False Accusations

Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”

I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”

Nehemiah 6:2-8

Nehemiah’s enemies were trying to disrupt his leadership and his ability to complete the mission for which he was sent. They try to distract him with multiple invitations to “talk.” They know if they can sap his energy and patience with endless conversation, he won’t be able to complete the wall in Jerusalem. They also wanted to get him isolated so that they could harm him.

But Nehemiah doesn’t fall for it. So after four rejected invitations, Nehemiah’s enemies resort to a typical tactic that we see used over and over against leaders trying to accomplish God’s mission. Sanballat starts with, “It is reported…” This is typical. Anonymous accusations are a classic tool of the enemy against leaders. Today it sounds like this, “Some people are saying…” They don’t want to be named. They don’t want to be held accountable for their false accusations. They just want to spread damaging rumors.

Then notice the second common strategy against leaders who are busy doing God’s work. The accusation itself is that Nehemiah’s leadership is all about an attempt to exalt himself. Whenever someone is leading something new, this accusation will always come. If the opposition can’t discredit the actual actions of a leader, they will try to discredit the motives. They’ll make false claims about “hidden, selfish motives” as a way to put the leader on the defensive. Against Nehemiah they claimed he was about to set himself up as king. They were claiming that his great leadership and the rebuilding of Jerusalem was really just about Nehemiah’s ego and selfish ambition.

The people of God did the same thing to Moses and Aaron when they were leading them out of Egypt and through the desert. Notice how “reasonable” their attack against Moses and Aaron seem.

They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

Numbers 16:3

The Lord is the one who called Moses and Aaron to be leaders of the people of God. But Korah and some of the other Levites didn’t want to follow their leadership. So they accuse Moses and Aaron of setting themselves above everyone else. Notice how Moses responds.

Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enoughfor you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?”

Numbers 16:8-11

In other words, Korah wasn’t rebelling against Moses and Aaron; he was rebelling against the Lord. It was the Lord who set Moses and Aaron apart. It was the Lord who called them to lead. It was the Lord’s doing. To reject the Lord’s call on a person’s life and claim that it is arrogance, selfishness ambition, or a personal agenda isn’t just an attack on that person, it’s an attack on the Lord’s work in their life. It’s an accusation against the Lord. And if you keep reading Numbers 16 and 17, things don’t turn out so well for Korah. God gets rid of the rebellious group of Levites and confirms the calling of Aaron through supernatural displays of His power.

We need to be very careful about accusations we make against leaders, especially leaders in the church. The anti-authority milieu of our culture loves to rail against leaders in every level of society. And often, leaders give us every reason to rail against them. But in the church we need a different heart posture toward leaders. The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy was this:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching… Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.

1 Timothy 5:17-19

When leaders are in the wrong, they need to be called out and held accountable by the other leaders of the church. We’ve seen too much abuse of power in the church that was left unaddressed. But we can’t let this lead us into an error on the other side of the continuum. If someone is being called into leadership, we need to honor that calling. Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward”(Matthew 10:41).

We need to remember that a calling to step into a greater anointing and a greater leadership role in the Kingdom is a call downward. It’s a call to servanthood. It’s a call to die to self and an invitation to go lower. Stepping into leadership in the Kingdom is not an elevation of self but a sacrifice of self. It’s a call to carry more weight and more responsibility.

The foundation of a building is the lowest place and the place that has to hold the most weight. That’s why Paul told the Ephesians that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The apostolic and prophetic roles are the foundation of the Church because they must go lower. They must support everyone else. They must hold the most weight. They must be solid and level or the whole church could topple over. And they must be willing to endure, more than others, the false accusation of selfish ambition and self-promotion.

Prophets, Priests, and Kings

Elisha died and was buried.

Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

2 Kings 13:20-21

After Elisha dies, we don’t hear much about the prophets in the book of 2 Kings. This is in part because the prophets who followed him operated less in the miraculous and in part because the prophets after Elisha started to write down their prophecies. The prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos and Jonah were the next prophets to take up the prophetic mantle after Elisha.

It is important to realize that ever since the Hebrew people were set free from Egypt and started to form a national identity, they always had a prophet, priest and king. In the early years, their prophet was Moses, their priest was Aaron, and their King was Yahweh Himself. Moses passed off his prophetic mantle to Joshua and then to those would be raised up as Judges to lead the people. Aaron passed off his priestly mantle to his own descendants and the Levites.

Then the people wanted an earthly king and so the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul, the first official king of Israel. From that point on, there was always an executive branch (the kings), a judicial branch (the prophets) and a legislative branch (the priests) that functioned as the leaders of the people of God. The kings led the people, the prophets heard from the Lord, and the priests helped the people atone for their sin through the sacrificial system.

A similar system existed when Jesus entered the scene, only the prophetic presence has diminished. John the Baptist functioned as the first real prophet in hundreds of years. And the priests had divided their role in two. Part of the priestly role was pastoral, helping people atone for their sin through the sacrificial system; the other part was a teaching role, helping people know the Law and avoid sin in the first place.

