CHURCH ABUSE!

BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO

“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up’” (John 2:13-17 NKJV).

Initially, the Greek word “Ekklesia” or “Ecclesia” meant any assembly of people summoned for a common purpose, a political assembly of an ancient Greek state. But, the word Ekklesia, later began to be used in the New Testament to mean a calling out, a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both)

Ekklesia is used 115 times in the New Testament, and in no fewer than 92 times the word refers to a local congregation while in others it refers to the church in general or believers in Jesus Christ everywhere (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary).

In the real sense of the word, church is not the building where believers gather to worship though it is sometimes used to refer to the building. In the Scripture above, Jesus met the people buying and selling in the gentiles’ court section of the temple. They were exploiting the people who came for worship and had to exchange their money to buy materials for the sacrifice. Those selling the sheep, the oxen and the doves and the money changers were abusing the temple by cheating the people. The prices of the sheep, the oxen and the doves were usually inflated, very prohibitive.

Worshippers from all parts of the world usually brought different currencies in exchange for the special temple coins, the only currency accepted by the sellers of the animals for sacrifice. But the money changers usually used dishonest exchange rates. These people were more interested in maximizing profit than helping the people to make acceptable sacrifice to God. Jesus stopped their business and drove them out.

In Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:12-19 and Luke 19:45-48, unlike in the account in John 2:13-17, account of the event is found towards the end of the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth. Some Bible scholars have suggested that Jesus cleansed the temple twice during his ministry.

In Matthew’s account, after Jesus had cleansed the temple, He healed the blind and the lame. While the money changers and the sellers abused the temple, Jesus put it into proper use by healing the blind and the lame.

Healing, deliverance, etc. should be a common occurrence in church. This is part of the full gospel. The devil, sicknesses, diseases are robbers doing business in the body of human beings but Jesus was anointed to preach the gospel to the poor, and sent to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD (Luke 4:17-21).

Commercialization of the anointing

The money changers and sellers in the temple were exploiters. They were not in the temple to worship but to do business. These traders are in church today using church for the wrong purpose. Some ministers commercialize the anointing; they charge people money under different guises. Jesus says, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NKJV).  If you received your calling and anointing from God, why are you charging fees contrary to the Word of the Master, who called you? That is corruption.  Commercialization of the anointing is an abuse of the church. It is caused by the love of money which is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

Financial exploitation of the church

Financial and material exploitation of the church, by some pastors, false teachers and false prophets through manipulation, selfish interpretation of the Scripture, is giving the church of Jesus a bad name. 2 Peter 2:2-3 warns, “And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber” (NKJV).

Yes, the Bible teaches that church should support ministers of the Gospel. Paul writes, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” (1Corinthians 9:11 NKJV).  However, the truth about giving or sowing seed must not be overstressed to accommodate any minister’s covetousness or to finance some grandiose programmes and projects, neglecting ministering to people. People are more important than programmes and projects. No minister should abuse the willingness of the members of congregation to give, because of their love for God.

Paul could confidently say, “We have cheated no one” (2 Corinthians 7:2 NKJV). He said a similar thing in Acts 20:33: “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel” (NKJV).  Not many ministers can say that without being refuted. Nevertheless, Paul said this because he did not engage in questionable practices to defraud the people. To avoid being a burden on the church or dependent on anyone, Paul had to work – not so as to be rich but to support himself and his traveling team. He said, “Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me” (Acts 20:34 NKJV).

He told the Thessalonians, “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NKJV). He also said a similar thing to the Corinthian church: “We have worked wearily with our own hands to earn our living” (1 Corinthians 4:12 NLT). At Corinth, he worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3).

And to the Philippians, he wrote, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 NKJV). In fact, Paul is an example of financial integrity in ministry. He had to tell the Corinthians: “Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself” (2 Corinthians 11:7-9 NKJV).                          

