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(137) Inscription 40_Spiritual Leadership

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Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 40: Spiritual Leadership

Ezra 7-10

December 5, 2010



·         114, leftovers (pg. 1)

·         Hope Management

Scripture reading: aDVENT READING Luke 1: 26-45 (Eddie?)



Before we get started, I want to give you a brief lay of the land, of our sermons for the next couple of months – this week we are in Ezra, next week will be a Christmas sermon.

The week before Christmas, the kids have a Christmas production, then after, we will study Nehemiah and leadership. Then we will start the new year with a series on “Engaging Culture” which will take us up to Valentine’s Day.

·         Potluck meeting.

Prayer: We have a rebellions streak, not as Americans, but as humans.

Leadership is everything

Among the things I study, I spend a lot of time learning about leadership. So while other people are on the treadmill listening to power ballads, I am listening to John Maxwell tell corny stories and principles of leadership.

·         One key point – “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

That point is echoes throughout Ezra and Nehemiah – when there was good leadership, the people rose to the occasion and did what was right. When there wasn’t good leadership, they didn’t.

Setting the stage

Let’s begin with a brief overview:    Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were one book, covering about 100 years, after the exile.

God had warned Israel that if they continued in rebellion and idolatry, they would be punished by being conquered and removed from their land. In 586 BC, that is exactly what happened.

·         But from the beginning, God also was clear that the purpose was redemptive – he’d kick them out in hopes restoring them.

And that is also what happened. Seventy years after the exile, God moved King Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return home. This was part of a larger policy of restoring ancient peoples.

·         Many Jews stayed, but many took the challenge to return home.

The first group came back and rebuilt the altar, because they had not been able to sacrifice to God for over 70 years, then they laid the foundation for the temple.

Then they hit some trouble, got discouraged and gave up. God prods them through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. This sums up chapters 1-6.

The chapter 7 picks up 57 years later and introduces us to Ezra, who was sent by Artaxerxes (son of Xerxes of “300” fame). Once again things had been sliding and they needed good leadership. 

·         Then 13 years later, God sends Nehemiah to help them rebuild the wall around the city.

After he is done, he goes back to persia, and things fall apart morally in his absence, so he has to come back and fix things.  

Portraits of leadership

Ezra and Nehemiah each present a unique portrait of leadership – Ezra demonstrates strong spiritual leadership, and Nehemiah of strong practical leadership.

In his day, Ezra was a priest, but in ours he would have been a pastor, so I look to him as a real example for pastors.

·         Speaking broadly, Ezra speaks to Elders and Nehemiah Deacons

Nehemiah (next sermon) is a great all around leader, but in spiritual matters, we see him stepping aside for Ezra.

I have three reasons for teaching on these two guys:

1. I want you to understand the leadership of the church

2. Some of you have been called to be an elder or a deacon (and also remind our current Elders and Deacons)

3. All of us are called be leaders in various ways – and there is a special call in this sermon for husbands and fathers

What’s Spiritual Leadership?

So Ezra is a great example of spiritual leadership. When I say “Spiritual Leadership” I don’t mean “as opposed to secular,” I mean leadership in spiritual matters. Not a co-journeyer, a leader, someone you are submitted to in your faith.

·         This is very unpopular in some of the “Emergent Church.”

Right away, this may sit poorly with you – what sort of power trip is this? And that’s a rather convenient for you to talk about, pastor. This feels a bit like talking about tithing.

·         But we can’t get around this idea that God has given spiritual authority to certain people in the church.

Hebrews 13:17   17 ¶ Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Spiritual abuse

Immediately there is an objection to this idea that you need to be submitted to pastors as spiritual leaders – can’t this be abused? If we go along with that, how long until we are being asked to drink funny tasting Kool-Aid?

This is a valid objection – there is a long history of spiritual abuse by pastors, and not just the over the top cult leaders. I have many friends that have been hurt by controlling, narcissistic pastors and he barely held on to their faith. 

Q   How many of you have been “spiritually abused?”

·         I promise you, that will not happen here. Why? Because I am too nice of a guy for that!

