Chains of iron will not stop the church from completing its mission. Not even martyrdom can stop God’s work; the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Jesus prayed for the church in the seventeenth chapter of John. He prayed for the success of the church; His prayer will be answered.
Christ loves the church – enough to die for it. Ephesians 5:25. Do you think He will refuse to use His power to protect the church He died to build?
Jesus said that He would be with His people to the end of the world. Matthew 28:20. Because of that, we need have no fear. “For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Hebrews 13:5-6. Christ loves the church. His love was so great that He died for the church. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Ephesians 5:25.
Do you think that He will refuse to use His power to protect the church that He died to build? Of course not. He will use all power in heaven and earth to protect this wonderful institution.
The church is both fragile and strong, powerless and powerful, temporary and permanent. It is fragile because it is a voluntary association and iniquity can weaken and destroy any local expression of the church. But it is strong because it is training the rulers of the world to come. It binds the devil in the lives of believers. It is powerless because it has no authority in society.
It cannot legislate morality, nor force its will on anyone. But it is powerful because it is infused with the power of God. The gates of hell itself cannot prevail against it. The church is temporary because every local assembly eventually becomes lukewarm and then cold.
The candlestick is eventually removed from each location. But it is permanent because the institution continues after the local expression dies out. And overcomers that have been laid away to await the first resurrection will be back!
The Lord gives power to His church. Really, it is given a lot of authority.
Though despised and often-rejected, the church is the way to everlasting life. The power the Lord gives to the church includes: The Keys to the Kingdom. Jesus said to His ministry: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19. No one can enter into the kingdom without using the keys. The church is the vestibule, or entry way, into the kingdom. An entrance into the kingdom must be “ministered” to the believers. See 2 Peter 1:11.
That is why excommunication is a meaningful sanction. Server the Lord in the church is the route to being in the coming kingdom. Power Over the Devil. Jesus gave His church power over devils. Luke 9:1. The first sign that identifies true believers is that they cast out devils. Mark 16:17. The evil spirit knew who Paul was. Acts 19:15. Authority to Heal Diseases.
Those whom Jesus ordains, He gives power to heal sickness. See Mark 3:14-15. When a child of God gets sick, he or she is to call for the elders of the church. James 5:14-15. There must be a church for there to be elders to pray for the sick. The church has always been healing in the name of Jesus. See Acts 3:6, 4:10. Authority to Speak in the Name of Jesus. The church represents the Lord to the world, much like an ambassador represents a foreign country. The church speaks and teaches in the name of Jesus. Acts 4:18. Paul preached in His name. Acts 9:27, 29.
The church is instructed to do all in the name of Jesus. The church, through its ministry, is authorized to “command” in the name of Jesus. See 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and Acts 10:48. Ultimately, Great Power. At the end of the church age, the church is going to receive “great power” from the Lord. Revelation 11:3. So, the church is the instrument that the
Lord is using in this age. He died for the church, He is the head of the church, and He is committed to seeing the church fulfill its mission. We do not have to be a part of His work, but we pray that we are, and that we will continue to be.
The Bible tells us that rebellion is as wicked, as vile, and as reprehensible as witchcraft. I Samuel 15:23. Elihu, in Job 34:37, said you can add rebellion to your sins. So many people do. In the Bible, we read of Judas Iscariot, Hymaneaus, Diotrephes, and others. Rebellion is common today: children rebel against parents, saints rebel against the church order and teaching and backslide, elders sometimes even rebel against the pastor and split the church.
Rebellion isn’t an instantaneous act; it’s a journey. There are usually seven steps to rebellion. I’d like to point them out – using Joab and Absalom. Rebellion is a particularly wicked sin because you can backslide alone but usually rebellion takes others down with you.
Joab was King David’s general. He was also David’s cousin. Many times he was loyal and faithful to David, but eventually got caught up in rebellion against David’s choice of Solomon to be successor-king. Absalom was David’s son. When Absalom’s sister was wronged, Absalom plotted revenge against Amnon. He was then banished from the kingdom, then returned, then plotted rebellion against David. His rebellion was nearly successful in driving David from Jerusalem, and gaining the throne for Absalom.
But anyone who goes down the road to rebellion will usually follow these seven steps:
1. Independent. The person headed for rebellion says he can decide for himself what is best. The church may teach against it; but this person says, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” As if God’s got to clear everything with them, personally. The church may teach against women wearing pants, or body piercing, or certain worldly entertainments and activities, but the independent person chooses to ignore the pastor’s teaching, and do it anyway.