It was not that Paul did not receive financial support from any church – he did, and he said so himself. As said in the last Scripture, he “‘robbed’ other churches by accepting their contributions” (verse 8 NLT), so that he could serve the Corinthian church at no cost.  He was not a nuisance. The Philippians supported Paul generously. “Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:15-18 NKJV). Paul also mentioned the support of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 11:9b. 

If Paul had been a nuisance to the church, the Macedonians (churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and others in the region of Macedonia), who were going through hardship and serious poverty, would not have begged him to collect from them the gifts for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem. They already had an excuse not to give but they pleaded to be allowed to bless their fellow believers; they were cheerful, willing givers. “Now I want to tell you, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done for the churches in Macedonia. Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the gracious privilege of sharing in the gift for the Christians in Jerusalem” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4 NLT).

There is nothing wrong in asking for financial support for the ministry, but Christians, including ministers, must eschew greed and covetousness. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15 NKJV). No wonder, one of the qualifications for appointment as a deacon and bishop is not being greedy for money (1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:7). Peter’s appeal to fellow elders (church leaders) was: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly… and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-2, 4 NKJV). The appeal still subsists.

A minister should conduct himself with financial integrity. He should not give room for suspicion about any financial impropriety. He should be transparent and accountable.

Wrong motives for church membership

When believers join an assembly with wrong motives, there is bound to be church abuse. As part of the large scale abuse of the church going on today many people change their places of worship because they feel if they join a denomination or move to another branch with a large congregation, they will be well connected to the big shots who are members or they will enjoy greater patronage; the large number of members in their new church will patronize their business.

Church does not exist primarily for connection with top executives or politicians! It exists primarily to get connected with God and stay connected. Of course, members will interact with one another. There is nothing wrong in church members patronizing you, but if it now becomes your priority for church membership, you are abusing the church. The church is not a market for selling your wares.

The church is primarily not a place for social or business contacts. It is not mainly a place to look for marriage partners or to get many people to attend your naming ceremony or your relations’ funeral. The church does not exist chiefly to give you a pastor to bless or sanctify your new house or new car. All these are BENEFITS, which should not be elevated above the primary reason of becoming a Christian or joining an assembly.

Abuse of the generosity of the church 

Another form of church abuse, common in Christian fold today, is the abuse of the generosity of the church and the hospitality of church members by staying idle and living off or preying on others in the church. There are cases of people moving in droves to some churches because they emphasize welfare – taking care of the poor, the needy and the less privileged! It is doubtful if such people ever really gave their lives to Jesus. They just wanted to collect the material gifts provided by these churches. This is sheer irresponsibility, and no church should subsidize anybody’s laziness or irresponsibility. Paul clearly writes against this abuse: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command with the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from any Christian who lives in idleness and doesn’t follow the tradition of hard work we gave you. For you know that you ought to follow our example. We were never lazy when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so that we would not be a burden to any of you. It wasn’t that we didn’t have the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Whoever does not work should not eat’” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 NLT).

Believers must not encourage idleness or promote irresponsibility on the altar of brotherly love. Those who genuinely need assistance should be identified and helped. The resources of the church should not be wasted on crafty parasites, who pretend to be genuine Christians.

Division in the church

Division in the church is a form of abuse because every denomination, assembly or the universal body of Christ is supposed to be in unity. The Corinthian church was abused by members who caused divisions. Paul had to address this. “First of all, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that those of you who are right will be recognized!” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19 NLT).

Paul’s writings emphasized that division is wrong. “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.  For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 NKJV).

Division in the church, based on race, colour, tribe, language, etc., is a mark of carnality; it does not show that members are mature. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 NKJV).

The church must live in love – no quarrel, jealousy, envy, strife, faction or gang-up; and where such a thing exists; it must be addressed and resolved. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we should still be in one accord like the early church. The church must not be turned to a political party with different caucuses!

