I am writing this on Monday morning after having a bit of a jarring experience. Monday mornings for me are generally a time of reflection and research. I do some research on work I have coming up and in what is going on in the Christian world. I also start reflecting on the next passage of Scripture I am going to be preaching from.
The research bit was more than a bit depressing and distressing.
There was a report on Christian news site on the trial of Brian Houston the founder of Hillsong Church in Australia. Hillsong in the first two decades of the 21st century went from being an Australian megachurch to being a worldwide Christian phenomenon. It opened churches in the most significant cities in the western world to which the young, trendy and famous flocked. It was held up as a great success story of the evangelical world. I watched conferences where the hip-looking Hillsong pastors from New York and Dallas told us, ordinary pastors, how to do church and Brian Houston told us how to be leaders.
The trial was revealing a very different story from the success story I had heard at these conferences. It was the story of church leaders making themselves rich, living luxurious and at times immoral lifestyles whilst exploiting people further down the pecking order. Interns and employees were working inordinate hours for little or no pay at the beck and call of their “spiritual leaders.”
Sadly, this story of people in spiritual leadership living entitled lifestyles is not an isolated example. In the last 10 years, the evangelical church has been rocked time and time again by revelations about celebrity pastors living luxurious lifestyles while abusing and exploiting other people.
So, I opened up Nehemiah 3 feeling depressed and disappointed about the church and Christian leaders again. Nehemiah 3 might not seem a very inspiring passage of Scripture, at face value it’s just a list of 40 groups of people who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem.
But I found the opening words deeply significant, challenging and inspiring. I am hoping you will too.
Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. Neh 3:1
Building walls is hard back-breaking physical work, it’s generally looked on as the preserve of “manual labourers.” But here is the High Priest, the top religious leader in Judah, and his fellow priests rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. These spiritual leaders set the tone among God’s people. They don’t lord it over the people, they don’t expect people to do what they are not willing to do, and they don’t think mucking in and doing the more menial things that need to be done is below them. They led not by being demanding of others but through serving others, they led by example.
Later on were told about a different set of leaders whose leadership seems sadly contemporary
5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors Neh 3:5
The nobles of Tekoa, were leaders who saw manual work as below them, it was the work or minions not leaders. They kept their sleeves firmly rolled up and hands clean.
Thinking about the priests and the nobles of Tekoa, and a long line of celebrity pastors . My mind couldn’t help going to that scene in the Gospels when none of the disciples were willing to wash each other’s feet because it was a menial job they thought was below them. By contrast, Jesus, God incarnate, our Great High Priest, rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty as he cleans those dirty and smelly feet.
Here is how John describes what happened next
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. 13 ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13
Jesus set the tone and example, leaders in the Kingdom of God get their hands dirty serving others, the only privilege they are entitled to, is the opportunity to serve. Servanthood not privilege is the true mark of spiritual leaders.
I thought about how few “foot washers” I have heard at church leadership conferences.
Author Alexander Strauch describes the differences between the High Priests leadership and the leadership being revealed in a courtroom in Australia
I can’t do anything about the actions and lives of other leaders, all I can do is commit myself to be more like Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests and follow the example of Jesus.
What about you?