1st Timothy is a letter to a leader of a church about leadership. In preaching through the first chapter in Paul’s letter first letter to Timothy, it occurred to me that we/I approach it from one perspective. We know that Timothy is a godly shepherd and that his flock is being attacked by the wolves Paul identifies. This fact is clear from the books of Acts and the letter itself. As pastors then, we naturally preach through Timothy, assuming God is speaking to everyone else but me (the common error we all make). In other words, pastors assume they are the “godly shepherd” and that their critics are the wolves. It seems that those listening might assume the same thing–that the critic, questioner, or person who leaves is always the Big Bad Wolf.
As I preached in the last sermon: ” this is not a charge for pastors or anyone to become Wolf-hunters, marking every person they don’t like, or has caused a problem in their “church” as a wolf. It is also not an excuse to avoid dialogue with people about difficult things because you feel threatened by strong personalities or difficult questions.”
There is a reason why Paul warns Timothy time and time again to “watch himself” before he charges him to watch the flock. The truth is, though many wolves instinctively point the finger at the shepherd (esp. when confronted with the truth) as the real threat; sometimes the accused are actually the true sheep and a wolf is in fact masquerading as a shepherd. How do you know if the shepherd is in fact the real problem? Here are a few signs:
SIGN #1: The shepherd talks like a wolf. In essence, the shepherd stops preaching the gospel. The gospel is lost and replaced with either legalism or some sort of liberal theology. Both lose the gospel in different ways. Having begun with gospel truth, the shepherd now preaches a mosaic of orthodox truth, self-help, and pop culture. Like the wolves of the Bible and every children’s tory we know, wolves use flattery and manipulation (not truth) to get their way. This is easy to spot for anyone who knows their Bible but very difficult for those who’ve been part of the flock for a long time. We’ll often excuse what is said because of what is experienced through relationship and history together.
SIGN #2: The shepherd acts like a wolf. The shepherd is slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. Like wolves, if they feel threatened, they growl. This is the very anti-thesis of the attitude of humility inherent in gospel. Wolves are deceptive, hiding many things for fear of being found out. If they are challenged, they flex their muscle, bear their teeth, and threaten.
SIGN #3: The shepherd tries hard not to look like a wolf: Instead of engaging with difficult questions, dialogue about biblical truths, or confessing and repenting of sin, the wolf will begin to blame shift. They will pull the victim card and, if they’re a leader, will start talking about being “persecuted” or “suffering” for Jesus. This is NOT to say that this doesn’t happen from time to time to good leaders. It is the say that bad leaders, wolves, will be quick to abuse Scripture, tout their resume, or demonize anyone’s reputation if their’s is threatened (make them worse than you).
SIGN #4: The shepherd hangs around with other wolves: The Bible teaches that bad company corrupts good morals–the same goes with wolves. Anyone hangs out with a wolf long enough, they will either get eaten or “turned” (to use vampire language). Wolves always hang around in packs, they hunt together. Typically, if you want to know if a leader is a wolf, check out who their friends are. We’re not talking about their facebook friends, rather, who they read, learn from, and view as their mentors. More often than not, wolves breed wolves breed wolves.
SIGN #5: The “flock” acts like a pack of wolves. The problem with a wolf calling the shots as the Shepherd is that most of the flock will turn on you to. Some sheep are brave enough to say something, to take a stand, to speak the truth for the love of the flock. In doing this, they hope that the flock will see the truth (this is a grace of God) and that changes will be effected. Unfortunately, a “good wolf” or a VERY bad leader, effectively controls his flock. In other words, most people will pick the shepherd’s team because of the trust (control) that has been developed over the years. Once good friends will suddenly become defensive wolves, ready to bite anyone who might threaten the pack…err…flock.
SIGN #6: There are a lot of dead sheep near the shepherd. For every shepherd who is in fact a wolf, there is a trail of blood going back years. Many sheep have been eaten and many faith-lives destroyed. No one is perfect and this is not to say that there exists a pastor who has never made a mistake or hurt someone. It is to say, however, that there are an inordinate number of bleeding sheep who have crossed paths with this leader.
SIGN #7: People are scared to confront the shepherd: Sadly, eventually the shepherd paralyzes the rest of the leadership of the flock. Strong men become weak nancy-boys afraid to stand for the truth. Though everyone sees the true identity of the leader, they are afraid to say anything, and don’t. Meanwhile, the flock dies even if it grows. A once healthy fear of God has been replaced by a fear of the approval of men, or of a man. Ultimately, the head-wolf perpetuates a worship disorder where a position, reputation, or paycheck is more important than Jesus and His Word.
I hesitated to even write this blog as I have my own critics. I pray that all pastors, most of all me, will proceed with the utmost humility as they minister and that we will all live out the attitude of 1Timothy 1.15 when dealing with wolves or sheep.