Some of the strongest warnings in the Bible are directed to leaders who mislead God's people, to prophets and priests and pastors and teachers who by their example or their doctrine lead the sheep into sinful conduct and destructive beliefs.
Be very careful not to hurt God's flock! You are touching the apple of His eye, and He does not take this lightly.
Recently, I was speaking to a pastor about a major church in his city that had just announced its support for committed homosexual unions, sending shockwaves throughout the region, since it is a highly influential church that claims to be "evangelical."
I said to him, "There are obviously other areas of compromise in their midst," to which he replied, "When we met with the one of their key pastors, he explained that he was now 'inclusive' when it came to salvation" — meaning that people of all religions are saved through Jesus, even if they don't believe in Him, as long as they don't willfully opt out.
The pastor also told me that, "The leader I was speaking with dropped F-bombs during our interaction and then lit up a cigarette as soon as we went outside."
Is it any surprise that this pastor has now changed his beliefs about homosexuality?
Every leader sets an example for better or worse, and when our example is substandard, it is not only repeated by those who follow us, it is exaggerated, opening up a floodgate of destruction on those for whom Jesus died.
We dare not play games with the lives of those who were purchased at the high cost of Jesus' blood. As Paul said to the Ephesian elders, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).
When God spoke to Jeremiah about the sins of the false prophets, he was devastated: "My heart is broken within me; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and because of his holy words" (Jeremiah 23:9; I once heard a preacher use this verse to justify getting "drunk in the Spirit"; what an abuse of the Word!).
The prophets of Samaria had been guilty of prophesying in the name of Baal, misleading the nation. But what the prophets of Jerusalem did was even worse, "... in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah" (Jeremiah 23:14).
They prophesied in the Lord's name but lived in sin and led the people into sin. As a result, the ungodly were strengthened, the godly were discouraged, and no one turned from evil.
And it was the sin of the false prophets that led to the destruction of Jerusalem: "Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading" (Lamentations 2:14).
To God's people, I say in the strongest possible terms: Beware of those who make light of sin, who trivialize holiness, who throw a wet blanket on the fires of conviction, who minimize repentance, and who brand others "legalistic" and "religious" because of their devotion to the Lord. Beware!
Such shepherds do not have the heart of God and, rather than protecting the sheep, are leading them to slaughter.
Paul was so burdened about false teachers that he warned the Ephesian believers about this for three years, night and day with tears, saying, "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30).
That's why he exhorted Timothy, as a young leader, to "set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity," reminding him to "keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:12, 16).
Pastors, when you indulge in ungodly entertainment and compromised living then demonstrate your "freedom" by speaking about it from the pulpit, referencing the latest unclean movie in your oh-so-cool sermons, you spew filth on those whom Jesus has cleansed, encouraging them to follow in your footsteps — and beyond.
You will have to answer to God for this one day. (I write this while trembling on the inside.)
It's the same when you minimize God's standards for marriage, divorcing and remarrying without cause.
There is spiritual and moral blood on your hands.
And what of those who preach deceptive and destructive doctrines of carnal prosperity, appealing to greed and motivated by greed, manipulating the gullible flock to their personal financial gain? What does God say to them?
In the words of Peter, "They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!" (2 Peter 2:14)
Perhaps many of our contemporary leaders have not fallen this far, but to the extent we are leading God's people away from purity and truth by our example and our teaching, we are in serious danger.
Repent, my fellow-leaders, before it is too late, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
And to the sheep who are being misled, I urge you in the fear of the Lord: Run for your lives and get into a place of health and safety. There are plenty of godly leaders who will help you, not harm you.
And to each of those godly leaders I say, "Be strong and be faithful. Your reward will be great."