Jesus was furious that the priestly role that was supposed to pastor the people and teach the people instead was exploiting the people and weighing them down with guilt and legalistic burdens.

Jesus took these leadership roles for the people of God and adapted them for the birth of the Church. The executive leader became the apostle. The judicial voice became the prophet. The priestly/legislative role became the pastor and the teacher. Then He added one more role for the spread of the Kingdom of God, the evangelist.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

These five roles together are called the five-fold ministry gifts. Each of these five roles are gifts to the Church which allow it to be equipped and built up. The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are meant to work together, each bringing something special.

The apostle is focused on God’s direction. The prophet is focused on God’s voice, His word to the people. The pastor, teacher, and evangelist are all focused on the people but in different ways. The pastor wants to care for the people and remind them of God’s grace and forgiveness. The teacher wants to disciple the people and help them know the scriptures. The evangelist is focused on people outside the Church, wanting them to hear the good news of the gospel.

The foundation of the global Church and the local church, however, has to be the apostolic and prophetic roles. The apostle Paul said it this way:

…you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

Ephesians 2:19-21

The foundation of the American church is too often the pastor or teacher. This is not how Christ designed His Church to function. He designed the base on which the church is built to be the apostolic role and the prophetic role. Paul emphasized this truth to the Corinthians.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:27-28

What the people of God need right now is not more pastors but more people operating in an apostolic anointing. What the people of God need right now is not more teachers but more people operating in a prophetic anointing. Both the apostle and the prophet are focused first on God–His direction, His voice, His signs, wonders and miracles, His Presence–and not primarily on whether they will be liked by people. Apostolic and prophetic people do not fit well in consumeristic Christianity. Their target audience is an Audience of One. Their opinion polls are filled out by One and Only One.

Who will be the ones to stop pretending to be pastors and instead step into the apostolic role they were created for? Who will be the ones to stop just teaching and instead deliver the prophetic words from the Lord as they were called to do?

Listening to Wisdom

…the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 

1 Kings 12:3-8

King Solomon had just died and his son, Rehoboam, was appointed to take the throne. Before he did, the people called on Rehoboam to lighten the heavy work load that had existed since the time of Solomon. Rehoboam decides to seek wise counsel from his elders.

The elders advise Rehoboam to become a servant leader. They advise him to listen and be in submission to the elders. They encourage him to lean into humility and compassion rather than pride and hard-heartedness. But Rehoboam arrogantly rejects their advice and seeks out the advice of his best friends and buddies that he grew up with.

He goes to his entourage, his friends from high school and college, and asks them what they think. They, of course, tell Rehoboam he was right to reject the wisdom of the elders. Instead of encouraging servant leadership, humility, and compassion, his buddies tell him that he needs to become even harder on the people. They tell him that to get these people in line he needs to become a tyrant. This advice aligns with Rehoboam’s arrogant view of himself and further puffs up the pride that was already swelling inside the soon-to-be king.

When Rehoboam announces that not only will he not lighten the load of the people but will make it heavier, he loses all but one tribe of Israel. Eleven tribes break away from Rehoboam’s rule and make Jeroboam their king. Only the tribe of Judah remained under Rehoboam’s rule. The kingdom of Israel was divided in half from this point on.

Rehoboam’s friends told him what he wanted to hear. They told him what soothed his own self-image and pride. Only the elders, the one’s with more experience and wisdom, were willing to tell him the truth. Only they were able to see clearly a way forward. Rehoboam’s inability to humble himself and submit to those with more wisdom was his ultimate downfall.

This is an important story for anyone leading an organization, business or church. Listening to the elders, the decision-making body, or the one’s with more experience is absolutely essential to leading well. Taking the posture of a servant leader–in humility and compassion–is essential to being an effective leader.

As leaders we must be grateful for our friends and their support, but we must also have the wisdom to see that they are often biased in their desire to advocate for us. It’s okay to go to our buddies from high school and college when we need encouragement but not necessarily when we need wisdom. In moments when we are in need of wisdom, we must seek out those with more experience, those who are older and have seen more than we have. Youthfulness has its advantages but wisdom isn’t often one of them.

Rehoboam could have ruled the whole kingdom of Israel. He was one act of humility away from keeping the kingdom united and ruling for generations. His own pride got in the way. His unwillingness to listen to the wisdom of the elders was his downfall. As leaders in our various spheres of influence, let’s not let this become our story. King David and King Jesus are two great examples of leading with humility and compassion. Let’s imitate their life of leadership.

I Swore

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips;meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:5-9

In order to be a leader, it requires strength and courage. Over and over we see God command Joshua as a young leader to be strong and courageous. He is to be obedient, not afraid, and not discouraged because of the awareness of God’s Presence with him. God’s presence, if we are aware of it, has a way of destroying fear and discouragement.

