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The Good Shepherd
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In 'Savage Shepherd,' we addressed a very troubling issue facing the body of Christ - spiritual abuse, especially as it manifests in pastoral leadership in churches. In this article, we'd like to take a look at what proper pastoral leadership looks like. (For the sake of this discussion we are going to assume that the pastor has a saving, intimate relationship with Jesus. If your pastor doesn't, share the Gospel with him!)
When God places a pastor in a church, there are a few basic responsibilities that the pastor must fulfill. Just as a shepherd is there to take care of his flock, so is a pastor to take care of his church. The flock must be fed and doctored when necessary. The flock must also be protected from enemies that would love nothing more than to devour the individuals of the flock. Some enemies have an overt desire to do damage to a church or believers in general. These are the wolves in wolves' clothing and are usually pretty easy to spot and to deal with. It's the wolf in sheep's clothing that can be problematic. And to make matters worse, the wolf in sheep's clothing usually has no idea that he or she is being used by the devil to usher in division and strife to the church. They simply believe that they are doing the Lord's will. How can this be? Because the devil is sly and works very patiently, as long as he believes he can destroy a ministry and the lives of the people in it.
Now, a pastor who is himself in submission to the Lord will want nothing less than the very best for the people in his church. He will want to see each person grow in their relationship with the Lord and to become everything that the Lord intends for them to be. It is from this standpoint that he feels the necessity of protecting the people in his congregation from those who may bring in error, or worse. (As someone who has seen some of the worst the devil has to offer, I for one am thankful to God that there are pastors who will take a stand.)
Have you ever wondered why God has used sheep to portray His people? Yes, they're cute and fluffy, but they're also extraordinarily stupid. They have to be led to proper grazing land. They have to be quieted so they can lay down to rest. They have to be protected from predators. And they have to be protected from themselves.
If a flock of sheep are caught in a thunderstorm and left to their own devices, rather than run to higher ground, sheep run down hill. One after another they will mindlessly leap into raging floodwaters only to be carried to their doom. Knowing how very stupid and helpless sheep are, I think it would be quite easy to take offense that God depicts us as these idiotic creatures. But God, in His infinite wisdom, knows what He's talking about. He made us, and like it or not, we are sheep. And like sheep, we seem to get in the most trouble when we think we can take care of ourselves. Baaaa!
Now, a pastor who is in right relationship with God will want to protect and care for the flock that has been put in his care. He might have to protect the flock from predators or perhaps protect the flock from themselves. As I said before, the predators are easy to spot and aren't relevant to the discussion at hand. Let's take a look at those sheep for a minute or two.
With the mobility of the population of America as well as the amount of information we are deluged with, there are a lot of mixed teachings that we sheep are exposed to. Some of these teachings, while not incorrect, may not be in keeping with a particular church's practices. But time and again, rather than exercise wisdom and respect the pastor's authority, an overenthusiastic sheep starts thinking he knows better than the shepherd. Then to make matters worse, the sheep starts bleating to others in the flock, planting seeds of doubt and division. Let's look at a couple of examples to better illustrate.
Suppose that a person feels they are receiving words from God that are to be shared during the Sunday morning service, but the pastor won't allow it. This person could either accept the pastor's decision and perhaps write down the words to give to the pastor for his review, or they could start complaining to others in the church that the pastor is forcing them into disobedience with God, thus initiating doubt and division.
Perhaps someone else feels they have been called to pray for people after the service but they don't feel it's necessary to be trained in the church's particular style of prayer. This person could either respect the church's requirement for training or dialog with the pastor to better understand his position, or they could complain to others that the training is only there to create exclusivity within the church.
In both of these cases the pastors have set up these guidelines to protect their flocks. In the case of speaking words openly during service, that practice can lend itself to error. We are all human, and while the Lord can and does speak in this way, our flesh can get in the way. Allowing this would also make the church vulnerable to anyone, Christian or not, who might want to “speak” during the service, causing confusion and division. (Personally, I have been involved with churches that allow utterances and those who do not. In each case it has been at the pastor's discretion as to whether the practice would be allowed.)
As for receiving training before being allowed to pray for others in the church, this would be not only for the safety of those receiving prayer but also for the safety of those doing the praying. Prayer is a very powerful spiritual weapon and we should each be very sure of who is praying for us. I'm sure none of us would want to have the first person off the street lay hands on us for prayer. You never know what might happen!
As sheep, we must come to understand that God has given us shepherds for a reason. They are there to protect and defend us. They are there to make sure we get the spiritual nutrition we need in order to grow and mature. No, we are not to follow our pastors blindly, but there should be a level of trust in the relationship. You need to be able to have open and honest communication with your pastor.
Our society teaches us to be independent and self-sufficient, to be suspicious of others' intentions. This is in direct contrast to what Scripture says our lives should be like when we accept Jesus as our Saviour. It can be quite challenging to shed the world and live the way the Lord intends, but it can be done. Let's just make sure we don't bite our shepherds while we're learning!
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