·         Actually, because I am also under authority.

The elders hold each other in check. Some people think that since one of the elders is my brother and the other is my friend that I am not really under authority.

All I have to say is that you don’t know Micah and Cecil. I get away with less because of that. They both know me too well to be impressed and love me too much to let any stupid stuff slide.

·         If you don’t believe me, ask Peter, or read my last review – it was brutal (no big sins, but lot’s of “growth areas”).

And don’t think that my agenda goes. You have no idea how many crazy ideas they have pulled the plug on. My basic theory is it’s my job to dream really big and theirs to provided sanity.

·         I am not saying I don’t want more elders – it would be nice to get a break!

Before you submit to a spiritual leader, first be convinced they’re submitted to spiritual leadership. Not in form, but reality (many leaders have set up pseudo-accountability).

·         10 out of 10 times that spiritual abuse happens, the leader person was not under authority.

Ä  Just because spiritual leadership has been abused means it should be eliminated, any more than policemen should be.

helping you get where you want to go

Q   Hebrews says “not to your advantage,” what does that mean?

Everything God does is for our benefit. Spiritual leadership is meant to be a blessing. Think back to the analogy of the body, each part having its role, and that no one can do everything. We are interdependent.

·         Pastors are given to the church to do something you cannot do for yourself.

What I just said is heresy to many in the home church movement. Many (but not all) of them believe that every person is meant to be a pastor, and they take turns preaching and everything.

·         They take “priesthood of all believers” too far – yes we all interact directly with God, but God still calls some to lead.

Ä  Reading through Ezra, I see three specific responsibilities he had that were uniquely pastoral, things only he could do.

1. Devoted to the Word of God.

First, in chapter seven:

Ezra 7:10   10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

He devoted himself literally means “He set his heart on.” His life was studying the Bible. All of us need to know God’s Word, and be able to nourish ourselves, but not “devoted to.”

God does not expect everyone to do this, any more that all of us should be medical experts. We all need to know about health, we don’t need to be surgeons.

·         EG: Rochelle and David talking about skin.

Likewise, I have devoted my life to studying and understanding Scripture. Almost half of my work week is spent studying the Bible and preparing the sermons.

Beyond that, I spend countless hours reading this and that, of which 95% relates back to my ministry. It is very rare for me to read something that is absolutely irrelevant to my ministry.

Is that a chore to me? No, it’s what I love! My heart is set on these things. This is all part of the wiring God gave me so that I can serve you as a pastor.

·         This is why the Bible is adamant about paying your pastors, so they have the time to devote themselves to this.

Observing the God’s Law

But it is not enough to just study, he “devoted himself to the study and observance.” Being a godly pastor means that I have to not just study God’s Word, I have to do it.

1 Timothy 4:16   16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

·         This is a passage pastors need to live by.

Study, obey, then teach is the correct order. Every week when I work on the sermon, it works on me. I am continually challenged to live this out before I bring it to you.

This week, the Elders and Deacons were dealing with a certain issue. Stepping back, I could tell something wasn’t quite right. As I thought and prayed about it, I saw the problem was I wasn’t following the very Biblical principles I was preaching on.

·         It was a very small issue, but it highlighted a change I needed to make, and that I needed to lead the leadership on. 

It is humbling and scary to realize that I cannot expect this church to do anything I am not doing. Being a pastor will either send me toward being more like Jesus or being a hypocrite.

·         The ministry will either soften your heart, or harden it, there is no middle way.

Teaching its decrees

Having devoted himself to study and obedience, Ezra was then able to teach.

Ezra was a scribe, which means he wasn’t only a teacher but a great scholar, but not in the sense of scholars hidden in the classroom writing books only graduate students can read.

Scribes were a new position in the post-exilic times – they had the responsibility of taking the Law from the “olden days” and helping the people understand how it fit into their new context.

·         Does that sound familiar? 

The reason I have to spend so much of my time crafting a sermon is that I need to deeply understand not just the words of the Bible, but understand the principles behind them, then understand our current situation, and how they relate.

