Wineskins Archive

November 27, 2013

Pharisees, Tax Collectors and Leaders (Apr 2013)

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By Lee Keele

Let me begin with the story of Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, then I’ll make my point.

“Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer*: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Jesus, Luke 18:9-14

I love this story as a model for teaching a practical element of leadership. It occurred to me as I was reading through this very parable, thinking about leadership and asking the question… whom would I rather follow? It’s a great question isn’t it?

My first inclination was to say … I’d follow the Pharisee. Dude, really… I mean it! I would really prefer to follow someone who is obviously generous, not a cheater, won’t hit on my wife and his generally solid in his day to day behavior. I like this guy. I can relate to this guy. I think many of us can. Churches are lead by this guy! I am, in many ways… this guy! He is a good guy, right!?

Right! And …. Wrong!

Before I get into the obvious problem here, I want to address a leadership issue that our churches face.

Week after week, in many of our churches, we offer an “altar call” or as some of us would say it, an “invitation song.” It’s been a while quite frankly since I’ve offered an “invitation” song on Sunday mornings and equally frank is the truth that I don’t really miss it. Anyhoo, we offer those altar calls and what happens? Well, I tell you what I remember happening in churches of my youth. Not much. Yep. Not much at all.

Oh occasionally a person would meander to the front pew and everyone would raise eyebrows and wonder to themselves, “Wonder what so and so did?” “Why are they “going forward?”” Did they get caught smoking something? Did they have premarital sex? Did they go to a dance? Did they play cards for money?” But usually, and more often… nothing.

Now think about this. A guest has come to watch. To worship. To listen. To participate in this thing we call church. Every week they hear the preacher calling forward those who need repentance, or baptism, or desiring to place membership. Week after week they see the leaders of that church doing the same thing during the time when repentance is supposed to be publicly expressed. And what do people see church leaders do during the invitation song? Not much.

Think about the message that sends. What is the “guest” thinking? “Wow, these people don’t have many problems! These people don’t need to repent! These people must have it all together! Not sure I can belong here… life is falling apart for me!” I may be overstating the point, but I think it’s valid. When people never or very rarely see an elder, preacher, or church leader actively involved in repentance on some level, they begin to think we either 1) don’t have problems or 2) we’re good at pretending that we don’t. My guess is that most people would opt for #2.

On the other hand, consider the message that is sent when a church leaders steps forward to confess sin, to ask for prayer, to admit weakness. Those in the pews whose lives are also very much NOT perfect find a human connection. Now back to the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

I am not saying that we should all admit our grossest sin in the context of a public gathering. I am saying, however, that leaders must do just that… lead the way. We must be willing to share publicly the truth that we are… each and every one of us … absolutely human, weak, in need of repair and improvement. Maybe an invitation song isn’t the way to go (and I believe it isn’t). But we must find some way for the average church attender to witness the life transformation of their leaders on an ongoing basis.

Remember what Jesus said about the tax collector and the Pharisee. One of them was headed back to his home justified before God and the other was not. Which one do you want to follow? Which one of them, as a leader, do you want to be?

Let me offer a challenge in closing. Be both. Be a man or woman whose daily living is inscrutable. Hold to high standards of piety for yourself. Pray. Fast. Tithe. And by all means… do not be a thief or an adulterer. And then, when you go to pray, stand before God, realizing that in all your own good works, you still stand (as we all do) unworthy before Him. And then, if there are others who follow you standing in the room. . . let them see the real you and hear you say, “Lord, have mercy on me… a sinner.”

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