In recent weeks, months and years a number of well-known pastors and Christian leaders have fallen. There have been different reasons and each case is different. My point here is not to speculate on any of that, nor is it to speak about a particular case. I’ve read many blogs that do that and I haven’t found any of them to be helpful. But instead they have caused further damage, raised speculative questions and some have dragged people through the dirt.
Whether you like it or not, the reality is that every Christian is capable of having a ‘fall from grace’. When high profile leaders fall, you can hear some people speaking as if it could never happen to them. The reality is that such an attitude could be an indication that they’re heading for a fall quicker than they might think.
Each of us is sinful, yes through Christ we have been forgiven and justified, but our battle with the flesh rages on as ever before. Our natural tendencies are to sin, to rebel, to grab for power and to make a name for ourselves. So how can we remedy this? How can we protect ourselves from becoming puffed up and having a fall from grace?
Those are complex questions and I do not have the answers, nor the space in this post to explore some of the truths that can help us along the way. However, one thing that I think can help us in this, one thing that I think every Christian needs to remember is this; that you are a sheep!
When I lived in Romania, I worked on a farm for a wee while and one of my jobs was to tend the sheep. This requires feeding, looking after and leading them. I quite enjoyed the times when I’d be out on the fields with the flock and just my thoughts for the day. But my experience of being a shepherd isn’t going to stop Christians from falling is it? No, but it did teach me a thing or two about what a sheep does and what a shepherd does.
Here are some principles that I think we need to remember to keep us from falling and around our identity as sheep.
As sheep we…
Trust our Shepherd
We must rely on our shepherd and submit to Him. Our job as sheep is not to blaze our own path, or to try be something we are not. Sheep follow and they rely on their shepherd to keep them from harm and on the right path. We are sheep and our Great Shepherd has proven Himself faithful, from the beginning of time, even though we are not.
Obey our Shepherd
This is closely linked with the previous point, but the difference is in our actions. I’ve seen people who profess to believe the Bible is the Word of the Shepherd and yet have deliberately lived contrary to it for the sake of comfort and convenience. Our role as sheep is not to follow mindlessly, God has given us a brain for a reason, but our desire should be to obey what God has said because He is God and we are not!
Know our Shepherd
One of the things that always astounded me was that the sheep I kept in Romania would obey my voice. However the minute my boss, the owner of the sheep, would call they would forget about my commands and follow his voice (which were inline with his). His sheep knew him, and they knew that I was just his representative. As sheep in the flock of the Great Shepherd we are to know our Lord and master, we are to know His voice. He has spoken to us in His Word and we are to devour it, search it, love it and live in it so that we can recognise and know His voice.
As undershepherds, pastors and elders, given the responsibility to lead the Lord’s people, we are to…
Feed the sheep
As a preacher I love teaching the Bible, I love to see people’s minds engaging with God’s Word, people’s hearts filled with praise as they see who God is and lives transformed as they live out the teaching of Scripture. This can only happen if, as leaders, we faithfully teach the Word of the Lord week in and week out. That’s why I will always prefer exegetical sermons, there is no point someone hearing my thoughts on a topic for 30 minutes when they can hear God’s Word instead. This means constantly pointing the flock to the message of the Good Shepherd, to the truth of His Word and to Him!
Protect the sheep
This is very important, undershepherds need to protect the sheep from things and theologies that would distract them from the truth! So often wrong and harmful theology can sound so right, or it can be so close to the truth that people might not notice the lie. Every pastor and elder has a responsibility to know and teach sound doctrine. Every person alive with any thoughts about God is a theologian, our job is to be good theologians! Therefore, we must correct and protect people from false doctrine, always with Scripture so that the Good Shepherd’s voice is the foundation, not ours.
Remember that we are sheep
People can put pastors on a pedestal, elevate them and think of them as greater than your average Christian. Sure they might be trained theologically, sure they might be gifted communicators of God’s Word, but the reality is that they still say ‘baaaah’ like every other sheep. A pastor or elder is first and foremost a sheep in the pen of the Good Shepherd. Yes, they’ve been given the responsibility to lead a flock but they are not better than any member of that flock. This reminder is helpful because it keeps you humble. As an undershepherd, you are not the saviour of the church. You are not the one who can ‘fix’ the church. You are not the answer to the pastoral concerns, apologetics questions or numerical and spiritual growth of the church. You’re a sheep who stands and tells other sheep about the Great Shepherd.