Disorder in the church

Disorder is another form of abuse.  Jesus did not die so that the church would be disorganized. Pentecostals are often derogatorily tagged penterascals, because of some perceived or obvious rascally behavior in the fold. Even, many times, the Pentecostals themselves are embarrassed by some excesses of those in their fold. They may not be talking about it loudly, but they are discussing it!

The church must have order in her services and in everything.  Paul talks about order in service in 1Corinthians 14:26-40, rounding off in verse 40 by saying, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (NKJV).  Paul particularly left his son in the ministry, Titus, in Crete so that he could set in order the things that were lacking in that church and appoint elders in every city as he had commanded him (Titus 1:5).

God is a God of order, and, therefore, there should be orderliness in the church. The church He bought with His blood must be orderly. Believers must know what is proper and orderly in church; we must know what is permitted by the Bible and what is wrong to be done in church. There should be a difference between a night club and a congregation of saints! The unpredictable move of the Holy Spirit should not be used as an excuse for disorderliness – the two are not the same.

Pastor Abuse!

Church members also abuse their pastors (I am using pastors in a generic sense) because they do not know who their pastors are or what role they are supposed to play according to the Scriptures. “He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT).

Many believers have wrong, unbiblical expectations of their pastors; and where such expectations are not being met, they are disappointed. For instance, some expect their pastors to be like the pastor of their neighbouring church. That pastor prophesies and has a large crowd. Why can’t our own pastor be prophesying? Some pastors, under pressure of not losing their members, may be tempted to start telling lies saying what God has not told them just to keep their members! Such pastors (or prophet) have no excuse if they succumb to pressure. Those prophesying lies because of pressure from whatever quarters must repent and face their calling rather than turning themselves to false prophets.

Some believers try to manipulate their pastors and when they cannot achieve this, become uncooperative. They ultimately leave the church and speak ill of their pastors. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (NLT).

That is not to say that pastors or ministers of the gospel are perfect. No. Leaders are human beings, and have their own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe the problem is that many church leaders have wrongly presented themselves as being perfect. Christians are not complete on their own; they are only complete in union with Christ (Colossians 2:10). However, the Bible expects followers to have regard for their leaders even when they are aware of their human frailties while the leaders should work on themselves. “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because of their work. And remember to live peaceably with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NLT).

I am not supporting misbehavior or moral failures of ministers. Ministers of God, just like every other child of God, have a responsibility to overcome temptations to sin and to put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within them (Colossians 3:5). Temptations are real, and there is no sinless perfection. Christ is our righteousness, but we cannot continue in sin and ask that grace abound (Romans 6:1).  Christians, including ministers of God, must repent of their sins. “So anyone who lives in Christ does not go on sinning. Anyone who goes on sinning has never really understood Christ and has never known him” (1 John 3:6 New Century Version).

You may have fallen into temptation, but you cannot afford practising sin.  “But when people keep on sinning, it shows they belong to the Devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy these works of the Devil” (verse 8 NLT).

Every profession has its ethics. A minister must be above board and be ethical; he must take heed to himself and to his doctrine, continuing in them thereby saving himself and his audience (1Timothy 4:16). The Bible also provides for how to discipline leaders and the leadership should handle this responsibly to serve as deterrent to others.

Immorality in the church

Immorality among church members is an abuse of the church. This is not what the church is meant for and God does not take kindly to it. Paul was miffed when he heard such report about the Corinthian church. “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you, something so evil that even the pagans don’t do it. I am told that you have a man in your church who is living in sin with his father’s wife. And you are so proud of yourselves! Why aren’t you mourning in sorrow and shame? And why haven’t you removed this man from your fellowship?” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2 NLT)

Pastors and members must not engage in, condone, or encourage sexual immorality. “Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13 NKJV).

The devil has infiltrated the church with his agents, men and women, whose assignment is to pollute the church of Jesus. They do so without any shame because they are on assignment from their master. Many have fallen victim. The church is not a place to satisfy anyone’s lust.

