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     As I begin this writing, I am aware this will be a controversial subject. My object is not to criticize or condemn any person or denomination. My purpose is to share my observations over many years of attending different churches(denominations). I have always been a people watcher. I enjoy observing how people interact with God and each other at church, at home, or at work. As I have grown in my relationship with God and searched His Word for THE TRUTH, I have found a freedom that is not always practiced or taught at church. I hope this will be a learning message and motivation for you to search your life and heart.
(All Bible verses quoted from NLT)

What God says about the religious leaders of Israel in the Old Testament:
Ezekiel 34:1-4
1 Then this message came to me from the Lord: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: Destruction is certain for you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3 You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4 You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the broken bones. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with force and cruelty.
Ezekiel 34:7-10
7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. Though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. 9 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, along with their right to feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.

God as the Good Shepherd
Ezekiel 34:11-16
11 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places to which they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13 I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers in all the places where people live. 14 Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in lush mountain pastures. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and cause them to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes-feed them justice!

   
Jesus had lots of problems in his day with religious leaders.
Matthew 23:1-7
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. 3 So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear extra long tassels on their robes. 6 And how they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the most prominent seats in the synagogue! 7 They enjoy the attention they get on the streets, and they enjoy being called ‘Rabbi.’
Matthew 23:23
23 “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law-justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things.
Matthew 23:25
25 “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy-full of greed and self-indulgence!
Matthew 23:27-28
27 “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs-beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 You try to look like upright people outwardly, but inside your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

     From Jesus time until present day, it seems that religion and its leadership has not changed too much. I am not talking about every church, but most that I have attended over the past 40 years have in some ways mirrored the teachings of the Pharisees Jesus was describing in the verses above.
    I have seen pastors and teachers that don't practice what they preach and teach. The Word of God is often used or misused to demand you to follow their own set of rules in order to be a member in good standing. Rules that are nothing but a burden, that don't ease any pain or give you any encouragement. Rules that bind you up to their way of thinking and acting. And if you do not follow these rules, there is something wrong with you, and your relationship with God.

     Some examples of modern day rules that may be demanded of you to follow: Women shalt only wear a dress to church or in public. No pants or shorts for them. Women shalt not wear makeup or jewelry. Men shalt only have short hair. Men shalt "rule" over their household. Thou shalt only read the KJV Bible, the only true Word of God. Thou shalt not dance. Thou shalt not play cards. Thou shalt not go to the movies.Thous shalt attend each and every church service. Thous shalt tithe and tithe and tithe to be blessed. Thou shalt always look, dress and act like a Christian at all times as we have demanded of you. You shalt be obedient to and not question your pastor or leadership.
     What is the reason for all these religious demands? So the church and you can look "clean and upright" on the outside. So the world can see your outer beauty. So you can look like an upright people outwardly. So the church can control you.
     But what about the inside of the cup? What about the inside of the church? What about your inner thought and motivation? Do you religiously follow a set of predetermined rules set down by your church so you can be assured of their approval, and thus be right with God?  Is your leadership controling and demanding? Do they lord it over you? Do they seem more concerned with the condition of your "appearance than the condition of your soul?
   
What ought to be the function of church leadership?
1 Peter 5:1-5
1 And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share his glory and his honor when he returns. As a fellow elder, this is my appeal to you: 2 Care for the flock of God entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly-not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example. 4 And when the head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor.
5 You younger men, accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for
“God sets himself against the proud,
but he shows favor to the humble.”
Matthew 20:25-28
25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. 26 But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. 28 For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”

     It appears to me that the Word of God calls the leadership of the church to be in authority, but this authority is not to be prideful or to lord it over you. In fact the word of God calls for the leadership to be a "servanthood example." They are to be humble and lead by example. Jesus says whoever wants to be a leader must be a servant.
    In John 13, Jesus demonstrates by his own actions what he means by servanthood when he washes the disciples feet. He even washes the feet of the one who betrayed him. Jesus then asks us to do as he does.
John 13:12-17
12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. 14 And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. 17 You know these things-now do them! That is the path of blessing.

What an incredible and seemly impossible example for us to follow. Jesus says " Do as I have done to you."...This is the path of blessing.
      Is this the example that your church follows? Is the the example your leadership models for you to follow? Not one of impossible demands and rules that enslave you, but an example of serving your friends and neighbors with love. To love them as Jesus loves us.
     Are you following the law of the church,(the old way) or are you following the law of love,(the new way) the love that sets you free?(James 2:12) This law of love is a covenant, not of written laws, but of the Spirit.
The old way ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives life.(II Cor. 3:6)

Ollie (July 2001)