One wolf in a sheep pen can ravage the whole flock. The same is true in the church. One false teacher in the congregation can cause untold damage. Therefore, as pastors, it is our job to protect the flock. Paul certainly knew this well. During his final charge to the pastors at the Ephesian church, he warns them:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. – Acts 20:28-29
Protection is an essential component of pastoral leadership.
Who are we protecting them from?
But to protect the flock well, we must know who we’re protecting them from. Although our main adversary, the devil, is unseen, he manifests himself is very tangible ways through others.
As mentioned in Acts 20, pastors must protect the flock from wolves: false teachers. False teachers come in great variety. Some are legalists, seeking to add rules to the gospel of grace (Galatians). Some are libertines, seeking to subtract Christ’s Lordship from the believer (Jude 4). Some are motivated by money; others by sex. All seek to destroy God’s church.
Now, wolves often don’t come walking into your church, announcing their presence. They try to creep in unnoticed. Sometimes, the individual may not even be trying to intentionally lead people astray. Nevertheless, their false teaching hurts people. This is why it is extremely important to evaluate and coach those who are leading.
We also need to protect people from temptation. Once we put our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous, filled with the Holy Spirit, and even called saints. Yet, we still sin. All of us still have a self-destructive streak. Protecting our flock from temptation means exposing the temptations that our people face. Personal knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses is essential. For example, a recovering alcoholic in your congregation may need extra support. Or those who struggle with sexual temptation may need extra resources. We must remember, though, that temptation is not sin. May we never discount leaders for the mere fact that they fight temptation. The fighting is what counts.
From the world
I don’t mean this in a kind of retreat-to-the-hills-only-watch-Christian-movies way. What I mean is this: all week our people hear lies. They hear lies in the movies and media. But they also hear lies in our supposedly “Christian” sub-culture. They hear the lie that sex outside of marriage brings fulfillment. They hear the lie that we can “take back America” through the voting booth. They hear the lie that suffering isn’t normal for Christians.
So we need to preach and teach the truth. We must combat the lies of the world and present Christ in all of Scripture. We must tell people the truth about sex, politics, and suffering in a compassionate and articulate way.
How do we protect the flock?
So how do we actually do this? How do we protect our flock? Scripture gives us three main ways: prayer, encouragement, and rebuke.
Prayer is the foremost tool we have for protection. Our main adversary is a spiritual being. So the best method for protecting our flock from spiritual attack is a spiritual weapon: prayer (Ephesians 6:18). Jesus Himself tells us to pray for deliverance from the evil one (Matthew 6:13)! So pray for your leaders on a consistent basis. Need help? Check out the PrayerMate app.
Encouraging people in their faith is an often missing element of protection. One of the best defenses is a good offense! Encouragement is the offense which helps people pursue Christlikeness. The book of Hebrews tells us to encourage each other every single day so that we’re not lulled into sin (Hebrews 3:13). So write an encouraging note, email, or text today. You just don’t know what it might mean to someone.
An important, but often unpleasant, thing pastors must do is to rebuke. To rebuke means calling out sin in people’s lives and pleading for them to turn from it. Paul explicitly tells Timothy that one of the facets of his ministry is to rebuke: “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season; reprove; rebuke; exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). For proper rebuke, the goal is restoration and the motive is love.
All of us need courage which comes from the gospel. When we realize that we have already died with Christ, then the opinions of others will not matter. We will not fear. When we realize that we have already been raised with Christ, the powers of this world cannot stand against us. We will not fear. Knowing that our Good Shepherd will build His church, we will aim to protect the flock from all harm through His strength!
The entire Shepherd God’s Flock series:
Part one: Our Job as Pastors
Part two: Leading God’s People
Part three: Feeding God’s People
Part four: Equipping God’s People
Part five: Protecting God’s People
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