Many of our church leaders wield a great deal of power, be it self-importance or the importance parishioners place upon the leader. There was a time when I regarded the pastor of my church as being closer to God than anyone I knew. I thought his prayers were heard above mine, and he was the “pipeline” to God’s ears. I looked up to the pastor of the church with much admiration, almost with adoration. He was the middleman between God and me. But I was not the only person in the congregation with “stars in my eyes.” In the wrong hands, this adoration can lead to a cult following, or even worse.
There are many examples of following the pastor too closely, such as the cult headed by extremist Warren Jeffs. I think back a few years to a compound in Waco Texas, or back even further to the cult headed by Jim Jones, where 900 people committed suicide at Jones’ demand. These are extreme cases, but in all these cases, and probably countless more, people looked to the leader perhaps as a substitute for Jesus Christ.
There is NO substitute for Jesus Christ. He is the One and Only. My pastor deserves great respect, but not adoration. He is just like me, a swimmer in the ocean of humanity, seeking a better way. That better way can only be achieved by following Christ and Him alone. The pastor is a tour guide along the way in conjunction with other sources of enlightenment.
There was a time when I longed for Christ’s assurance that He actually exists. I was willing to accept the substitute of a fellow sinner in Christ’s place. I was so wrong. But my longing for Christ in my life was so right. I prayed, and I sought His guidance. Jesus has never let me down.
Placing too much importance upon one individual to be the middleman between God and an individual places an unfair burden upon the church leader. It can also lead to the temptation on the part of the leader to encourage a cult-type following.
Personally, I was far better off when I learned how to diversify the sources of my edification, a little like a personal financial portfolio. I don’t put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. My prayers have been answered through the voices of many. Often I am reminded that Christ is with me whenever I read Mathew 28:20, where Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of time.”