Sheep, sheep-like shepherds, shepherds, and wolves
Society and especially the churches are in perilous times. Therefore it’s imperative to discern the difference between shepherds and wolves.
There are three types of people in the church, as there are elsewhere. That’s a generalisation, but it can help us understand life. In Christian terms, those three types are Sheep, Shepherds and Wolves.
There are under-shepherds who are doing their humble best with the gifts God has given them to help other believers learn and apply the truths of God.
But here’s the rub: Any under-shepherd who is respected by sheep may turn out to be more sheep-like than shepherd-like. And sheep-like leaders can pretty easily be manipulated to enable the wolves, which means they abandon the sheep.
Here is a sketch of Sheep, Shepherds and Wolves in a typical church:
The Sheep are told that if they come along on Sunday, behave just so during the service (e.g. wave their hands in the air, or not wave their hands in the air), sing the songs just so, and believe the things they are told, they will become the children of God just so and Redemption is assured. They’re told they are amongst all good people and the Wolves are prowling around outside in the ‘world’. So they feel safe and good about themselves in this fantasy world.
The Shepherds tell this story just so and feel mighty important preaching this Feel-Good News and all will be well. God is smiling down on them. The importance they feel becomes pride, and distorted perceptions set in. Soon the Shepherds are attached to this image of the good people safe inside being led by good Shepherds (themselves) and the bad people (the Wolves) are all outside. So the Shepherds feel important in this fantasy world and become reliant on it.
The Wolves love this story because, in this story, the Wolves do not exist inside the walls of this feel-good-social-club and are free to fleece and cull the sheep at will. They are invisible. And the Sheep and the Shepherds will cover for them whenever the reality threatens to break cover and become visible, because everyone is all too attached to this fantasy feel-good safe world within the church.
Then someone comes along to blow the whistle to alert and protect others from the Wolves in their midst, and gets attacked by all the feel-good Sheep and Shepherds who would rather live in a fantasy.
So-called shepherds in the church could be broadly categorised into two groups
1. True under-shepherds for Jesus Christ (Eph 4:10-12).
True under-shepherds in the church must personally know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They must be following Christ and heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The office of under-shepherd (pastor, overseer, bishop, priest, elder) in the church requires character and capability. I’m going to quote the passages in 1 Timothy and Titus which set out the qualifications for under-shepherds. (Possible trigger warning for victims of abuse who have had these passages used against them.)
And a preliminary note about the phrase “the husband of one wife”. That phrase probably means a church leader should have exemplary sexual morality. It may be similar to our phrase “he only has eyes for one woman”. In other words, no ogling, no nursing of illicit sexual desires, no illicit sexual relationships, no concubines, no use of prostitutes or pornography. It does not mean the person can only be married once. (more about this on p 60 of my book Not Under Bondage)
A bishop must be faultless, the husband of one wife, sober, discreet, respectable; who is welcoming toward others and giving of shelter; able to teach; not drunken, no fighter; not given to the love of money, but gentle, abhorring quarrels, abhorring covetousness; and one who rules his own house well, having his children under obedience with all respectfulness. For if a man cannot manage his own house, how will he care for the congregation of God? He may not be a young scholar, lest he swell and fall into the judgment of the evil speaker. He must also be well reported of among those who are outside, lest he fall into rebuke and the snare of the evil speaker. (1 Tim 3:2-7)
…faultless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not known for running wild or disobedience. … not stubborn, not angry, no drunkard, no fighter; not given to the love of money, but welcoming toward people and willing to take them in; one who loves goodness, sober-minded, righteous, holy, temperate; and such as cleaves to the true word of doctrine, so that he may be able to exhort with wholesome teaching, and to refute those who speak against it. (Titus 1:5b-9)
Those two passages say that a church overseer should be “able to teach” — a person who “cleaves to the true word of doctrine, so that he may be able to exhort with wholesome teaching, and to refute those who speak against it”. If someone is able to teach and lead sheep as a true under-shepherd, that person must be able to think logically and handle multiple variables. See Logic and Authority in the Church.
Some people have the character and natural capability to function as true under-shepherds but they are not given any formal office of leadership.
2. Hirelings / hired servants / hired men
A hired servant, who is not the shepherd, neither are the sheep his own, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep, and flees; and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep. (John 10:12)
These people have been given the office of shepherd by a church or parachurch organisation. They are attracted to the office by status and pay; they are not committed to protecting the sheep. If they are deemed shepherds by an online community, they may not be paid for what they do, but they are attracted by the status of having a following.
These people do not understand Jesus’ saying, “What you did for the least of mine, you did for me”. (See Matt 25:41-46)
Some of these people are what I call “sheep-like shepherds”. Some them have believed in a Story Faith but do not personally know Jesus — they are not born again. Others are born again and know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, but, because they do not have the personal qualities to be a true under-shepherd, they are easily manipulated by the wolves and the wolf-master Satan. (See Logic and Authority in the Church).
Other hired servants are committed wolves, masquerading as shepherds but consciously working for their father Satan. Jesus warned us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt 7:15) The Apostle Paul said, “For I am sure of this, that after my departing, grievous wolves will enter in among you, who will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29)
Wolves always try to manipulate shepherds so that the wolves can get away with preying on the sheep. Furthermore, wolves will use blackmail and other devious arts to get the sheep-like shepherds to join in or go along with the wolfish evil agenda.
But the sure foundation of God remains, and has this seal: the Lord knows those that are his. And let everyone who calls on the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Tim 2:19)
Sheep in the church, broadly speaking, also fall into two groups
1. Those who personally know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
These people have been born again. They may not possess (or yet have developed) the qualities required to be a true shepherd. They are happy and willing to be led by shepherds.
These people tend to read the bible diligently; scripture feeds them and helps them grow in Christ. But it’s important to note that some genuine believers who are survivors of spiritual abuse choose not to read the bible much, because it triggers them. Their abusers used scripture as a weapon against them. They are taking personal responsibility to manage their triggers without being flooded.
Because the church is heavily weighted with hirelings, and because many of the hired servants are either wolves or have been recruited or blackmailed into complying with the wolfish agenda, these sheep can have a hard time discerning between the true under-shepherds and the hired servants. See Blindness exacerbated by group choice and group-leader choice
2. Those who have believed in a Story Faith but who are not actually born again.
These people do not personally know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They are happy with the church being a social club. They buy pretty much whatever the shepherds tell them.
These people tend to read the Bible rarely and then only skim it.
For all who care about humanity in these perilous times, and for all true Christians, it is imperative to discern the difference between true under-shepherds and hirelings.
Many of the ideas and words in this series come from James, an ACFJ commenter and guest poster. Used with permission.
Logic and Authority in the Church – by James
Why is the church so slow at responding rightly to the epidemic of abuse? – by Barbara Roberts
Jesus on Violence – by James. This addresses self-defence and defence of folks who are oppressed by wolves.