A little over a year ago I went to Israel for the first time. If you haven’t been, I can’t urge you enough to go to the land where Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jesus and the Apostle Paul lived. Just being in the place where the apostles, prophets and our Lord lived, served and preached will change your life. There is just something awesome about visiting a place that connects you to its history.
One of my favorite memories of that trip was the half mile journey through Hezekiah’s tunnel. Sometimes called the Siloam tunnel because it dumps fresh water into the pool of Siloam, it is a tiny tunnel built in the eastern side of Jerusalem in the late 8th century BCE. It was built in order to prepare Israel for an occupation from the Assyrians and to protect their water if the city were to be surrounded.
When you walk through the tunnel, you have to wear water shoes because the entire trip, approximately the length of 5 football fields, you will be walking in at least ankle high water. You also must be in decent shape, because if you get tired, there is no turning back. The cave is about the width of your shoulders (I saw some people not allowed to go in because they were just too big) and even if you have never felt claustrophobic before, you probably will when you make this trip.
But what really got me during this awesome hike was how this tunnel was built. The story goes that Israelites carved this tunnel from both directions and met in the middle. People debate whether that is true, but someone did dig this very long tunnel and it must have been a very stressful venture. There is also some evidence that some fighting did occur in this tunnel and I can’t image how horrible this would have been.
During tonight’s episode of the Walking Dead, I couldn’t help but think of my experience in Hezekiah’s tunnel. As our heroes (even 6 foot 2 Jerry) tried to squeeze through narrow caves, all while fighting Whisperers and Walkers around each corner, I didn’t blame Carol for breaking down. I know that we aren’t used to seeing Carol like this, but while stuck in those narrow caves, her fear got the best of her. This is just another example of a situation that our people get into that would test the leadership and resolve of any team.
When you think about it, almost every week we see the leadership tested for every group on the Walking Dead. You could almost argue that this is what the show is actually about – How extreme stress affects the relationships and leadership structures of any given group.
You also realize that the Whisperers probably built those tunnels (why else would there by dynamite) and that they probably lost a few of their people under these very stressful conditions.
Alpha is in charge of this group and finally we are starting to see that her style of leadership is starting to strain her group. Like Negan, she uses fear to control people, but there is clearly a downside to that type of leadership – trust. When you lead that way, it is harder to know who to trust.
This week Negan, who is hanging out with the Whisperers after his escape, points this out to Alpha.
Negan: Believe it or not, I have been where you are right now. And if you don’t want to end up where I am right now, I suggest you zig where I zagged.
Alpha: You and I very different.
Negan: I had people. I had a system. I thought they believed in it, just like you. See, the thing is, you stay king or queen long enough, with people telling you all day, every day that your sh*t don’t stink, eventually, you start to believe it. The thing is it still stinks.
Negan is pointing out that the downside to leading with fear, is that you don’t know who you can trust, and who you can’t. Alpha is probably aware that when people are disillusioned about the Whisperers, they probably won’t tell her. They will just continue to flatter her. And if your only goal is to stay in charge, you need to ignore the flattery.
But this is hard to do as a human being, because most of us not only like flattery, we tend to really care what people think about us. So, when people flatter us, we want to believe them. But if you are Alpha, you must not care what people think and live with the loneliness that is inevitable in these situations.
This is one of the biggest challenges for any leader, even leaders in ministry. The truth is that even Christians can manipulate and often they use flattery to do so.
Apostle Paul dealt with this constantly in his letters to churches in the earliest history of Christianity. Almost every letter that he writes to a church in the ancient world deals with this, and based on my own experience, it still happens in the church today.
An excellent example of this is found in the book of Galatians where Paul is addressing a church that is falling prey to false teaching.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:6-10 (NIV)
While Paul has some pretty harsh words about people who do this, he simply points out that God will take care of them (vs 8 and 9). But notice how Paul explains the perspective you need to have in order to do this. He asks in verse 10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?” Paul is clearly pointing out that this is why people are pushing false teachings. They are trying to win approval from people not God. And people do not always approve of Godly things, when their power or comfort are on the line.
The simple fact is that if you care about approval from God and not people, flattery will not work. It will be much easier to have an honest view on your choices and your leadership decisions. But most importantly, you don’t have to worry about trust when it comes to God. If there is one thing that strong believers in the bible have in common, it is that you must care more about what God thinks than what people think.
This means that the scriptures must be our guide to our leadership decisions, not the opinions of influential people. And you don’t have to look far in the history of the people of God to see examples of God’s people caring more about what the culture teaches than what the bible does. Starting with a golden calf all the way to the Christians who sided with the Nazis during the holocaust, there are plenty of examples of people simply going the way that the wind blows instead of doing it God’s way. And I would be lying if I were to say that the church isn’t dealing with these types of decisions today. The fact is that we can’t always trust what people in the world say, but we can’t always trust in the word of God.
SEASON 10, EPISODE 9 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
1) Carol seems to be more frightened than usual in this episode. Do you think that it is just the claustrophobia or do you think that the stress is finally getting to her? Why or why not?
2) Negan is telling Alpha not to trust all the voices of the people around her, but do you think that she also needs to do the same with Negan’s words? Why or why not?
3) Who do you think is doing more manipulating, Negan or Alpha? Both or neither? Why or why not?
4) Do you think that Negan is on Alpha’s side? Why or why not?
5) Paul says essentially that you can’t be a servant of Christ if you are trying to please people (vs 10). Why do you think he says this?
6) What do you think it is about “serving people” (instead of God) that makes it so hard to serve God at the same time?
7) What things can we do to make sure that God’s voice is louder in our lives than those of the people around us?
8) If this is true, how can we know that we can trust the people around us? Is there a way to check that their words are aligned with God?
9) What role do you think the scriptures have in finding truth in a world full of lies?
10) Is there an area in your personal life where you should listen to God more than those around you? If so, what do you need to do about it?
Thom McKee Jr. is a husband, father, pastor… and film geek (and brother of Jonathan McKee). Thom lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids.