In Matthew 13:25-30, Jesus uses a parable to illustrate the fact that not everyone who attends church or claims to be a Christian is the genuine article. In the parable, we learn that an enemy has sown weeds (tares) in the wheat field to displace the good crop. The implication is that anything that is of value will be counterfeited for selfish ends and we should not be surprised when we find non-believers in our churches. This sounds so black and white and from God’s perspective, perhaps it is.
My experience in the church has shown me that even among believers there is “tarish” behavior. These are people who may have a genuine relationship with God, but are not following the Apostle Paul’s command to renew their minds (Romans 12:1-2) and grow. As a result, they remain stuck in their behavior and fail to progress in spiritual growth.
It is doubly concerning when these tarish Christians rise to positions of leadership and influence within the church. Too often leaders rise in the church because they are talented, driven or both. I have in mind a real church in a real city where a very gifted preacher took the primary leadership position from his predecessor who retired. The gifted preacher was not of sufficient character to be effective in leadership of that church but his talent masked this fact for a long time. But in the end, he left a swath of destruction within his family and within that church which could no longer be masked.
Now, you might argue that Jesus is using the tares to illustrate non-believers and this talented preacher certainly could not have been a non-believer. Yes, I’m certain that he had indeed made a profession of faith and it is likely that his theology was Biblical correct and well understood. Yet, James tells us that our faith is evidenced by our works and when a leader has a pattern of hurting people and leaves carnage behind him, one might not question his beginning in faith, but one certainly must question his continued growth.
I’m writing this because a good friend of mine is still reeling from the devastation that resulted from the imprudent selection of this man to be the pastor in that real church in a real city. I have a mixture of sadness and anger in response to this situation. In praying and thinking about this, I was reminded about the parable of the tares. In a sense God was saying to me, don’t be surprised by this. Also the parable teaches me that in addition to being unsurprised, I should also be aware that the Master Harvester has it under control, knows the situation and will respond accordingly.
The good news is that the existence of a thousand counterfeits does not nullify the existence of the real thing. There are many churches where the pastor and leadership team are seeking personal growth in their relationship with God and are seeking to lead others into that growth. While these genuine shepherds may not have the glitz, polish and dynamism that the great orators possess, a steady diet of teaching from such a man will provide for real growth. Meatloaf, string beans and potatoes may not have the pizzazz of sushi, filet mignon or pad thai, but the lack of pizzazz does not detract from its nutritional value.
Satan, the enemy who sows tares, will occasionally be lucky enough to get one of those tares into leadership. While this is regrettable, we should not be surprised. God certainly is not.