Beware of Hirelings!
Throughout the Scriptures there have always been false prophets and false teachers who have arisen to deceive people and lead them away from the true God and from His Word. Their record extends from the ranks of the mixed multitude among the children of Israel, to the Pharisees, Scribes and Publicans of Jesus' day in the Gospels. While the titles and roles may differ somewhat, there are some common characteristics shared across time: the rejection of God, His Son, Jesus Christ and the transcendent power of God; the elevation and honor of men and man's wisdom; the perpetual undermining of God's work on earth, be it through a nation or the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church must be our focus of attention here, as the present target of opportunity, because the reality is that the Church is more threatened by decay from within than from direct attacks from without; especially when we address church leadership.
The problem described for us in Scripture, is the hireling. One of the stronger warnings from our Lord was His caution against hirelings, in John 10:11,12, where He says:
"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep." John 10:11,12
He further explains: "The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep." John 10:13
The contrast is not just between the Lord and the hirelings posing as shepherds of that day. The principles found in the contrast may be readily applied to those who are pastors or undershepherds in His service, as we follow His example of ministering to people. The basic distinction is the difference between hirelings caring for themselves and true shepherds caring for the welfare of the sheep. It is the significant difference between the devoted services of leadership and genuine care, in contrast with going through the motions while remaining focused upon our own welfare, self-service, self-preservation and success, even if it be at the expense of the sheep. It is self-evident as hirelings become more focused upon the rewards and perquisites of the ministry than the work of the ministry itself. Pride is evident, as hirelings exhibit a greater concern for how they look to themselves and to other people, than how their work reflects upon the testimony of Christ. The result is a flock, having no real undershepherd, that is more in danger from spiritual wolves in shepherd's clothing within, than with their known enemies without.
Lest anyone misunderstand, we are not saying the laborer is not worthy of his reward. Quite the contrary, the Scriptures are clear that "the laborer is worthy of his reward"and those "..who labor in the Word and doctrine.." are worthy of double honor (I Timothy 5:17,18) . Note well, however, the emphasis Paul places on hard work being done, specifically in the tasks of teaching and preaching God's Word. It echoes Peter's command to "Feed the flock of God" (I Peter 5:2). While there are other responsibilities, collectively gathered under the biblical term "oversight " in that same verse, the priority has always been the preaching. The emphases made by Paul and Peter in the texts cited raise the question of how the preaching and teaching the Word fare in our churches today. How much has changed under the leadership of hirelings who have minimized the time actually spent in the Word in a typical worship service and have watered down the messages preached into a blend of pop psychology and current events with some Biblical annotations? When the hireling has redefined the work of the ministry, for their own purposes, why should anyone be surprised by thin and powerless preaching, reflecting so little time is spent in serious study of the Scriptures and preparation. Feeding the flock by carefully exposition of the Word and proclaiming sound doctrine might threaten job security and popularity across the congregation. Hirelings care less about the feeding of the flock than providing for their own welfare, where flesh prevails over the Spirit.
There have always been hirelings and they reveal themselves as such throughout their ministries. Somewhere in their experience and/or education they have been enticed by some false sense of preeminence, glory and/or ease in the ministry. Perhaps the influence of some high profile preacher's personality or professed success of a well known ministry has created a distorted picture of what it means to be the Lord's undershepherd. Others have been persuaded to become imitators of men who were not really following Christ, and some have always been deceivers and professional charlatans throughout their ministries, making pretense and show for "filthy lucre," whose relationship with the "sheep" is one marked by manipulation, exploitation and even abuse.
In the I Peter 5 reference above, verse 3 warns against those who lord over their congregations, rather than leading by personal example. Heavy-handed leadership is also a mark of hirelings, in a unilateral exercise of inordinate power over their people. Much like the professional politicians, power is a heady symptom of pride and self-will that in the hands of a hireling will always do far more harm than good to their people. While there must be pastoral leadership and authority, their exercise must be both Scriptural and Christlike to be valid and the motivation behind it must be genuine care for the sheep, rather than shameful gain. There is no justification for an undershepherd to be a dictator. Neither is there any excuse for trampling congregational authority and perverting the office of pastor and the work of shepherding the flock.
There have also been undershepherds who over time, behave more like hirelings. The beginning of their ministries were usually marked by tremendous zeal and fervor for the work of the ministry. They cared less for the praise of men, they faithfully preached and taught the Word, they served their people and rejoiced to see the blessings of God upon their labors. When circumstances changed, however, and their attention was distracted from the Lord and from His sheep, and more to themselves, other ministries and interests, their perspectives changed with the passing of time. Long before the hireling flees physically, his heart has already turned away from the true work of an undershepherd and he withdraws into a colder, more mechanical and "strictly business" manner in his ministry. The problem with adopting the spirit of a hireling is that, in their heart of hearts, they know the differences between being an undershepherd and being a hireling. They also know, however, what tradeoffs they have rationalized in their own minds to behave like a hireling and because of pride few ever confess their foolishness, or repent and return to the proper role of undershepherd. Ultimately, many of these will leave their current ministry to find the proverbial greener pastures or will leave the ministry altogether, which may be better than destroying another congregation.