The church leadership must ensure discipline, and work towards restoring those who have been seduced and fallen into sin, not merely exposing their sin with the motive of profiting from any setback their exposure may cause them. “Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT).   

How can we justify homosexuality in the church on the altar of human rights? That is nonsensical. No international instrument on human rights is superior to the Bible. God says homosexuality is a sin, and that should be final; it should not be a subject of any debate again. Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not practice HOMOSEXUALITY; it is a detestable sin” (NLT Emphasis added). Is that not clear enough?  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor HOMOSEXUALS, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NKJV Emphasis mine).

It is, therefore, sacrilegious to have a church of homosexuals – a supposed Christian assembly where the pastors and members are homosexuals. That is evil. Any nation criminalizing homosexuality is in the will of God, and no other nation should try to convince her to embrace this evil. Homosexuals should repent just like every other sinner. God does not want anyone to perish but to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Abuse of Authority

Abuse of authority by Pastors/Overseers is part of church abuse. The pastor is not the Alpha and Omega or the head of the church; Jesus is the head. He has not abdicated this office to church leaders. They are just acting on His behalf. Lack of understanding of this could lead to abuse of authority. Sharing of leadership is one cure for temptation of abuse of power which faces every leader. The church does not need imperial rulers!

Church leaders must be careful how they react when members leave them, especially to go to and start another church. It is true some pastors do not leave well, which is condemnable. But in some cases, no matter how a pastor tries to leave well, some leaders mismanage the process because of the jealousy they have for their own vision.

Notwithstanding how a pastor leaves or church members leave, that should not be a justification for praying witchcraft prayers. You do not need to curse those who leave you. You are a pastor, a servant of God, not a witch! When you begin to curse, you enter the ministry of Balaam whom Balak hired to curse the children of Israel (Numbers 22).  Two wrongs will not make a right. No matter how much pain a pastor has caused you in the way he left you, you do not need to curse him. The law of cause and effect will always work. Whatever a man sows, that is also what he shall reap (Galatians 6:7).

Do not sow a curse so that you do not reap a curse! Do not curse; bless, and teach your members to stop using prayer to curse others. Why are you fighting against flesh and blood? You are not supposed to be fighting against human beings but against “the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

It may appear that those who have left you today are no longer useful to you. However, you do not know tomorrow. You may need them or they may be useful to you. Never say never! Are you not in the same body of Christ?

In Acts 15:38, Paul had refused that John Mark should follow Barnabas and himself on the second missionary journey, because he had left them during their previous journey (Acts 13:13). This caused a serious misunderstanding between the two of them and they separated.

Paul went with Timothy while Barnabas, Mark’s uncle, went with him. Was separation the best option for them in the circumstance since they were commissioned together after a prophecy to that effect? Could they have come to an agreement? (Acts 13:1-3).

I am incompetent to preside over their case! The point is that disagreement separated them. But the separation could also have further advanced the Kingdom of God, because, instead of one team, they had two teams – Paul and Timothy and Barnabas and Mark. Nevertheless, nobody knows if it would have been better for Paul and Barnabas to remain as one team.

We did not hear anything about Barnabas and Mark from then on certainly not because they were out of ministry or not effective. Their separation cannot be compared to the separation of Lot from Abraham though it was also because of argument – between their herdsmen (Genesis 13:5-13).

Here is my point: In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul writes from a Roman prison, “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me” (NLT). Did you see that? Mark was at that point useful to him where he was in prison. And Paul was a mature enough to send for him. Apparently the two of them had reconciled before them. Suppose he had been bitter and cursed Mark, as some fathers today and would not allow reconciliation!

Right there in the prison, Paul wrote to the Colossians sending greetings from “Mark, Barnabas’s cousin”, adding, “And as you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way” (Colossians 4:10 NLT). Could you believe that commendation was from Paul?