Also notice that this powerful thing that God is about to do through Joshua (take the people into the Promised Land) is not really about Joshua. God will surely use Joshua and God searched for someone ready and willing to be used in this way. It was an honor and a privilege for Joshua to be chosen for this leadership role. But none of this is about the greatness of Joshua.

What we learn from this passage of scripture is that all of this is about the nature of God who is not willing to break His promises. God swore to Joshua’s ancestors that He would give them the Promised Land. Joshua being used powerfully by God is more about them than it is about him. It is more about God’s faithfulness to keep His promise to Abraham. It is more about God’s willingness answer the prayers of the people when they were crying out in Egypt.

For those of us who are in leadership roles in ministry, this is a good reminder. We need to remember that when God uses us powerfully it is not about us at all. We are simply instruments of righteousness in His hands.

It is likely that if God moves powerfully through us to impact someone else, God is simply keeping a promise to someone who has been praying for that person. Maybe He is keeping a promise to that person. Maybe He is keeping a promise to one of their grandparents who prayed for them many decades ago. We won’t know until eternity. Until then, we are to serve and lead faithfully, knowing that God’s power flowing through us by the Holy Spirit is all about Him and not about us. It’s all about His greatness and His nature, not our own.

Pastors

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 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, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1 Peter 5:1-4

Peter describes the kind of pastor every church should be looking for. Pastors, and all leaders in the church, should be willing to shepherd those under their care. They should do it willingly and not begrudgingly. They should seek to serve and not to be served. They should seek to be examples in their own lives of what it looks like to follow Jesus and not controlling or dominating leaders.

The key here is character and intimacy with Jesus. Obedience flows out of intimacy. Character flows out of consistent obedience. This is what pastoral search committees should be looking for. Unfortunately, too many churches get too easily impressed with education and giftedness. And while both of these are necessary and important, they pale in comparison to the importance of character and intimacy with Jesus.

In interviews, it should not be assumed that the person spends time with the Lord and has no hidden sin. Questions should be asked that involve the revealing of a person’s character. Questions should be asked that involve the revealing of a person’s intimacy with the Lord. This is the foundation of all ministry.

And while scandals of marital infidelity, sexual abuse, and financial embezzelment always take up most of the headlines, most of the pastors that I know are amazingly dedicated servants of the Lord. They have fully surrendered their lives to Jesus and are standing with their church people through the muck of life. They are faithfully serving the Lord and His Body in the most humble and self-sacrificing ways without a lot of recognition. These men and women are hidden heroes of the Kingdom whom the Chief Shepherd will reward greatly on the day He appears.

All About Authority

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Hebrews 13:17

Leaders in the church will have to give an account of how they led. Literally in the Greek text this verse says that leaders “keep watch over your souls.” Their job is to help each member of the body of Christ grow and mature.

Here is how the apostle Paul describes the role and purpose of leaders in the church:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

Ephesians 4:11-14

The goal for leaders in the church is to equip the people for ministry, not just do ministry themselves. The goal is to build up the body of Christ so that people mature and experience the fullness of Christ. The goal is to have a church that isn’t easily swayed by every wind of false teaching that’s out there.

So it is important for the people of the church to have confidence in their leaders and submit to their authority. Authority in the church is not primarily about position. It’s not about titles and degrees. Authority is more relational. It’s about who is loving people well and leading them toward Christ. Authority is about who has been willing to take responsibility to serve others. Regardless of title, the one who has loved well, established relationships, taken responsibility, and served faithfully is the one with the authority.

Sometimes Americans get squeamish when talking about submitting to authority. Our sense of autonomy and individualism doesn’t like talk of submission or authority. And after seeing the abuse of leadership positions and the abuse of authority in the church there is good reason to have hesitations.

Yet, we also need to remember that the entire spirit realm operates by authority. Jesus told us that He has “all authority in heaven and on earth”(Matthew 28:18). He has delegated that authority to us. The disciples were shocked at what happened when they operated in the delegated authority of Jesus.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy…

Luke 10:17-19

I’ve been in a number of situations where members of my prayer team and I were casting out demons. Demons can sense whether you have authority. Like the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16), if a person doesn’t have an intimate relationship with Jesus, demons can sense that the person doesn’t have the authority to drive them out. The only authority that will drive out demons is authority that comes from Jesus. It is delegated authority, and it comes to us through our intimacy and obedience to the Lord. It is His Name that they respond to in fear, not our name.

Likewise, demons can sense whether you believe you have authority. You may have the delegated authority of Jesus because of your relationship with Him, but if you don’t believe you do, they know it. They can sense your confidence in the Name of Jesus or lack thereof. Yet, if you have authority and know you have authority and use that delegated authority properly, demons flee in Jesus’ name!

A Roman centurion seemed to understand how authority works in the spirit realm better than the Jewish people did. Do you remember that time Jesus healed the centurion’s servant?

He (Jesus) was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Luke 7:6-10

Since the spirit realm is structured completely around authority, it makes sense that we would need to submit to the authority of leaders in the church. We just need to make sure we have good leaders in place!