The Burden of Leadership

Leviticus 1-4

Something unusual pops out of the description of the offerings so carefully detailed as the book of Leviticus begins.

If the anointed priest sins [unintentionally], bringing guilt on the people, …” (4:3). Then follows the instructions concerning the appropriate sacrifice that must be made to atone for that sin. As the chapter progresses, others are singled out:

If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden…they are guilty” (4:13).

When a leader sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden…he is guilty” (4:22).

If a member of the community sins unintentionally…he is guilty” (4:27).

In Israel’s history there were often corporate consequences to the sin of the individual, Achan being a prime example (Joshua 7). But here in this particular list the sin of the priest, however unintentional, is specifically mentioned as having consequences for the people not just for the individual who sinned. Beyond simple consequences, the writer uses the word “guilt.”

Such was the influence of the spiritual leader of the community. What he said and did was what others would say and do. If he was wrong, however unintentionally, others would be led astray by his example and share the guilt.

There is also the aspect of guilt by association. How many churches and their members have been declared guilty because of the actions of their spiritual leaders, intentional or otherwise?

James reminded his listeners that they shouldn’t covet the position of a leader: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” —James 3:1. In his day, the “Rabbi” or Teacher was highly regarded as a spiritual leader in the community. But such a position of leadership came with a price tag.

For those of us who lead, teach, write, or influence others in any way, the burden is great. We need to take extra care with our words and our actions. We need to examine our lives and allow the Holy Spirit to search out and destroy anything that could lead others astray, or tar others with the feathers of our mistakes.

Spiritual leadership brings with it a burden of responsibility not only for our own lives but for the lives of others. It has been well said that no man is an island. This is particularly true for those to whom others look as examples of what Christianity is all about.

Leader, beware.

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