God knows how to deal with those who wrong you or cause you pain. Do not pray witchcraft prayer over any former pastor or member. If you say he will not prosper, his church or ministry will not grow, he will die of sickness, etc.  except God has not called you, what does that add to you? How does that prosper your own ministry? How does it increase the anointing upon your life and help to fulfil your ministry? Will God give you more crowns because of that?

What is the point wasting precious time fasting and praying for the failure of another because of what he has done against you, either rightly or wrongly? Why curse the man you may still need in future. “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too.  If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48 NLT).

I think pastors get bitter when valuable people leave them, having ‘laboured over them’ (I admit it could be painful) because they tend to forget that they do not own the church. They do not own the ministry – Jesus only called them into ministry. Do not abuse pastoral or apostolic authority.

I know Elijah called down fire in 2 Kings 1, and a captain of fifty with his fifty men and another captain of fifty with his fifty men were consumed by fire in quick succession. That may fascinate you, but you are a minister of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6). Even at that, Elijah’s action was against those who came to arrest him, not his contemporaries in the ministry! God’s will for you is not to call down fire needlessly. Your only fire is to repay evil with good. “Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21 NKJV).

You say you have the anointing to kill them, frustrate them, cancel their destinies, or stop their journeys or progress! But what does that add to your ministry? Does it make you more anointed? Look at this: “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.  For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village” (Luke 9:51-56 NKJV).

Did you see that? Put in simple words, Jesus said: don’t call down fire; let’s go to another place. Please do not call down fire; God will give you new leaders; He will give you new people.

God owns the church

You do not own the church or the ministry. Jesus says, “I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). So the church is His. A pastor who does not understand this will abuse his God-given authority over the church. Leaders must not see themselves as masters, but as servants of the people, though they are first servants of God. “All we say about ourselves is that we are your servants because of what Jesus has done for us” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT).

The leaders must not lord it over the church, as it is done in the world. Jesus told His disciples, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-27 NLT). Jesus said a similar thing in Mark 10:42-43. Peter echoed the same thing. “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example” (1 Peter 5:3 NLT).

Ministry is service to God’s people. The leadership of the church must, therefore, serve all the groups in an assembly – children and adults, young and old, singles and married, divorced and separated, educated and uneducated, etc. This is how Paul puts it: “This means I am not bound to obey people just because they pay me, yet I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can. In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ. But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:19-21 NLT). The shepherd in God’s vineyard must feed the lamb, tend the sheep, and feed the sheep (John 21:15-17).

The church is comprised of holy priests, and members must be taught to grow up to operate in this holy office. “And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 NLT).

Verse 9 says, “For you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light”(NLT). Believers should not be comfortable just sitting down being ministered to now and then; each one must take his or her place to also serve as ministers in the temple of God.

Neglect of ministerial duties

Failure of pastors to perform their ministerial duties while focusing on what they can benefit from the members is another abuse of the church. God rebuked the shepherds who did this in Israel, and this is applicable to the church today (Ezekiel 34:1-10).

Abuse of the sheep

God used the relationship between the shepherds and the sheep in Israel to show the picture of the neglect of the people of Israel by a selfish and irresponsible leadership.

God did this because the people of Israel were familiar with this sheep-shepherd relationship, because it was a common thing in their society. He called the people, sheep and the leaders, shepherds. It is not a coincidence that ministers of the Gospel are called shepherds and the church is called sheepfold and each member a sheep.

From Ezekiel 34:1-10, the following abuse of the sheep by the shepherds took place as they failed to perform their responsibilities:

1.Feeding themselves with the sheep’s fat instead of feeding their flocks; taking care of themselves and leaving the sheep to starve.

2. Clothing themselves with the sheep’s wool.

3. Not strengthening the weak sheep.

4. Not taking care of the sick sheep.

5. Not binding the broken sheep.

6. Not seeking the lost sheep.

7. Ruling with force and cruelty.

8. Not being available for the sheep; abandoning their flocks to be attacked by every wild animal.

We see manifestations of these abuses of the sheep in the church today – leaders who focus on themselves and their families alone, using the church of God to satisfy their selfish interests.