In a previous writing, we described the impact of Conventionism, specifically the welfare program called the Ministers and Missionaries Fund (M & M). What originally was offered as a pension fund for the benefit of those in full-time ministry later became a cudgel to keep undershepherds onboard, as the Convention and affiliated ministries compromised themselves into ecumenical oblivion. Faithful pastors and missionaries still in the Convention were faced with a dilemma; whether to continue as true undershepherds of Christ and leave the convention, or yield to pragmatism and convention leadership pressures, and become just like hirelings. Some folded their banner and stayed, but others left with their biblical convictions intact, albeit less certain about their future. You see, hirelings are compelled to look the other way to continue in the company of compromisers and false teachers. Their own message can no longer represent Biblical truth and their slide into Pseudo-Christianity will all too quickly bring them to anti-Christianity. They are a threat to the spiritual welfare of people under their ministry, having betrayed their trust, through increasing collaboration with known enemies of Christ.
Today the threat is not so much conventionism as it is worldliness and worldly methods employed in ministry. There are men well known to us, in popular ministries, who spend increasing amounts of time looking the other way, when their preaching is preceded by blaring rock music and entertaining theater. While they strive to disconnect their preaching from the noise and entertainment- even editing it out of their television broadcasts- the people in the congregation who witness the whole service can see the contradiction and deceit. It is a religious schizophrenia, such as we have seen evolve in the Emerging Church and Conservative Evangelicalism. Hirelings also look the other way as they indirectly endorse other unworthy hirelings, with whom they share a platform or conference, who will not hesitate to make merchandise of trusting sheep for their own profit.
While we may presume these hirelings are a safe distance away from us, we would be deceived to think they have no influence upon young men in seminary or upon the people in our congregations. Their books and conferences have taken their toll upon the hearts of many preparing for the Gospel ministry. Their media savvy has taken advantage of new avenues and created inroads of misinformation and skewed education, redefining the role of undershepherd further apart from the Biblical model of Christ. It is no longer the flesh or the Spirit, but a contrivance of flesh and Spirit.
In similar fashion, we might be surprised by number of religious television and radio programs in which our people indulge themselves. Setting aside the fact that few, if any, of these programs actually present the Gospel, we have yet another form of the hireling who seeks paths to bypasse the local church to fleece their sheep. Like some agencies and schools that directly appeal to our people for financial contributions and bequests, these hirelings directly market to our seniors and families, drawing resources away from the church for their own benefit. Something is seriously wrong when local churches and schools and agencies are competing for the same dollars. Furthermore, the issue of accountability must also be addressed.
While accountability is always ultimately unto God, as at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ ( II Corinthians 5:10), there is an accountability now, here on earth. Part of the task of an undershepherd is to provide direction and information to safeguard the investments of the congregation in ministries beyond the local church. While the typical hireling may attempt to hoard all the church resources for himself, he may also direct the people to squander the Lord's money on unscriptural and/or corrupt ministries. An undershepherd must be above such corruption, mindful of the account to be given for their leadership over the sheep (Hebrews 13:17).
If some of the things sound familiar or reflect a point in time in our own ministry, then we must consider the possibility that anyone of us can become like a hireling, even if only temporarily. Warning signs ought not be ignored. I doubt that anyone could describe pastoral ministry as monotonous, but ruts in preaching and routines in leadership can occur and when the tasks of the ministry are reduced to a set of mechanical steps that will sap the spiritual fervor of any ministry.
Another issue closely related is being so overwhelmed by detail that we lose sight of the larger picture. While the whole machine of the local church relies upon all the wheels of preaching, Sunday School, outreach, missionaries, youth ministries spinning together in the right way, we need to ask where it is all going. One of the perils of Incrementalism is that the steps may be so small that we do not realize where we are being taken. Years ago, a personnel manager would conclude the interview of a prospective employee by going for a drive. The prospect was behind the wheel and the manager continued their conversation as they drove through the traffic. The conversation wasn't really important, nor the impact of being distracted by driving while talking. The manager was observing whether the prospect drove in response to what was immediately before him or whether he drove with anticipation of what could be seen some distance ahead. It was the latter practice that sealed the job.
The Church desperately needs undershepherds. Hirelings will only undermine the ministry of the Gospel and bring reproach upon the name of Christ. The whole business of being seeker sensitive and marketing to people's felt needs can only breed more hirelings, as they make merchandise of the people. True undershepherds, who Biblically feed their flocks and warn and guard them from the dangers around them, cannot be tolerated for long by a worldly congregation. Only pretending pastors will be tolerated by pretending believers. That was the conclusion of the prophet Jeremiah:
"The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?" Jeremiah 5:31
We need to guard our own hearts, lest the spirit of the hireling made inroads there and spoil the blessings of serving the Lord with everything that we are and have. We need the liberty of preaching the whole counsel of God's Word without second thoughts about how much it may cost us to be faithful to the Lord. Our task is to bring honor and glory to the Good Shepherd. In the words of another Philadelphian, Benjamin Franklin:
"Those who trade liberty for security deserve neither liberty, nor security."
Dr. Charles L. Dear
Editor, THE REVIEW