by Lizwi Ntuli  |  9 October 2018  |  

When I was in primary school, I read a story about a king who loved nice clothes. Each time he bought a new suit, he would call his subjects to gather so that he would parade before them. One day two men came to town and announced to the king that they could weave a unique suit for the king, in that it was invisible to stupid people: only the wise could see the suit. The king gave them a room in which they would do this work. The day came when everyone was invited to see the king in his new suit. The announcement was made: only the wise could see this suit. Everyone said the suit was nice and the tailors had done a very splendid job—until a child strapped on her mother’s back said: “Mom, look, that man is naked!” By then the tailors of the “invisible suit” had disappeared.

When I read Revelation 3:14-18, I thought of this story. This passage is about a church leader who thinks he is spiritual when he is anything but; a pastor who thinks that he can see when he is blind; a conference president who thinks he is spiritually well-dressed when he is naked.

To those who are fidgeting in their seats and seriously hoping that I ‘touch not the anointed,’ I’m sorry that I am going to disappoint you. Each letter of Revelation 2 and 3 is prefaced with, “Unto the angel of…write…” My current interpretation of “angel” in those passages is that those angels are church leaders, so we have to look carefully at them.

As someone who has stayed in the church for more than 30 years, I think I can tell you something of my church leaders. Here is what to watch for:

Watch his sermon:

If you want to hear the word from the Lord, listen to the Adventist pastor in the pulpit. I have heard sermons that have transported me right into the third heaven. Sometimes it is especially true when the pastor is still untrained at church institutions, because he speaks from the heart with few notes, and is correspondingly powerful.

After training, though, he starts placing his hands in the pocket a lot, and his sermons become laced with Greek terms. “This word in the Greek means…”—and on and on. He also loses track of time because he must read his sermon to the last sentence. Very likely he’ll preach from his laptop computer and a projector, showing pictures and nice word art.

Don’t get me wrong: visual aids are powerful tools in the hands of a wise preacher. The problem with my trained pastor is that he does not like to be posted in villages where there is no electricity.

We also begin to sense that he is serving his parish impatiently, waiting for three years to elapse so he can vie for a job at the conference office.

The most disappointment you can suffer is to believe that he necessarily lives the message. Sometimes his lifestyle is totally different from what happens on the pulpit. It is like God is using Balaam to bless Israel—when all he wants is to curse Israel and get the promised house full of money. Matthew 23:3 applies here: do what he tells you but not what he does.

Watch his smile:

The pastor is called upon to smile a lot even when he does not mean it. You may be hurt if you trust the firm handshake and the smile that follows. That smile maybe displayed to you because you happen to be the one who returns the highest amount of tithe at your church. What it means is that if you default, that smile may disappear.

We all love friends and it is very disturbing to realize that one you thought was your friend was only your wealth’s friend. So while you may be generous to the pastor by delivering groceries from time to time, never think you can buy his friendship when his interests are threatened. It’s nothing personal: he also wants to survive.

Watch his promises:

When you present your problem to the pastor, take into account that you are not the only one who unburdens yourself to him. The deacon came first and told him unsavory things about you. So when the pastor says, “I’ll look into it,” take it with a pinch of salt. At the end of the day, he will balance the stories he heard from you and others and make a decision that is in his best interests, even if those interests directly conflict with yours.

I had that unfortunate experience some years back. I had presented my case to the pastor before others had done so and he promised to sort things out. I do not know what others told him, but when I came back for feedback, his daughter told me he was away—that he would be back two days later. Something held me back from leaving that town that day and I decided to attend a funeral of an elder. The pastor was present, but he disappeared before I could talk to him. Draw your own conclusions.

Watch his wife:

Our pastors get their wives from the same pool like the rest of us. Unlike priests of old who were strictly forbidden from marrying non-virgins, today’s pastor can get married to anyone. Just remember that it was the husband who was called to the ministry, not his wife.

Do not be surprised, if you are a woman here in Africa, if the pastor’s wife advises you to go to a witch-doctor to control your husband. It also means that she has tamed her husband, the pastor, too because she cannot recommend a concoction which she has no proof that it works.

Someone of you are seething at what I have said. Before you gnash your teeth and gather stones, let me remind you that a leader has vicarious liability to those under his care. In Zechariah 3, Joshua had dirty clothes; the mess on his clothes did not belong to him alone. Ezekiel was pulled by the hair by God in Ezekiel 8 and 9 for the sins of his countrymen.

It is safe to conclude that the pastor I have described above is just but a cross-section of what we members are like in God’s eyes.

So dear pastor or conference president, did you know that you are a reflection of your members?   

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things [come from One called] the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that you are [non-committal], I wish that you could commit yourself one way or the other. So because you are sitting on the fence, I will throw you out. You boast a lot about being rich and in no need for help, yet the reality is that you are wretched [a tramp!] miserable [sullen – your smile is fake!], poor [you are wallowing in debt from overused credits cards and the mafia is after you for unpaid debts], blind [you do not have a clue as to what the real issues today are], and spiritually naked [like that emperor who paraded naked because he was scared of admitting that he could not see or feel any clothes]

If I were you…”—but you know the rest of the story

Revelation 3:14-18, NEV [Ntuli Extended Version].

Lizwi Alpha Ntuli was born in central Zimbabwe. He has worked in the aviation industry, as a colporteur, and is currently a court interpreter in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe.

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