Joab was like that. David met with Abner, with a goal of reconciling Israel and ending a civil war. Joab felt he knew better than David and killed Abner. II Samuel 3:17-30. Then when David decided it was best to banish Absalom, Joab schemed and brought him back. II Samuel 14:1-33. Later, when David specifically said not to kill Absalom, Joab felt he knew better, and killed him. II Samuel 18:12, 14. Finally, when David felt the Lord wanted Solomon to succeed him, Joab acted independently and supported Adonijah. I Kings 1:7.
Absalom’s journey to rebellion also started with this step. He never really submitted to David. When David didn’t do what Absalom thought should be done, he plotted and killed his brother, Amnon.
A person with an independent spirit never settles into church order and discipline. She refuses to conform; he picks and chooses what teachings he will accept and which ones to reject. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” It means that a person who keeps himself separate by making his own decisions, countermanding the wisdom of their pastor, isn’t very wise.
2. Hurt and Offended. The second step in this journey is to become hurt and offended – like Absalom after his sister was wronged. Every child of God will be often hurt, but you don’t have to be offended. Jesus warned in Matthew 24:10 that many shall be offended – but you don’t have to be one of them.
The word, “offended” in that verse is from the Greek word: “skandalizo” – the part of trap upon which bait is hung. Be careful, the desire to be offended is just bait on a trap! Don’t take the bait! David refused to be offended when he was wronged by King Saul or when Shimei cursed him as he fled from Jerusalem. Those who are offended over their hurts are moving toward rebellion.
3. Passive. A person on a journey to rebellion starts to withdraw from their prior commitment to the Lord and their loyalty to the church. They resign from activities, etc. Where once they burned with passion; now their ardor cools. Jesus said in Matthew 24:12 that when iniquity abounds, love waxes cold. But we are supposed to be actively involved; not passive and hurt. We read in Judges 5:23: “Curse ye Meroz.” Why? Because they were passive; they came not to help when help was needed. And Jeremiah 48:10 says cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood. When there is a battle to be fought for the Lord, we need every soldier.
Absalom went through this stage before open rebellion. II Samuel 13:22 says, “Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad.” People taking this step develop an unnatural nonchalance; they “don’t care” what the church is doing; they “aren’t interested” in serving; they want to remain distant and uninvolved.
4. Fault-finding. The fourth step is to become hypercritical. They mull their offense in silence for a while, but then begin to speak out criticisms and express their grievances. Be careful when you criticize and complain. It can happen to anyone. It is easy to do; Miriam became critical of Moses.
This is a critical time; a dangerous step toward rebellion and insurrection. Judas Iscariot criticized Jesus for letting costly spikenard be put on Him to anoint Him for death. See John 12:3-6. Moving from withdrawn passivity to fault-finding is a big step in the wrong direction.
Absalom reached this step in II Sam 15:1-3. He was critical of David because there was no man deputied of the king, to right the grievances of the people.
5. Political. A person taking this step is seeking allies and gathering support. Politicians say whatever they have to say to gain supporters. They want others to agree with them, to feel sorry for their wrongs, and to “take on another’s offense.”
Absalom, in II Samuel 15:4-6, stole the hearts of the men of Israel through his political agitation and complaints. He convinced others that David wasn’t right, wasn’t doing right, and that Absalom’s grievances were legitimate. Those who have been offended always want the support of allies.
6. Deception. The next step is when the rebel deceives himself and others. Seeing that he has allies convinces a man (or woman) that their cause is just. Absalom deceived by his apparent success. And he deceived others – they thought he was right, that he should be king, that insurrection was God’s will.
Not everyone really knew what was happening. Some innocents were caught up in what was going on. Verse 11. It seems as if some innocent people always get swept into any conspiracy. They weren’t malicious; and if Absalom had not defected, they would have probably remained loyal to David all their lives. But your rebellion doesn’t just affect you; it affects others. Even if the rebellious repent, usually innocent lives are lost. You can rebel against the church, leave and take others with you, and even repent and come back – but will the others you influenced to leave make it back too? How are you going to explain to the Lord that your rebellion caused innocent lives to be lost?
Rebels always think they are right; and usually believe God with them. Absalom did. Be very, very careful in rising up against God’s established leadership. David may have had every “right” to rebel against King Saul, but he wisely chose not to do it. He refused to strike out against Saul, and was blessed. Just because you are “right” doesn’t mean you have to act – you might be better off suffering yourself to be defrauded. I Corinthians 6:7.
