Dear Church Family and Friends,
This past Sunday evening, I told you the story of Paul’s final farewell to the Elders of the Ephesian church, found in Acts 20. In the first part of the story, Paul describes and defends his ministry in Ephesus; in the second part, he encourages and instructs the Elders to carry on their own ministries. He also warns them. It is here, in verses 28-30, that he gives his main concern and reason for doing so: the wolves are coming.
Surely, church members humor us preachers more than we know. We’re always talking about what makes for a good preacher / pastor / church ministry – things that are largely our own responsibility. If I were in your seat, I might find myself asking, “So, what does that have to do with me?” Or, what does Paul’s warning to the Ephesian Elders have to do with any of us? Simple: the wolves are coming.
There have always been wolves trying to devour Christ’s flock, the church. That’s why he gave shepherds for the church’s protection; we call them Pastors. It is the Pastors’ duty to identify and guard against the wolves that would hurt God’s sheep; sometimes they enter secretly, and he must drive them out.
Unfortunately, these wolves are usually wearing sheep’s clothing, and some of the sheep think that the Pastor is trying to get rid of one of their own! Some (not all) church splits are the result of a group of sheep following the wolf when the Pastor gets rid of him. Sometimes the sheep help the wolf get rid of the Pastor.
Neither of these stories ends well.
All of this means that it’s not just the Pastor that needs to know how to identify the wolf. The Church needs to know this too, and in Acts 20:28-30, God gives us a powerful clue to help us learn how to spot a wolf:
A wolf is one who uses his or her words to influence church members and draw them away from the Pastor(s) whom the Holy Spirit has placed over them.
The key, of course, is that the Pastor must be Scripturally-qualified and Spirit-called. Otherwise, the church might learn to cry “Wolf!” every time someone disagrees with the Pastor. This can become toxic. God has not appointed Pastors to build their own personality cults, fixated on their own private convictions.
But where the Pastor is faithfully feeding the flock with the Scriptures and fulfilling God’s calling on his life, meeting the qualifications laid out in the Bible, and a man or woman opposes his teaching or leadership on the basis of personality, preference, or even popularity, attempting to separate sheep from shepherd – such a man or woman is a wolf.
(There are other means of identifying wolves, of course, and in Part 2, I hope to share some of the wisdom of a 17th century Pastor who had obviously given this subject much thought, prayer, and study.)