·         Try writing a sermon about how not eating pork applies to us!

Gospel perspective

And here is the trickiest part – on one hand I preach to hold us to God’ standards, to call us to righteousness. But on the other hand, I keep reminding us we stand in utter dependency on God.

·         I try to keep the “Gospel perspective” (11/7/10).

remembering that we continually fall short of the glory of God, and he continually forgives and loves us, and helps us grow. And this reinforces our dependency on God’s grace.

If my sermons only serve to motive you to “try harder,” then I have utterly failed. But if they send you in desperate dependency on “the grace of our Lord,” then I have succeeded.

·         Speaking of leadership – it is only because of your depravity that you need a spiritual leader.

2. Example of faith and hope

Next, in chapter 8:

Ezra 7:28; 8:21-23  Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me...[List of those who went, about 1,500]...

 21 ¶ There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions.  22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”  23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

Now this story strikes me as odd – the value of the gold and silver they are transporting is in well in the millions, perhaps billions. Think of all the movies that involve some big heist.

Q   Is Ezra stepping out in faith or merely being stupid

The guys with Ezra probably had their doubts! I mean, there were 1,500 of them, but how many people knew about their cargo?

·         Accepting an escort wouldn’t have been wrong – in the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah specifically asks for an escort!

Ezra knew that God was calling them to act in faith. That is what it came down to, and God came through.  

I can’t give you a test – as children of God, we walk a fine line between depending on God and doing our part, and it is not always easy to know the difference.

·         Sometimes we have to “take a flyer,” and risk things.

But godly counsel is vital. I believe that God has called this church to attempt something we can’t do on our own, but I listened to the Elders first.

The business of hope

Ezra knew the rough road ahead of them, he knew that getting to Jerusalem was the easy part. He had to be the one standing up and saying “The problem is big, but God is much bigger.”

·         The next 40 years were going to be far tougher than the 4 month trip.

Ezra’s saying, “Guys, we need to look to God, not the king. We have doubted him on so many occasions, let’s prove our faith.” Here’s another lesson here that strikes very close to my heart:

·         The pastor must be a shining example of faith and hope.

It is way more fun to be the critic, to point out all of the problems and say why something won’t work, and early on in my new position here I was the cynic, the critic.

But God started speaking to me through Peter about the important of hope, then I read an article that has shaped my pastoring, called “Hope Management” by pastor and author John Ortberg:

In the middle of a Great Depression, or World War II, or a capital campaign, or a staff crisis, people inevitably wonder: “Can we get through this? Is it worth all the effort and confusion? Can we really overcome this challenge?”

They inevitably look to the person at the core; the man or woman leading the charge, the one who sees the big picture.

When people see a leader with this kind of vital optimism, who radiates a sense that together we can do what needs to be done, then people tend to decide not to waste their energy wondering about “if” but focus their energy going after “how.”

On the other hand, when Eeyore is at the helm, the whole ship is in trouble. Eeyore may be the most intelligent, gifted, attractive, educated, credentialed person in the room. But if he or she is easily deflated, sensitive to defeat and criticism, and de-motivated by setbacks, the whole community begins the long slow spiral downward.

God showed me that cynicism is a luxury pastors cannot afford. This attitude tells the church that God is not good and that he is not capable of pulling them through.

And that is a key role that God gives the Elders as you spiritual leaders:

When you are discouraged by your own failures, we can say “God is still loves you.”


When tragedy strikes, we can remind you, “God is good.”


When the world seems so horrible, we can say, “God is bigger.”


When the church faces setback, we can say, “God will get us through.”

3. Enforcing “church” discipline

Finally, in chapter 9-10, we get to the most troubling story and the least popular role of pastors:

Ezra 9:1-3  After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.  2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”  3 ¶ When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.

Ezra 10:2-3  2 Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel.  3 Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.

In other words, “We really shouldn’t have married these women, so we will make it right by divorcing them and sending them and the kids packing.”

Q   Does this bother anyone else?

Understanding the problem

The first thing we need understand is that this was not an ethnic issue, it as a religious issue. We know from earlier (6:21) that Gentiles that converted were allowed to become part of Jewish people.

