“The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.” (Jeremiah 2:8)
600 years before Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah spoke out against the rebellion by ancient Israel. They followed “worthless idols” and became “worthless” themselves (Jer. 2:5). In this teaching, Jeremiah makes it clear that all different kinds of leaders had turned from God. His warning is still relevant today.
Leaders SEEK God’s work. A primary responsibility of priest was to help people connect with God. Their leadership moves people closer to God’s presence.
Leaders move people in a particular direction. Moms move their kids toward maturity. CEOs move their employees toward profits. Coaches move their team toward victory. Teachers move their students toward learning.
For the leader in God’s kingdom, there is a great temptation to appear spiritually successful. When activity and attendance become more important than authentic worship, it’s clear that the leader is no longer looking to work alongside the Holy Spirit.
Surfers catch waves. They get into the right spot and the wave moves them forward. It looks like a lot of fun. It’s ridiculous to imagine a surfer trying to create his own wave to ride. This is a good picture of spiritual leadership. Rather than create our own plans and pray that God blesses them, we ought to be looking for where God is already working and move alongside the work he is doing.
All believers are called to be “priests,” (1 Peter 2:9), and we can’t do this if we aren’t looking for where God is moving in our homes, churches, and communities.
Leaders KNOW God’s heart. The teachers–literally, “handlers”)–of the law were responsible for educating the people about God. On the surface, it seems like an impossible paradox, how can the people who teach others about God not actually know him themselves?
Any believer with even just a little bit of experience knows how easy it can be to fake spiritual authenticity. It’s so much easier to look good without actually being good. There is tremendous pressure to appear like we have it all together. This poison enters a community when there is too little grace shown.
Spiritual education is far more than knowledge and understanding…more than memorized verses and correct answers. The only orthodoxy that really matters is the pure heart living in obedience to Christ. Isaiah proclaimed a similar warning:
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13)
Leaders FOLLOW God’s commands. In ancient Israel, the “secular” leaders still had a spiritual responsibility to follow God. Lacking the title of prophet, priest, or teacher wasn’t a license to lead selfishly.
Spiritual leadership involves a ton of “non-spiritual” decisions. But the point is that there really is no such thing as a non-spiritual decision. God cares about it all, and he as a plan–and that plan includes details and logistics. There may be no scripture that tells you:
exactly how to steward your resources
what time the program should start
when a tradition should be quietly laid to rest
But God still has a plan, he’s still leading us, and it’s our responsibility to follow him.
One of the temptations in this area is to allow our convictions get compromised by popular opinion. It’s so much easier to please our critics than it is to follow our convictions.
Leaders are obedient and follow God’s leading.
Leaders SPEAK God’s words. The prophets were an ancient form of social media for God. He said it, they passed it on. At least, that’s how it was supposed to work.
Words are powerful, every leader knows this. There is a huge temptation to use words that work rather than words that are true.
When we presume to speak on God’s behalf, when we are clearly pushing our own agenda, we are not being faithful to the calling God has placed in our lives.
Leaders in God’s family need to develop their discernment, to clearly see where God is moving. We need to develop our spiritual authenticity, because without a connection to God, everything we do is empty. Leaders need to be obedient to their convictions in order to follow God’s leading. Finally, we must be careful to speak the truth and avoid the “spiritual” manipulation of others.