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Posts Tagged ‘rebelling against pastors’

There’s an unbiblical notion about pastors that has been circulating for years.  It goes like this:

Churchgoers can publicly attack their pastor … accuse him of anything they want … without any corroboration … and the pastor is expected to absorb the hits without fighting back.

We’re told that Jesus refused to defend Himself against false accusations and that His leaders need to do the same.

There’s just one thing wrong with this idea.

It wasn’t true of Moses, or Joshua, or David … or even Jesus Himself, who defended Himself and His message at every turn (read John 5-9, for example) until His God-appointed execution.

Here’s a specific example: how Moses behaved in Numbers 16.

While Israel wandered in the wilderness, 4 men arose to challenge Moses’ leadership: Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On.

And just in case Moses didn’t get the message, the foursome formed an additional alliance with 250 community leaders against Moses’ leadership.

This group thought that Moses shouldn’t be their leader … that they should be priests … and implied that Israel should return to Egypt.

In other words, they didn’t like their leader nor the direction he was taking them, so they tried to help God out by staging a coup.

In my last post, I mentioned two lessons about spiritual leadership that emerge from this passage:

First, God chooses who He wants to lead His people.

Second, God’s leaders can expect to be challenged periodically.

Here’s a third lesson:

Next, God’s leaders are permitted to defend themselves against public accusations.

I know pastors who have been trashed in public by a single individual or a small group in their congregation.

The majority of those pastors made a beeline for the exit and immediately resigned.

In one case, a woman sent a letter to every home in the congregation claiming that her pastor did not believe several essential Christian doctrines.  Her claims were completely false, but rather than defending himself, the pastor quickly split.

Although Moses wasn’t a pastor, he was a spiritual leader, and when his leadership was challenged publicly, he fell on his face in prayer (Numbers 16:4) … and then stood strong against his accusers.

Why did the humblest man on the face of the earth (12:3) resist rather than wilt?

*Because God had called him to lead His people.

*Because Moses was God’s spokesman to Israel.

*Because God had never commanded Moses to quit.

*Because Moses knew he hadn’t done anything wrong (16:15).

I wish more pastors would stand strong against false accusations.

I once met with a prominent pastor who told me a similar story.  During a pivotal time in his church’s history, four staff members began making accusations against their boss.

The pastor was devastated by their charges, even though they weren’t true.

The pastor knew that if he resigned because of their claims, they would end up in charge of the church by default … and that would be disastrous for everyone involved.

So the pastor called a public meeting of the congregation … and when he did, 3 of the 4 staff members instantly resigned, fearing that their mutiny would be exposed.

At the meeting, the pastor calmly but passionately answered the charges the staff had made against him.

The pastor stayed … the rebellious staff members all left … and that church became a congregation of great impact.

That’s how Moses handled this situation as well.

Finally, God aligns Himself with the leader He called.

Was Moses imperfect?  Yes.

Had he made mistakes as a leader?  Undoubtedly.

Did Korah and his 3 buddies and the 250 community leaders make any valid points about Moses?  Possibly.

But in spite of all this, the Lord sided with Moses 100%.

Moses indicted the rebels “because of all their sins” (16:26) while the Lord mentioned “the men who sinned at the cost of their lives” (16:38).

The Lord never said, “Moses, they’re right … you can be overbearing at times … and a bit too sensitive … and you lose your temper too often.  I’m replacing you with Joshua.”

No, the Lord backed Moses to the hilt.  In fact, He told Moses to get out of the way so He could “put an end to them [the rebels] at once”  (16:20-21).

God couldn’t have made His feelings any clearer when He opened up the earth and sent all the rebels to Sheol … and then sent fire that consumed the 250 community leaders.

True to form, the following day, the whole community in Israel blamed Moses and Aaron for killing the 254+ rebels when God was responsible … even though Moses interceded for their salvation (16:22).

And when Israel “gathered in opposition” to the two leaders, the Lord threatened to wipe them out a second time … only to have Moses plead for their salvation again … even though a plague took out 14,700 people “in addition to those who had died because of Korah” (16:42-49).

In my last article, I mentioned that I recently had a conversation with a man who had been a pastor for 50 years.  In his first church, there was a woman who had run out the previous 3 pastors.

When she tried the same approach with the new pastor, he ran her out instead.

When he told me that, I shook his hand and commended him for his courage.

That pastor knew that God had called him to that church, and that nobody was going to run him out prematurely.

That pastor stayed 23 years and enjoyed a glorious ministry … all because he had the guts to fight back against unreasonable opposition.

Last weekend, I led a seminar at a Christian leadership convention titled, “Dealing with Church Antagonists.”

When I was done, one veteran pastor told me, “I wish I’d heard that 30 years ago.”  Others echoed similar thoughts.

But I’ll never forget one tiny, quiet woman who wouldn’t let go of my hand and repeatedly told me, “Thank you.  Thank you.”

My basic message?  Spiritual leaders – especially pastors – have a biblical right to fight back against congregational antagonists.

Yes, I know such battles can be bloody.  I have the wounds to prove it.