·         In fact, by the end of it, only 113 wives were divorced, means that the majority of them converted.  

Second, we need to understand that at numerous points in Israel’s history it was specifically because of these marriage to unrepentant pagans that they fell into sin:

·         The Midianites, they almost conquered Israel with women.

·         Solomon’s heart was pulled away by his pagan wives.

·         Jezebel brought great sin into Israel.

·         Her daughter nearly wiped out the Davidic line

As Ezra saw it, God had just forgiven over 500 years of unfaithfulness and they were doing it again. It would be like the “repentant” husband being calling his mistress.

Was it a good thing to have these men divorce their wives and send them away? No, but it was better than the option.

·         Sin has a way of messing things up so badly that there are no easy options left, just the lesser of many evils.

Big sins require a big response

Here is the lesson that we need to take away from this: Sometimes pastors have to make very hard calls in order to protect the church.

We call this “church discipline.” Or rather this is the last stage of church discipline. Discipline is not meant to be such a negative thing.

The ideal is we all will exercise self-discipline, and between that a guidance we won’t need anything else. But how often does the ideal happen? That’s why Jesus set’s up this process:

Matthew 18:15-17  15 ¶ “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 

Notice the way is supposed to work: Brother Bob is acting in an ungodly manner, contrary to his professed beliefs. This isn’t minor stuff, these are the big, damaging things.

·         An affair, heresy, illegal things, and will damage the body.

Maybe his sins against you, or you have a relationship with him and know you can speak into his life.

1. You go directly to him, not involving anyone else. But he just puts you off and calls you judgmental, whatever.

2. You go to one or two others that love Bob, and try again (working in community when at all possible, and not involving others).

3. You go to the Elders, as the representatives of the church.

We plead with him, show him in Scripture, try to get him to understand the damage of his actions, to him and the church. After all that, we have to do something we really don’t want to do and kick him out of the church.

Q   Is this a good thing? No! But we have no other options. 

Even as we do so, we are clear that we want to restore him, to bring him back into the church and explain what needs to happen.

Q   Can you see how this that requires spiritual leadership?

Our hope is the people will lead themselves, but if they will not, they will need others to lead them. And don’t we all need a swift kick in the pants from time to time?

·         It’s like hiring a professional trainer to help you do what you already know to do.  

Summing it up

To sum this all up: To be a Christian is to be submitted to Christ as our shepherd. He then places us under the authority of “under-shepherds.”

·         This isn’t because they’re more important or better, but he’s equipped them with a specific role in the body of Christ.  

Rather than struggling against our authority, lean into it, taking advantage of how God has called us to serve, just as we seek to equip you to serve how he has called you.

Secondly, perhaps God is calling you to eldership. If you think so, take time to carefully consider the requirements in 1 Timothy 3, as they are the first level of requirements.

From there we look for men who are already members, are connected into a community group, and are serving and giving to the church, all of which demonstrates that they are committed to the mission of the church.

Pastor Dad

Finally, to husbands and fathers: I recently read a book called “Pastor Dad.” The book itself was good, but I was simply struck by the title. You are called to be a pastor to your family.

·         Know the Word well enough to live and instruct your family.

·         Lead your family with hope and faith.

·         Bring discipline when needed.

God holds you responsible for your family. This doesn’t mean that you are superior to your wife, any more than God is superior to Jesus (the same language of submission is used for both, 1 Cor. 15:28).

·         And even I submit to the Elders and learn from them, husbands must submit to their wives (Eph. 5:21) and learn from them.  

Q   What can you do if you are a single mom or your husband is not a Christian?

You do your best to fill in that role, and God will give you a grace he doesn’t give to others. And try to find godly men to have around your kids.

Q   What if your husband is a Christian but won’t be the pastor?

Then you use the Matthew 18 process: Go to him about it, if he refuses to listen, bring in a godly friend or two of his (if possible). If that doesn’t work, being in the Elders.

·         We might temporarily deputize Bill Wheeler to help with the convincing.

Q & A  

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