Discerning Good and Bad Spiritual Leaders
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. — John 10:11-13
So I will do a couple of passes at this section because there is so much good stuff in it. What Jesus is explaining to us here is the difference between good and bad spiritual leaders. Which I think is vital information for us today.
So looking back on the previous story, Jesus described the spiritual leaders of Israel as "thieves and robbers." But here, he uses a new title. He describes them as "hired hands." He adds this new contrast so that we can see some new qualities that illuminate their deceptive leadership. And remember, he is not having a side conversation with his disciples. He is saying these things to the people he calls "thieves and robbers" and "hired hands."
So what bad qualities is Jesus touching on with this new designation?
Well, he tells us. There are at least three qualities referenced here. First, they only see their role as a means of making money. Second, money is their primary concern, so they don't own the mission. Third, because they don't own the mission, they will passively allow the brutalization of the people when the pressure is on. And this reveals one thing — that they only care about themselves.
So now, if we compare the previous designation, "thieves and robbers," with this one, "hired hand[s]," we will see a subtle difference. We see two types of bad spiritual leaders. Those whose selfish intent is easily seen and those whose selfish intent is not easily seen. Both end up brutalizing the people of God. They do it in two different ways.
So let's get practical. How do we spot a genuine good spiritual leader? So let me give you some things to look for. First, if your spiritual leader selflessly talks about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and he talks about him a lot, that's a good sign. But I would be cautious if he talks about their church, pastors, programs, and agendas more than you hear the name of Jesus. Second, if your spiritual leader shows some level of transparency in his public addresses about his wayward heart, desires, and motivations, that's a good sign too. Because bad spiritual leaders are not in touch with their dark side, they will suddenly abandon the mission and the people and leave a wake of devastation. Third, if your spiritual leader reads, studies, and teaches scripture with absolute ownership of the mission of Jesus and selflessly cares for people, this is a good sign. But if you sense he has his own mission or agenda that stems from selfish desires, then watch out because nothing good happens when man's mission conflicts with the Great Commission.
- How can I discern the motives and qualities of the spiritual leaders in my life? What are some signs that indicate whether they prioritize the well-being of the community or are primarily focused on personal gain?
- In what ways can I cultivate a sense of ownership and responsibility in my own role as a leader or within my spiritual community? How can I ensure that I prioritize the mission and the needs of others over personal agendas or desires?
DO THIS: Assess your spiritual leadership this week.
PRAY THIS: God, help me to have a discerning spirit that can recognize authentic spiritual leaders who selflessly prioritize Your mission and the well-being of Your people. As I navigate my own leadership journey, please instill in me a humble and selfless heart, always keeping Jesus, the Good Shepherd, at the center of my thoughts, actions, and community. In His name, I pray. Amen.
PLAY THIS: Good Good Father.
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