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The Leader Ripple Effect

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

"When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, "I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family." - II Samuel 24:17, NIV

Augustine has emerged as the clear victor in the theological war between "orthodoxy" and the wacky teachings of those Donatists way back in the fifth century. Thank goodness he did! Otherwise, we pastors today would be sunk!

Simply put, the Donatists believed and taught that for the sacraments to "work" the clergy performing said sacrament had to be perfect in his faith; that for grace to work through the sacrament, the clergy person also had to be in a state of grace.

The holiness of the clergy person was, therefore, inescapably tied to the sacraments and, in turn, to the layperson receiving or participating in said sacrament. The shepherd's spiritual life, or lack thereof, was tied to the efficacious nature of grace working in the sheep's life.

Put even more simply, the shepherd's health and well-being was tied to the health and well-being the sheep, spiritually speaking.

All clergy today, Protestant and Catholic alike, can take a deep sigh of relief that the Donatist theology did not prevail. Can you imagine serving in a belief system where your congregation's spiritual health directly depended on your own spiritual health? The vast majority of churches would be sunk if this were the case! I know that I have not always been faithful in keeping my spiritual life healthy.

Yet, I can't help but think that there is a kernel of truth in what those Donatists were saying.

In the passage quoted above, II Samuel 24:17, David has taken a census of his kingdom to find out how many soldiers are at his disposal. It turns out that there are approximately 1,300,000 "able-bodied men who could handle a sword (II Sam. 24:9)."

For some reason, David realizes this census was a sinful endeavor. He repents, but it's too late. The prophet Gad approaches him with a message from God. "This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you (II Sam. 24:12)."

Option A: Three years of famine.

Option B: Three months of running away from your enemies.

Option C: Three days of plague.

David weighs his options and decides that being punished directly by God is better than being punished by his enemies - nature or another tribal nation, perhaps those pesky Philistines. He goes with option "C."

The result was that 70,000 people died.

"When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, "I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family (II Sam. 24:17)."

Whether we want to admit it or not, leadership has a ripple effect. The decisions we make will impact people in many ways. Some of those impacts will be necessary for growth and change. Some of those impacts will sting and cause pain. For better or worse, an impact is an impact.

But you knew that already. That's "Leadership 101." More frightening is when we apply it to the personal - your personal life, the pastor behind the curtain, your spiritual health and well-being. Can decisions made or not made in that realm also impact the congregation? Does it really matter who I am when no one is looking? Will the congregation be affected by my personal life behind the scenes? If I my spiritual well runs dry, will my congregant's feel the affect of it?

The answer is, yes and no. I'm not a Donatist by any means, but we do have to admit there is some truth in their theology, even if only slightly.

The shepherd's health and well-being is tied to the health and well-being of the sheep. Who you are matters.

Now, thank goodness it's not the end all of the matter! We also know that ultimately our health and well-being is tied to Jesus Christ, the "Chief Shepherd." Nevertheless, we are supposed to be following in his footsteps; "sub-shepherds," entrusted with a flock.

Entrusted. That's big word. We are entrusted with someone else's flock - the Chief Shepherd's flock. We are merely stewards of this church. And we all know that God expects a lot out of his stewards! Just take a look at some of the things Paul told Timothy.

Who you are - spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally - matters to the well-being and health of the flock.

If none of that is convincing enough, just talk to a congregant in a church where a beloved pastor has had a marital affair.

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