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  • Writer's pictureDean Dwyer

Slumbering, Self-serving, Spiritual Leaders

There is a problem in the church today.  But it isn’t a problem unique to the church.  This is a problem which existed at the time of the prophet Isaiah also.  The problem I am referring to relates to the action or, rather, inaction of many Christian leaders.  Before we get to that, let’s understand Isaiah’s description of slumbering, self-serving spiritual leaders.  Isaiah 56:9-12 reads:  All you beasts of the field, come to devour, all you beasts in the forest.  His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.  Yes, they are greedy dogs which never have enough.  And they are shepherds who cannot understand; they all look to their own way, every one for his own gain, from his own territory.  “Come,” one says, “I will bring wine, and we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; tomorrow will be as today, and much more abundant.”


Spiritual leaders are “watchmen” who must be awake to the dangers that threaten God’s people.  The watchman’s task was not confined to mere observation, but extended to sounding the alarm, alerting the inhabitants of a city to the imminent danger they faced.  This was a heavy responsibility.  In fact, you could say that the role was characterised by these five important qualifications:-


1.     Commitment to their role;

2.     Confronting complacency;

3.     Resisting compromise;

4.     Acting with conviction; and

5.     Undertaking their role with courage.


The spiritual leaders that Isaiah spoke of were not hailed as courageous watchmen, but dumb dogs that stayed silent when danger approached.  Israel was in a perilous situation, but the watchmen were completely unaware of those things that should have gripped their attention.  Sound familiar!?  We live in the most exciting time of church history.  Yet, many Christian leaders couldn’t be less interested, even as we clearly see shadows of the Tribulation Period!  Israel’s leaders were wakeful enough when it came to seeking their own desires, but because they dreamt that all was well, they could not discern the danger all around them.  What a powerful lesson for the modern church!  Directing attention to one’s desires leads to danger and lack of discernment.  Does this not accurately describe the spiritual leaders of many Laodicean churches today!?  


What use are blind watchmen who are like dumb dogs and cannot bark?  They are not able to warn the sheep or scare away the wolf.  What they do is fundamentally the opposite – they make no opposition to the wolf and end up worrying the sheep!  When Isaiah describes them as “sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber”, they weren’t overcome by sleep because they were fatigued from working - they were asleep because they desired to be asleep.  But Isaiah 56:11 confirms that not only are they dumb dogs, they are greedy dogs which never have enough.  As Ecclesiastes 5:10 says:  He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver, nor he who loves abundance, with increase. 


These irresponsible leaders don’t feed the flock – they fleece it.  All they are interested in is themselves.  Every one of them is looking to his own way, minding his own private interests and in so doing, they have no regard for the welfare of the flock at all.  It was like what Paul said in Philippians 2:21:  For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.  Regarding the leaders Isaiah spoke against, they sought profit, ease, safety, pleasure and satisfaction – that was their goal.  The role of a watchman was too demanding for them, so they sought the pleasures of the world.  And so, repeating Isaiah 56:12: “Come,” one says, “I will bring wine, and we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; tomorrow will be as today, and much more abundant.” 


This was the final nail in the coffin.  Not only were they blind, mute, asleep and greedy – they also became willfully intoxicated.  In so doing, their hearts were hardened and their wickedness put on full display.  Worse, their actions sealed the fate and direction of the people.  In a city, if the people saw that the watchmen were drunk and feeling secure, what was there to worry about?  Everything must be fine.  The people may have even felt led to participate in the revelry.  You see, this story takes place under the backdrop of judgement.  But because they were very secure and confident of the continuance of their prosperity and ease, they did not give any thought at all to their own sin, frailty and mortality.  They had no dread of the judgements of God and in fact, they were daily provoking Him through their actions. 


In Ezekiel 34, the Lord also gave a strong warning against the irresponsible shepherds of Israel.  This is a figurative expression referring to kings and other political and religious leaders and in verses 1 to 3 God says:  And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves!  Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings but you do not feed the flock.


J Vernon McGee said that he used to get many letters from church committees asking him for a recommendation for a pastor.  He said most of them listed qualifications of what they wanted and the top priority was a good personality!  McGee said they never asked if the man accurately and boldly communicated God’s Word.  This experience tells us that as long as the candidate is friendly, they could care less whether they have a mute dog in the pulpit. 


Even though we are deeply concerned about the condition of the church, let us also be thankful for those wonderful remnant pastors, preachers, teachers and believers who know the sheep, feed the sheep, lead the sheep and protect the sheep. 

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