Church leaders must not be more concerned about the perquisites of office than the duties. They must not see every gathering of God’s people as an opportunity to raise money to finance their greed or flamboyant lifestyle. “Do you think this Temple, which honors my name, is a den of thieves? I see all the evil going on there, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 7:11 NLT).

Yes, God sees what is going on in the church, and will not allow it to continue; He will come with His judgment as He did in the past.

Duties of a good shepherd

“I assure you, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! For a shepherd enters through the gate.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they recognize his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t recognize his voice” (John 10:1-5 NLT).

From the Scripture above, I want to highlight the duties of a good shepherd o God’s people as told by Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

1.He gathers the flock. It is the job of the shepherd to gather his own flock. Every shepherd has his own flock over which he labours. John 10:4 talks about the shepherd gathering his own flock. He does not steal sheep. He does not scatter others’ sheepfold to get his own sheep. The shepherd does not allow his sheep to be scattered; otherwise, they will be exposed to danger. Sheep without a shepherd is a proof of poor or no leadership. Jesus indicted Israel’s leaders – political and probably religious leaders. “So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them” (Ezekiel 34:4-6 NKJV).

But God says in Jeremiah 31:10 says, “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock’” (NKJV).

It is a pastor’s duty to gather the flock not by scattering other shepherds’ flock – not by luring members from his former church to start his own or changing the name of a branch he is currently pastoring to start his own church. No. If the sheep he has gathered are scattered, he has a responsibility to look for them and bring them back into the fold. It does not mean he will always succeed with every sheep, but he must make diligent effort.

2. He leads the sheep. The Jewish shepherds go ahead of the sheep; they do not lead from the rear. If there is any danger, they encounter it first. A good shepherd should be in front leading the flock. John 10:3-5 says, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they recognize his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t recognize his voice” (NLT).

Sheep without a shepherd will always attract Heaven’s compassion. In Mark 6:34, Jesus saw the great multitude, He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He, therefore, began to teach them many things. The Bible says in Matthew 9:36-38, “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (NKJV).  

Ministers of God must always provide the required leadership for the flock of God. They must not fail God in this regard.

3. He knows the sheep by name. No matter how large the flock is, Jewish shepherds know the name of each sheep. Not only that, the sheep also know the voice of the shepherd; they will not, therefore, respond to a stranger’s voice. There is such attraction towards each other ­– the shepherd and the sheep. “And they follow him because they recognize his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t recognize his voice” (John 10:4-5 NLT).

Those who pastor the church of God must be connected to their members; they must not be estranged from them; they must know them. Jesus says, “I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14 NKJV). Even where the congregation is large, the leadership should devise a system where the members know they are well known to the leadership, and not feel just like a face in the crowd or unwelcome. We should not give a wrong impression that they are only interested in the people’s money – their tithes and offerings and seed. We are not robbers!

4. He waters and feeds the sheep. A shepherd has a responsibility to water and feed the sheep (Genesis 29:7). It is his job to look for where the still waters are and where the green pastures are and lead them there; it is not the job of a sheep. “The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams” (Psalm 23:1-2 NLT).

Shepherds always avoid taking sheep to roaring or troubled waters, but still, peaceful water for the safety of the sheep.  Ezekiel 34:23 says, “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them – My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd” (NKJV). Talking about what God will do, Isaiah says, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd” (Isaiah 40:11 NKJV). 

Ministers of the Gospel are shepherds and they have a responsibility to water and feed the sheep. They must never allow them to lack spiritual nourishment and refreshment.

In John 21, Jesus, after His resurrection, told Simon, as the leader of His disciples, to “Feed My lambs” (verse 15), “Tend My sheep” (verse 16) and “Feed My sheep” (verse 17). That is what God expects of a minister of God – feeding the people with the Word of God and ministering to them the water of the Holy Spirit, and the people have a responsibility to eat and drink.