Moses said to his opponents in Numbers 16:7: “No, I’m not the one who has gone too far … you’re the ones who have gone too far!”

Do you have the courage to say that?

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While reading through the Old Testament Book of Numbers recently, I slowly stopped to read the 16th chapter.

Up to this point, Moses had been continually and mercilessly attacked in the harsh wilderness.

The people complained because they wanted to return to Egypt where they enjoyed a more varied diet (Numbers 11).

Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam complained that their brother had a special relationship with the Lord that they did not enjoy (Numbers 12).

The people complained again after 10 of the 12 spies issued a report stating that Israel could not survive an invasion of the Promised Land (Numbers 13).

And after the report, the people emphatically stated their preference for new leaders that would return them to Egypt, even talking of stoning Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14).

But the biggest rebellion of all happened two chapters later (Numbers 16).

When I was a kid, our family owned an illustrated Bible story book, and the drawing accompanying this story always frightened me.

In fact, this story is meant to scare us.

Korah (a Levite) and Dathan, Abiram and On (all from the tribe of Reuben) “became insolent and rose up against Moses.”  They allied themselves with 250 “well-known community leaders” (16:1-2).

Their complaint is expressed to Moses in 16:3: “You have gone too far!”

Why had Moses gone too far?  Because, in their eyes, he had set himself “above the Lord’s assembly” (16:3).

These men had been talking among themselves and became convinced that if Moses was special, then they were all equally special as well.

After humbling himself before the Lord, Moses proposed a showdown for the following morning (16:4), ending his challenge with these words in 16:7: “You Levites have gone too far!”

We all know how the story ends: the leaders of the rebellion – along with their families – “went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community” (16:33).

Let me share four lessons about spiritual leadership from this pivotal passage (two this time, two next time):

First, God chooses who He wants to lead His people.

God could have chosen Aaron or Miriam, but He didn’t.

He could have chosen Korah or Dathan, but He didn’t.

He could have chosen Caleb or Joshua, but Joshua’s time hadn’t yet come.

Moses didn’t apply for the job, and even after God made it clear that Moses was His choice, Moses still didn’t want to lead Israel.

So many of us who have been in Christian leadership can relate to this story.

Nearly 15 years ago, I was contentedly living in Arizona with my family.  We had purchased our initial house, and for the first time in our lives, we lived near members of my family.

I didn’t plan on going anywhere.

But I was asked by the leaders of two churches if I would consider leaving Arizona and come to work for them.

One church was in the Midwest, while another was on the West Coast.

My wife and I walked the streets of our community that Christmastime and we both agreed: we wanted to stay put.

But six months later, we sold our house in Arizona and moved to a new community.

I didn’t call myself to that church.  I didn’t want to go there.

Instead, God called me.

And that’s how Moses felt, too.

Second, God’s leaders can expect to be challenged periodically.

When Moses watched sheep from ages 40 through 80, my guess is that they rarely if ever caused him problems.

But after age 80, Moses’ leadership was continually challenged: by Pharaoh, by the tired-of-quail crowd, by the Amalekites, and by the 10 spies, among others.

But Korah and his gang represented the greatest challenge of all.

Korah allied himself with 3 other prominent leaders as well as 250 community leaders.  Percentage wise, it was just a sliver of 2 million people, but 254 against 1 looks very intimidating.

When I was a pastor, I didn’t mind it when churchgoers disagreed with me.  And while I didn’t like it when someone was critical of me personally, I deserved it on rare occasions.

But when someone said, “He shouldn’t be our leader anymore,” that really upset me … just like it made Moses angry, too (16:15).

And when Moses was publicly challenged, God became angry as well (16:22).  In fact, Moses later noted that “wrath has come out from the Lord” in the form of a destructive plague upon Israel (16:46).

This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking with a man who had been a pastor for 50 years.

He told me about his first pastorate.  When he came to the church, a woman in the church had run out the previous three pastors.  When these men did something she didn’t like, she got on the telephone, told people what to think and say, and they’d comply with her wishes by calling a meeting and removing the pastor from office.

Who did God call to lead that church?  The pastor or that woman?

Then why in the world did people follow someone whom God had not called as their leader?

Former pastor and author Charles Wickman told me on several occasions, “Every church needs to celebrate the anniversary of their pastor’s call to ministry on an annual basis.”  Charles believed that some in a congregation attacked their pastor simply because they forgot that God had called him to their church.

And when people challenge their pastor’s leadership, aren’t they challenging God’s leadership of their church as well?

Here’s what Moses said in 16:11 to Korah: “It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together.”

Look, leaders called by God make mistakes at times.  God only uses imperfect leaders.

But way too many church leaders – and rebellious factions – decide they’ll lend God a hand and get rid of their pastor prematurely.

In fact, they come to believe that God has called them to dispose of their leader even though the great majority of their congregation wants him to stay.

Isn’t this what Korah and his cohorts did?  They took their own desire to usurp Moses’ leadership and imposed their wishes on the rest of the congregation.

In other words, they staged a coup.

But rather than backing the coup, God responded differently.

That will be our topic next time.

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