7. Open rebellion. The final step is open insurrection against the established order. It might be leaving the church, or splitting the church, or launching a social networking campaign against the church. The law of God forbids setting fire to the field. Exodus 22:6. The Bible says that “an evil man seeketh only rebellion.” Proverbs 17:11. Don’t take the bait; don’t fall into the trap of rebellion.
What to do?
What should you do if you find yourself with someone who is on this seven-step journey to rebellion?
A. Be careful who you associate with. Proverbs 22:24-25 says to make no friendship with an angry man; it may ensnare your soul. Don’t become one of the innocents caught up in a rebellion against God’s order.
B. You might have to become the north wind. Proverbs 25:23 says, “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” Rebellion is not so easily spoken where it is not easily heard.
C. What if you suddenly realize the person on this path to rebellion is the man in the mirror? First, analyze where you are on this path, and then get off it! Get back on right path. If you are independently ignoring the teaching of the church, start being loyal instead. If you are withdrawing into an unnatural nonchalance, get more involved. If you are criticizing, start praising. Etc.
Don’t keep going down the road. If you find yourself headed towards destruction, like driving 90 mph toward a cliff, if doesn’t do any good to slow down to 60 mph. If you are going to destruction, don’t change your speed; change your direction. Even if you have legitimate grievances – like David had about Saul – give them to God and submit (not to obvious sin, of course, but that is a whole different lesson). God can make right whatever isn’t quite what it should be.
We all know some: friends who used to be in church. We saw them in church as children, heard them testify, or play in the band, or attend Sunday School. But something happened. Maybe there was a crisis: a pastor who died, or problems in the family, and they left church. Or maybe they just gradually drifted away as they entered adulthood. But they are gone. We say they’ve “backslid.” (We refer to those who almost never attend any church; not those who have left the body to join in with “Babylon.”)
We still see them occasionally; we still love them; we pray for them; we’d like to see them back in church with us. But they are gone. It is dangerous to over-generalize, but there are two basic types of backsliders.
First, there are those who go to the world. They turn their backs on God, and get involved in sin. They drink, they party, they completely abandon holiness, they never pray, they never read their Bible. Those in this category have abandoned all pretense of living a biblical, Christian life.
But there is another group of those who’ve left church. They still pray over meals, they read their Bible regularly, they feel God’s Spirit in their walks in the woods, they volunteer for community service. These backsliders don’t get drunk, or engage in immorality. They love God, but feel no obligation to attend church services. They’ve left the church, but don’t feel they’ve lost their faith in God.
These “faithful” backsliders live good moral lives, and feel they are saved. They believe they know enough doctrine to open the pathway to heaven. At times, they feel that comforting Holy Spirit that they received as a gift at an altar when they were a child.
Surveys have shown that approximately 38% of evangelical Christians who’ve left church still believe that the Bible is the inerrant, true Word of God. Over half of the people who’ve left church still believe in salvation through Jesus Christ. They believe they’ve retained their faith; but simply lost their connection to the church.
Which of the two categories are in the worst spiritual shape? Worldly sinners know they are sinners. But those who think they are fine spiritually, really don’t see why they should come back to church. (Some do – we all know people who were out of church for years, who one day decided to come back. Their reasons are complicated – to raise children in church, some crisis in life, or just the wooing of the Spirit – but too many simply don’t feel any need to attend church.)
Because the “faithful” backsliders are our friends; because we love them; we have an obligation to point out that they are not “fine.” If they believe the Bible; then they should live the Bible – and “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” Hebrews 10:25. Jesus didn’t die to have a disconnected body. The body of Christ is to be “compacted” together. Ephesians 4:16. Jesus didn’t die to give us a private, individual relationship with the Lord; He died to build His church. Matthew 16:18. We need “faithful” backsliders to revert to “faithful members.”
Many of these “faithful” backsliders plan to come back to church someday, or at least are willing to consider it. A lot of them miss “worshipping God.” Some miss inspired teaching and preaching. Maybe all they need is a sincere invitation from one of their friends – maybe from you.
The Bible often refers to God’s people as sheep. There are many reasons for that analogy. This is seen clearly in the 23rd Psalm where David, as a sheep, looked to the Lord as his shepherd. But there are other scriptures. We are called sheep in Isaiah 53:6, which says, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.”
Jesus, of course, is the good shepherd and the chief shepherd. John 10:1-16 is a lengthy passage, but it tells us much about the heart of a true shepherd and contrasts it with a mere “hireling.” Because that is so significant to this chapter, we will quote it in its entirety:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
“This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
The other lengthy passage that needs to be set out in its entirety is the 23rd Psalm:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
We will refer back to these passages several times. But for now, we take them to mean that we, as saints of God, are referred to as sheep. In fact, the Bible makes reference to sheep some 220 times. Why use that analogy? Why not something powerful and majestic, like a horse; or strong like a lion; or graceful like a leopard? Perhaps the answer is because the Lord knew some things about the nature of sheep.