The minister is not to use the people to meet his personal needs or place emphasis on their responsibilities towards him when he has not even discharged his duties to them.

5. He looks for the lost sheep“So my people are wandering like lost sheep, without a shepherd to protect and guide them” (Zechariah 10:2 NLT). The sheep do get lost (go astray) sometimes! It is the responsibility of the shepherd to look for the lost sheep.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’” (Matthew 15:24 NKJV).  He also told the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18 thus: “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14 NKJV).

The parable is also recorded in Luke 15:3-7. Despite still having ninety-nine sheep, the shepherd left them to look for the only one lost. That is what a good shepherd should do. But not the shepherds of the people of Israel that God indicted in Ezekiel 34. “You didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost” (verse 8 NLT).

As shepherds, it is the responsibility of the ministers of God to look for the lost sheep though there may still be many in the fold that have not gone astray. “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14 NKJV).

Moses was a shepherd of sheep and the shepherd of the Israelites from Egypt to the wilderness. He understood the importance of a shepherd in leading the people.  When God decided to replace him, Moses said to the LORD, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17 NKJV). 

God chose Joshua to replace him as the shepherd of his people. No leadership vacuum was allowed. Sheep without a shepherd will go astray and will be exposed to danger.

6. He cares for the sheep, protects and defends the sheep with his life – A good shepherd cares for the sheep and protects and defends the sheep at the risk of his own life. Jesus says, “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15 NKJV).

Shepherds in Israel laid down their lives in defence and protection of their sheep. David told Saul, “But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it” (1 Samuel 17:34-35 NKJV).

Being a shepherd is a serious calling, and so should it be to those who work in the vineyard of God. Shepherds of God’s people must care for, protect and defend their flocks against preysspiritual and physical including false teachers and false prophets. Paul says, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29 NKJV).

Wolves are carnivorous animals related to the jackals and domestic dogs that are reputed for having “keen intelligence, skilled hunting, and highly organized social structure.” Carnivores are flesh eaters.

Paul did not talk about wolves, but savage wolves. The wolves he mentioned were not animals but human beings. The King James Bible calls them grievous wolves. The Bible in Basic English refers to them as evil wolves. The World English Bible describes them as vicious wolves. Paul warned that these grievous, evil, vicious, or savage   wolves would enter the church with the sole aim of tearing believers and ‘eating’ them up. These wolves are already here! They are not animals but human beings!

The church is at the risk of these savage wolves and those who shepherd God’s people in the vineyard of God must, therefore, “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.  Do not lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example. And when the head Shepherd comes, your reward will be a never-ending share in his glory and honor” (1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT).

Proverbs 27:23 says, “Know the state of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds” (NLT). Every shepherd of God’s people should be alive to his responsibilities. “What shepherd takes care of a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk?” (1Corinthians 9:7 NLT).

God will reward faithful, diligent shepherds but will punish worthless shepherds who do not take care of the sheep yet milk them; those who do not bother about the state of  the health of the flock but concentrate on their selfish interests. Conclusion: Zechariah 11:17 says, “Doom is certain for this worthless shepherd who abandons the flock! The sword will cut his arm and pierce his right eye! His arm will become useless, and his right eye completely blind!” (NLT).

That shall not be your portion in Jesus’ name. May the Lord say to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:21 NLT). May the LORD find you worthy of His reward.

The church is the church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15).  Christ is the head of the church, which is his body (Colossians 1:18). Christ cares for His body, which is the church (Ephesians 5:29). Therefore, the leaders and the followers in the church must avoid church abuse.

TAKE ACTION!

If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.

Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.

I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible believing and Bible teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The LORD be with you.

T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
Phone No: +2348155744752, +2348033113523
WhatsApp No: +2349081295947
Email: cedarministryintl@yahoo.com,
cedarministryng@gmail.com
Website: www.cedarministry.org