A Lesson from Ezra for Ministers and Church Leaders
As ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and church leaders wherever God has planted us, we can learn much about church leadership from the life of Ezra in the Old Testament. Ezra was a priest, a scribe, and an expert in the law to the Jewish community in Jerusalem, exiles from Babylonian captivity, 458 BC.
Let’s first look at Ezra’s story in chapters nine and ten. “After these things had been done…” (9:1). What things? Worship and taking care of business as indicated in 8:35-36. Ezra was busy doing God’s work. We’re not sure how much time elapsed between Ezra’s arrival and when, “the leaders approached me and said: ‘The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves’…”. In other words, there was sin in the camp. How did Ezra not know this? Leaders under Ezra had to bring the people’s sin to his attention.
What did Ezra do? “When I heard this report, I tore my tunic and robe, pulled out some of the hair from my head and beard, and sat down devastated” (9:3). He personally identified with the sins of his people with repentance and prayer. “While Ezra prayed and confessed, weeping and falling facedown before the house of God, an extremely large assembly of Israelite men, women, and children gathered around him. The people also wept bitterly” (10:1). Shecaniah steps forward with an encouraging word and offers a solution: “But there is still hope for Israel in spite of this” (10:2). Shecaniah goes on to say in verse four, “Get up, for this matter is your responsibility, and we support you. Be strong and take action!” Did you hear that? Shecaniah was unafraid to face his superior head on with the truth and a show of support.
Ezra then begins the hard work of getting everyone and everything in line with God’s Word. This was a heart-breaking and tough situation that affected the priests (who were some of the worst offenders) and Levites as well as the common people. Something had to be done and it had to be done now. Ezra knew the history of God’s people all too well and the severe consequences when sin was not confronted and removed from the camp. Life only got worse when God’s people failed to repent, turn away from sin, and seek after the One True God and follow His guidelines for life and conduct. Did everyone agree with Ezra and what he was doing? I think not (10:15).
Let’s bring Ezra’s story down to where we live today. As pastors, ministers, and leaders of God’s church, we can no longer act like we don’t see the wrong. God has given us a responsibility to lead His way and not ignore a situation in need of correction hoping that it will just all go away on its own. Sin never just disappears; it is messy. At times we must investigate and search out the matter for ourselves and not simply take the word of someone else. We must use the brain God gave us and form our own conclusions in light of God’s Word. Sin demands a response, and action must be taken to get back in step with God if we want His blessings on our lives, our ministry, and our nation. Will everyone agree with us? Probably not, but whose approval is more important to us—God’s approval or the approval of our peers? Like Ezra, are we willing to humble ourselves, confess our sin, repent, and then roll up our sleeves and do the hard work?
If God has called us to lead in His church, then let’s lead, because one day soon, we will give an account to God for our actions or the lack thereof. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).