In some sense, every leader in the work of the Lord is a shepherd. Certainly a pastor is a shepherd, and Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd. The Hebrew word that is translated as “pastor” in the Old Testament, “ra’ah,” means “shepherd.” The Greek word for “pastor” in the New Testament is “poimen,” which also means “shepherd.” But every person in a leadership position at times “shepherds” his followers. Therefore, every leader needs the heart of a shepherd. Since God compares His people to sheep, and leaders of His people to shepherds, we should also understand some things about the nature of sheep. To understand the heart of a shepherd, you must understand something about sheep.
The Nature of Sheep
1. Sheep Aren’t Intelligent
Sheep are relatively-unintelligent animals. They aren’t cunning, and they ignorantly wander into danger. They aren’t aware of their own safety. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing in an analogy for disciples of the Lord. We aren’t going to be saved by our own intelligence. We aren’t smart enough to figure out God, or salvation. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3:19 that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. The smartest disciple of the Lord can ignorantly wander into the snares of sin.
No leader in the body of Christ is smart enough to know how to lead the flock. When Solomon became king, he told the Lord he needed wisdom to lead the flock of Israel, and God granted his request. See II Chronicles 1:8-12. Yet the shepherd has to know more than the sheep – about dangers, about where there is still water and green pastures, and how to get where they want to go. Leaders need the wisdom from above, which James said was pure and peaceable and gentle and easily entreated. James 3:17.
To be able to feed the flock with knowledge and understanding, shepherds have to have knowledge and understanding. They must study to show themselves approved unto God. II Timothy 2:15. They must know the important things of God – knowledge of salvation, of God’s plan, of the vision of the body of Christ, of the snares of the devil, and such things. Pray, study, meditate, and listen to the preaching and teaching of anointed ministers. Be sure you, as shepherd, have the wisdom and knowledge you need to lead God’s sheep where they need to go.
2. Sheep Respond to the Shepherd’s Voice (only their own shepherd)
Jesus said in John 10:3 that His sheep hear His voice. Because it is the voice of the shepherd, “the sheep follow him; for they know his voice.” Verse 4. Then Jesus said, “And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers.” Verse 5.
In Israel, shepherds sometimes brought their flocks to a sheepfold for the evening. This was often a cave that had only one entrance. The sheep were safe in the enclosure, and the shepherd (the porter) would lie down and sleep in the entrance. He became the “door” to the sheepfold. Predators could not then get to the sheep without first going over the porter. Sometimes many flocks would gather overnight. But in the morning, when the sheep were all mixed together, a shepherd would begin to sing. His flock, and only his flock, responded to his voice and would leave the sheepfold following the voice of their shepherd.
In a fellowship meeting of the body of Christ, the sheep should mix together, and function as one flock. But when the meeting is over, they hear the voice of their pastor, and follow him back to their home assembly. But more on point: there are a lot of voices in Babylon, but they aren’t the voice the sheep should hear. And sin sings a siren song, calling out to God’s sheep. Like the lewd woman in Proverbs, “With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.” Proverbs 7:21. But the sheep are not to listen to that voice, because it isn’t the voice of their shepherd.
3. Sheep are Directionless
Sheep wander with no real sense of direction. They may drift too close to the cliff, they may wander far from safety, and they don’t know how to get back. The shepherd has to go to find a lost sheep. Jesus said that in Matthew 18:12, where he said a shepherd will leave the ninety and nine sheep, and seek the one gone astray.
Unless the shepherd leads them to tableland, and green pastures, the sheep will overgraze where they are, or will wander into grassless rocks and dangerous cliffs. The work of a shepherd includes leading the sheep where they need to go.
4. Sheep are Weak and Need a Shepherd
Sheep are helpless against predators. In Biblical times, predators such as lions, wolves, panthers, leopards, bears and hyenas were common in the countryside of Israel. Before he became King David, the shepherd boy David defended his sheep from lions and bears. The problem is that if some kind of predator finds a flock of sheep, the sheep don’t fight back. They don’t try to defend themselves. Sometimes they don’t even try to spread out or run or get away. Instead, they huddle together – giving the predator a nice, big, easy target.
