This is week two of a series in Ezekiel 33-37, about God’s promised reboot of his people. If you’ve just joined, you can either go to the start of the series, or simply begin the new chapter with us starting from Monday’s post.
Yesterday, we saw how clearly Jesus was the antidote to Israel’s bad shepherds: God himself, doing all the things his shepherds were supposed to do, to the point of laying down his life for the sheep. What’s more, we are now the ones who are led by the Good Shepherd—God’s new people with a new leader.
So in one sense, Ezekiel’s critique of the bad shepherds is not directed at us. We’ve got that new leader he promised, so we don’t need a human king or priest to represent us before God anymore. We have direct access to the shepherd.
But still, among God’s people we have human leaders—those called to shepherd the flock. This is what Apostle Peter tells church leaders:
1 Peter 5:2-4 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears [that’s Jesus], you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
I think Peter may well have had Ezekiel chapter 34 in mind:
Ezekiel 34:2-4 ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
So leaders—and I’m talking here about anyone in any position of leadership in the church, whether formal or informal, and I’m including parents in this, too—be shepherds who imitate the Good Shepherd.
Now in the Baptist churches I hang out in, you’re very unlikely to use your leadership position to gain wealth—there’s not a lot of that to go around. But don’t use it to gain power. Don’t use it to make yourself feel important, to have others treat you with deference or honour, or to enjoy the feeling of speaking into people’s lives a little too much.
This is a temptation we all have to guard against. And I’ve seen some leaders at times get a bit carried away with it, where a person comes to a leader for help and advice, and they give it. But then they keep on giving it, making the other person dependent on their “wise advice,” rather than helping them develop their own Scripture-informed wisdom. The leader finds joy in their own status as “guru,” rather than in watching the other person grow in maturity. And it normally doesn’t end well for the relationship.
Don’t “lord it over the flock” in that way. Or in other, far worse ways. Where we’ve seen Christian leaders use their position for their own sexual gratification. God removed bad shepherds in the past, and he will do so again.
As good under-shepherds, seek to serve rather than rule. Be imitators of the Good Shepherd who’s in it for the sake of the sheep. Who’s prepared to lay down his life—if necessary—for those entrusted to his care. When you hear the word “leader” in Christian organisations, in churches, in Christian families—don’t think status. Think shepherd. Think: that’s the person who gets to imitate Jesus and be the biggest servant.
To think about
How does your leadership measure up to the pattern Jesus laid down? What measures can you put in place to avoid the temptations of using Christian leadership as a means of gaining a sense of power over others?