddle together and discuss their options.

“God is difficult and complicated,” they tell each other. “We can’t just talk with him. We’ll have to designate someone to speak with him. What about Moses?”

Having decided upon this, the Israelites turn back to God.

“That’s great news, but if you want to speak with us, you should speak with our representative, Moses.”

God resigned himself to their limitations, and the people bemoaned God’s silence and feared his distance. So God sent prophets, telling them, “The time is coming when we will no longer need mediators.”

Eventually, Israel became a nation. God addressed the Israelites once more: “Good news: I will be your king. If you need anything, you can talk to me about it. If I need anything, I will let you know.”

And once again, the Israelites returned to their huddle.

“A divine king seems like a bad idea,” they told one another. “Wouldn’t a human king be better?”

They turned back to God to make their request.

“We’ve talked it over and your offer is kind and good,” they said, “but Israel would be better off with a human king. You can speak to us through our king.”

“A human king will easily be corrupted by power,” God spoke through his prophets. “They will attempt to take my place and lead you astray.”

“It’ll be fine,” the Israelites promised.

But it wasn’t fine. Events played out just the way God said they would. Israel was led into captivity and sin. As the people of Israel were lamenting their fate, God spoke to them once again through the prophets, “The time is coming when we will no longer need mediators.”

Many of us believe that this pattern ended with the coming of Jesus and the beginning of Christianity. In a way, this is true; the pattern should have ended with Jesus. However, many of us are continuing this pattern today.

Through Jesus, God reaches out to us and says, “Good news: I will be your God, and you will be my people. Let’s talk.”

However, we often emerge from our huddle with a conclusion similar to the Israelites’.

“God, that is a wonderful offer,” we say, “but we’re not very good at praying and we don’t know a lot about the scripture, so you should probably just speak with our pastors.”

Pastors, many of us believe, represent God. The way they speak, pray, and sing reflects God. This is why we often think that God speaks to the pastor, and the pastor speaks to us. Sometimes, we even listen to our pastor’s sermons instead of reading the Bible for ourselves. After all, since our pastor attended seminary and has spent his life studying the Bible, wouldn’t he know more about God than us?

Since we believe that our pastors represent God, we often bring our problems to them. We ask them to pray for our illnesses and advise us in living a godly life. We expect them to speak inspiring messages, sing beautifully, and pray with charisma. The one thing we don’t expect them to do is serve. If our pastor takes up the rag to do dishes, we immediately grab the rag and do the dishes ourselves.

This is the very problem that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 23:1-12.

Jesus says: “You are not to be called Rabbi, for you only have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have only one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:8-10)

We should not take this command to mean we shouldn’t become teachers, fathers, or instructors. Rather, it is that we should be careful when we find ourselves in these positions. Often, people use these positions as an excuse to cut themselves off from God. As teachers, fathers, or instructors, we can either allow people to treat us as a mediator between themselves and God, or we can choose to become a sign, pointing people to the God that lays beyond ourselves.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t request prayer, seek counsel, or receive discipleship from anyone else. It is to say, however, that we must examine our reasons for doing so. Are we requesting these things from someone else because we believe they have a closer or more intimate relationship with God? Because we believe they have special knowledge of God? Because we think God speaks to them but not to us? Are we trying to cut God out of the relationship by going to this person? If so, we should repent, because we are giving them the seat which rightfully belongs to God.

As leaders, we should also take extra care to examine why people are coming to us. Do they see us as their brother or sister in Christ? Or do they think we are above them in some way? Do they think we can fix their problems? Are they wanting us to speak to God on their behalf? If so, we should respond like Paul in Acts 14:8-18 or Peter in Acts 10:17-23, saying, “We are human beings—just like you!” Rather than becoming their voice, we should teach them how to pray. After all, God wants to hear their voice just as much as he wants to hear yours!

We leaders must be humble; we are just one beggar teaching another beggar where to find bread. This is the most important job in the world, but also one of the most humbling. After all, we can’t supply the bread, ourselves. All we can do is lead others to the one who offers it.

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