Other times, predators drive into the flock, scattering them in multiple directions. Alone and defenseless, the sheep then become easy to devour. There is a reference in Jeremiah 50:17 which says that the lions have driven away the sheep. That was a common occurrence in those days. Ezekiel 34:16 says the Great Shepherd will seek the lost, and those driven away. The entire 34th chapter of Ezekiel is important to this topic. To preserve space, we won’t quote it at length. But everyone should be familiar with the contrast between false shepherds in the first six verses, and the Lord as a good shepherd in the rest of that chapter.
Leaders in the body of Christ have to be there for the sheep, to protect them, to lead them, to feed them, to point out the dangers and care for the flock.
5. Sheep Become Restless
Sheep eat grass all day. If not lead to new pastures, they will eat everything in sight, and then starve. But sheep can’t digest all the grass they’ve eaten until they lie down – but they don’t always lie down on their own. So the shepherd sometimes has to make them lie down for their own good. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Psalms 23:2.
When they do lie down, sheep cannot get up very quickly. This means they are afraid to lie down whenever they sense danger is near. An important role of a leader is to inspire confidence in his followers. They need to know that they are safe, that their shepherd cares for them, and that the Lord will shelter them from danger.
6. Sheep Need Plenty of Food and Water
Sheep require a lot of water, just like saints of God need a lot of God’s Spirit. And they essentially eat all the time. So they need green pastures, just like we need to eat a daily portion of God’s Word.
The water must be still. Sheep fear running water. They will not drink from a raging torrent. If sheep fall into moving water, they can drown. Their coats are already heavy, and their wool rapidly absorbs water. And they can’t swim. The end result is that sheep actually fear moving water and are reluctant to drink from a lake or stream unless the water is still.
A pastor or elder who cannot feed the flock, and lead them to where the Spirit of the Lord is like still water, will have a malnourished flock of sheep. Some may die of spiritual starvation or thirst.
7. Sheep Cannot Get Up if They are “Cast Down”
Under certain circumstances, a sheep can get turned over on its back and is not able to get back up. This can actually be fatal! Many of a sheep’s vital bodily functions depend on gravity. When a sheep is turned over on its back, the blood drains out of the legs, the stomach can’t digest food, and breathing is blocked. If the shepherd doesn’t act quickly, the sheep will die.
The Bible calls this being “cast down.” Many verses use that phrase to refer to being unable to rise again. Revelation 12:10 foretells a day when the accuser of the brethren is “cast down.” Paul said in II Corinthians 4:9 that he was “cast down, but not destroyed.” We are to be “casting down” iimaginations, and every high things that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” II Corinthians 10:5.
If a sheep is cast down, it will be destroyed unless the shepherd comes and stands it up again. David wrote in Psalms 37:24 that a good man falls, but isn’t utterly cast down, because the Lord (like a shepherd) lifts him up again. It is God “that comforteth those that are cast down.” II Corinthians 7:6.
The Lord is the only one who can lift up a sheep who is cast down, but He often uses shepherds to do it. They lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees, and extend a helping hand to those who are downcast. But Ecclesiastes 4:10 warns: “woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.”
8. Sheep are a Personal, Prized and Precious Possession
Nathan’s parable establishes that sheep are not treated like most farm animals. They can become a personal, prized and precious possession. The Prophet Nathan gave a parable about one ewe lamb to David after the king had sinned with Bathsheba. He spoke in II Samuel 12:3 of a poor man who “had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.”
Sheep learn the shepherd’s voice and learn to trust his care. They come running when he calls or sings. Cows and pigs don’t do that. There is a special relationship of trust that develops between a sheep and a caring shepherd.
In presenting these eight points about sheep, we have also seen the need for a shepherd. But be sure you have the heart of a shepherd; a big heart, a loving heart.
The Shepherd’s Heart
A pastor in the body of Christ is not a CEO of a business. Department leaders in the church are not sergeants over the privates. Every leader is called of God to care for and love and lead a flock of sheep. Every leader is to pattern his or her leadership in the mode of a shepherd.
In Mark 6:34, Jesus bewailed the fact that His flock was like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep need shepherds. They need good shepherds who will naturally care for the flock. Sadly, there are people all over the world who were once members of churches in the body of Christ. But now they sit at home, and feel like they are okay because they live a relatively-moral life, and remember the doctrinal teachings they learned years ago. But they don’t have a church, and they don’t have a shepherd. They aren’t being led to green pastures, but overgraze where they once were. They aren’t drinking from still waters, and they have no protection in the valley of the shadow of death.
In I Peter 5:1, the ministry was told to “fed the flock of God which is among you.” Paul wrote in Philippians 2:20 that Timothy had the heart of a shepherd: “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.”
The 23rd chapter of Jeremiah contrasts wicked shepherds and good shepherds In verses 1-2, we read about wicked shepherds: “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.” In verse 4 we are told about the blessing of having good shepherds: “And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.”
Phillip Keller wrote a book called A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23. It should be required reading for every leader in the body of Christ. That book goes deeper into the 23rd Psalm. But we can consider it briefly again here. It was quoted above. This Psalm tells us about the Lord as our Shepherd. But it also reveals much about what is in the heart of every good shepherd, and how we are to feel and act as shepherds. It is written from the perspective of a sheep.
Psalms 23:1 The Lord condescends to assume the lowly office of shepherd. When He is my shepherd, I will never want.
Verse 2 He leads me to green pastures: lush, life-sustaining promises of salvation and hope. I can drink from still water: not swift, dangerous currents, but still, refreshing drinks from His Spirit.
Verse 3 He revives my flagging spirit and leads me away from danger.
Verse 4 No fear! Even in the shadowy valleys, where I cannot see the dangerous predators hiding: His rod is there to protect and discipline; and His staff is there to draw and comfort me.
Verse 5 He prepares the tableland – spreading minerals to promote lush vegetation, pulling poisonous weeds before I even arrive. He watches for enemies – wolves and snakes. He anoints my head with healing oil, which keeps the flies away and lessens friction when I “butt heads” with other sheep. My cup is more than full.
Verse 6 This is an indisputable fact: goodness and mercy will follow me all my life, and then the I’ll inherit the joy of forever in a glorious new heaven and new earth.
The Lord is the perfect example of a shepherd. He has the heart of a shepherd. But every leader in the body of Christ must follow that great example and develop a shepherd’s heart.
Let’s make five important points about fulfilling the role of a shepherd.
1. Shepherds must be Focused on the Flock
Sheep require constant attention. They cannot be left unattended. They can get their wool stuck in branches, and will die if the shepherd doesn’t free them. They will eat poisonous weeds if the shepherd doesn’t pull up those weeds or lead the sheep away from them. They will wander too close to the cliff, and follow one another off that cliff to their death if the shepherd doesn’t pay close attention to what they are doing.
Sheep have very limited endurance. If they are driven too far or too fast, they become sick and die. Jacob said to Esau in Genesis 33:13, if men should overdrive the sheep even one day, all the flock will die. We mentioned above that Jesus said if a sheep wanders off, the shepherd will seek and find that lost sheep. Ezekiel 34:12 is a biblical reference to seeking the lost sheep: “As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.”
2. Shepherds Sacrifice for the Flock
The shepherd takes car e of the sheep; the sheep don’t take care of the shepherd. The shepherd receives his reward from the owner of the flock – based upon how well the flock prospers under his care. This requires sacrifices on the part of the shepherd. A good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. John 10:11.
Shepherds sit up on cold nights, watching over the flock. They are in the fields in the rain, and the wind, and the hot sun. Israel didn’t have fences, where you could leave the sheep in an enclosed area. If the shepherd didn’t pay attention, the sheep could wander off into danger. If he wasn’t alert, there might be poisonous snakes, or wolves or even lions that would stealthily approach and attack the flock. A shepherd had to face dangers or else lose his flock.
3. Shepherds Feed the Flock
Sheep must be fed and watered. Else, they won’t prosper and multiply. Shepherds feed and care for the flock: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11.
A good shepherd will feed the flock. Ezekiel 34:23. This means he leads them where they can eat in safety. If not fed and watered, the sheep will faint and scatter. Matthew 9:36.
4. Shepherds Protect the Flock
Predators love to attack sheep. They have no natural defenses. They cannot outrun most predators, they have no scales, no effective goring horns, almost no ability to defend themselves. They depend upon their shepherds to recognize and drive away all predators.
Sheep scatter without a shepherd. II Chronicles 18:16 says, “Then he said, I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.”
When scattered, they are destroyed by predators. “And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.” Ezekiel 34:5-6. See also verse 8: “My flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd.”
Sheep are not a wild animal. They will not survive alone in the wilderness. The beasts destroy the sheep. Sometimes the shepherd gets there too late to save the sheep. Amos 3:12 makes that point: “Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.” Remember, like a roaring lion, the devil seeks sheep to devour. I Peter 5:8.
5. Shepherds are Close to the Flock
There are no absentee-shepherds. A shepherd does not work an 8 hour day, or a 40 hour week. Shepherding is a 24/7 occupation. Sheep cannot be left alone. They have no defense if left alone; they wander into danger if left alone. Jesus said in John 10:12-13 that the hireling leaves the sheep in danger. That’s because a hireling only seeks wages, he doesn’t love the sheep. Job 7:2.
Zechariah 11:17 pronounces woe to the shepherd who leaves the flock. But in John 10:11, Jesus said the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Asaph said in Psalms 80:1 that God, as a good shepherd, leads Israel like a flock. Every leader in the body of Christ must develop the heart of a shepherd, to lead, protect, feed, and care for the flock of God.
2000 years ago, a man stepped up to John the Baptist, on the bank of the Jordan River, to be baptized. No one knew anything about Him. There were rumors and a fading memory of miraculous events that occurred in Bethlehem 30 years earlier, but nothing had come of it.
Who was this man? John seemed to know Him. Strangely, a dove descended on Him as He came up from being immersed in the water, and thunder sounded, or some said words were spoken from Heaven. This man, Jesus, was different. He was the Son of God. He began a work, He build a church, which has not finished its mission yet – 2000 years later.
Every great movement begins with one man: a man with a vision. Jesus was such a man. At an earlier time, Moses had been such a man. So had Abraham. Later, men like Martin Luther, John Wesley and William Sowders would be visionaries, who would launch godly movements.
Because these men’s vision had been of God, they did not remain alone. Others caught the vision, and were attracted to the movement. In the case of Jesus, there were the 12, the 70, various sisters, crowds at times, and 120 who truly caught sight of what the purpose of the vision was all about.
After the death of Jesus, the vision did not fail. John 11:16 shows that Thomas thought the movement would die with Him. But it did not die. Jesus commissioned 11 men to carry on the work. It looked impossible. They were not rich. They were not educated. They were not leaders. They had no earthly power. Eleven men against the Roman Empire. Eleven men against the world. It was a venture in faith. But it succeeded.
What one Man began to build, the church; continued beyond His death. It grew. It spread. It was no longer just a man, and those who followed Him. It became a movement.
The movement was innovative. For the next 40-70 years, the movement had great success. We know it as the Early Church. It spread first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. Those who had been personally recruited by the founder, such as Peter, and John, were instrumental in the phenomenal success of the movement. But others were added later, such as Paul, who greatly advanced the work. Acts 17:6 tells us that the movement turned the world upside down.
Sadly, however, the leadership that stretched back to the Founder died off. A new generation began to replace the pioneers. The very success of the movement brought new pressures to compromise with the world. The movement began to drift off of its historical foundation.
Whenever a movement loses its core values and is no longer innovative and “cutting edge,” it begins to drift. Drifting is not deliberate progress toward a goal. We see in in Judges 2:10, where after great success another generation came on the scene; a generation that knew not God, or His works for their fathers.
Every true church is only one generation away from apostasy. But it is not supposed to apostatize. Each generation is to lead the following generation into a relationship with the Lord. Psalms 145:4 says: “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.”
But it almost never seems to work that way. Even the posture of the mighty Early Church changed from one of evangelism and spreading truth, to one of defending truth. See Jude 3-4. The Apostle Paul knew the Early Church would drift away into apostasy. See II Thessalonians 2:1-2.
By the close of the New Testament, in Revelation 2, Ephesus was in danger of losing its first love. It had been founded only 40 years earlier. Paul spent three years, night and day, warning them. He wrote them an epistle. He sent Timothy there. John moved there after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But the church was still drifting. All authors of the New Testament warned against false teachers, and compromise with the carnal and religious world.
Where did these false teachers come from? Were they nobodies who just showed up and began to preach some different message or institute a different order? No, they had to be somebody for the people to listen to them. They were ministers in the fellowship – teaching something that sounded good, but was wrong.
By 90 A.D., there were only 7 churches still in Asia Minor in Revelation 2 & 3. Five of those were in danger of the candlestick being removed. Many other churches were still meeting, with people attending services, but they were no longer on the foundation of truth and New Testament order that they had been built upon years earlier.
The movement lost its edge. Things were still happening. There was still a form of godliness, but they were denying the power thereof. New leaders compromised with the world, and preached easy messages, drifting away from life-changing truth. They began to bring in elements of false religion. The movement became a mechanism.
A mechanism looks like a movement, but there is no vision, no forward progress, no innovative advancing of the original vision. There is activity, but no life – like a robot or other operating machinery. In that apostatizing church, the people were still there, but they were just going through the motions.
The most dangerous time for any organization or institution is when it begins to drift from a movement to a mechanism. If the drift cannot be impeded, and resisted, it will drift into a mechanism, and then on to be just a monument.
A monument, like a statue, looks very nice, but there is no life there. The Pharisee movement started in the 3rd century, B.C., before the Maccabean Wars. They began with the noble goal of resisting the corrupting influence of Greek culture and to encourage the people to remain true to the Mosaic law. They started well, but drifted off their foundation. 300 years later, Jesus said they were just a monument – He called them “whited sepulchers” in Matthew 23:27.
Throughout history, we’ve seen this pattern repeated: Man 🡪 Movement 🡪 Mechanism 🡪 Monument.
This process; from man, to movement, to mechanism, to monument, happens in every organization over time. It happens in corporations. What happened to the companies that made trolleys and steam engines? If they failed to innovate and advance, they became a mechanism, a monument, and disappeared. Like many monuments to Saddam Hussein, they are now gone.
A man named Sears had a vision. He was joined by a man named Roebuck. They began selling by catalog. After they retired and after their deaths, other men and women turned their vision into a movement. Sears became the number one retailer in America – no other store chain was even close. But in the 1960s and 1970s, Sears became a mechanism. The innovative edge that Sears brought to retailing slipped away. Nobody had a vision of the times. Nobody saw what was happening. Today Sears has become a monument, a fossil, and it seems that no one can impede the drift.
The fate that befell Woolworth Co. and Montgomery Ward will afflict every mechanism. Those once-great retail chains no longer exist. Drifting away from the innovative, foundational principles that built the movement will always result in a mechanism and eventually a dead monument.
The point of all of this is that fellowships, even those originally commissioned of God, do not last forever. The Early Church apostatized in less than 90 years. Martin Luther, John Wesley, and other men launched powerful movements, but those movements became mechanisms – and even monuments. The Lutheran church today is a monument to Martin Luther.
Our Pentecostal group of churches was started by the Lord giving a man a vision. That man was William Sowders. He imparted his vision in others, and a movement was formed. That movement continued and grew after his death. But he died almost 60 years ago, and his movement has been in existence for some 100 years. Are we in danger of drifting off the foundation and turning into a mechanism, or even a monument?
We can do that without losing the truth we have now – restoration of truth is progressive. But there is a danger of loss of innovation, losing the “cutting edge” mentality. We can drift off the foundational principles that were innovative, and were distinguishing characteristics of this movement when it began on the banks of the Ohio River. Anytime a movement has more memories than it has dreams, that movement is in trouble.
What was innovative about the Body of Christ under Bro. William Sowders? It wasn’t just the doctrines – for every fellowship and denomination has doctrines that are distinct. It wasn’t just a message of holiness, for there were many holiness movements 100 years ago. We need truth restored, we need holiness. But there was something more about the body of Christ that gave it life and a unique calling from the Lord.
This body was distinct in its mission, operation, spirit and order. It was called to restore truth, produce bride members, and speak for God at the end-times. It operated without an earthly covering, The overriding spirit was true charity – from I Corinthians 13. The order was to make Jesus truly the head of the Body.
We became and still are a movement. But if we drift off of our foundation, we will become a mechanism, or even a monument.
There are several important principles that every local church and every movement needs to keep in mind:
Drift is inevitable
Drift is more deadly than Satan’s frontal assault
What one generation rejects, the next generation tolerates, and the third generation embraces
Drift means that complacency gradually replaces commitment
Drift means the desire to serve is gradually replaced by the desire to be served
Drift means that wants evolve into needs
Compromise feeds drift
It is almost impossible to take a firm stand while sliding down a slippery slope
The death of powerful leaders is a critical time in drift (People wanted Rehoboam to ease up; new leaders compromise for popularity; etc.)
Churches don’t drift – leaders and people do
Almost no religious movement has retained spiritual vitality into a second century
Drift can be impeded
That last point is very important: drift can be impeded, and maybe even stopped and reversed. We all need to pull for greater touches of God’s Holy Spirit, to pray more and study more, and to repent and change where we have gone off the true foundation. If we have drifted away, we need to get back to the old paths, wherein is the good way, and walk therein once again. See Jeremiah 6:16.
It is extremely hard to keep a movement vibrant into its second century. If we drift away from the principles that defined the Body of Christ, we will lose our vitality – and the Lord will have to raise up some other movement. Compromise with the world, and a desire to be like all the other churches will destroy us.
But it doesn’t have to happen. If we can pass on the torch; if we can reverse any drift; if we can keep our vision clear; we can continue with our mission. The return of the Lord isn’t that far off. We have time to finish restoration, if we will keep working at it. Let’s continually re-dedicate ourselves to the calling God gave this body 100 years ago.