Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sheepish Excuses

Tim Challies had a colorful post the other day about sheep plunging off an embankment as their shepherds busied themselves with breakfast. The point was to consider how stupid sheep are and how easily they are herded to their doom – they are natural followers. More than that, look what sheep do when not properly shepherded!

I commented on challies.com, but thought I might pose a similar problem here. When do the sheep bear responsibility for their own misstep? In other words, isn’t there a time when the sheep ought to say to themselves, “Hey, everybody is plunging to their doom off that cliff up there. Maybe I should stop and go the other direction?”

I have met more than 11 people who kept grazing away in some silly church which they knew was rushing headlong to destruction. They gave reasons for staying, but I have yet to be very convinced by any of them...

1. My whole family goes there. It has been our church for generations.
Well, God doesn’t bless walls, He saves souls. If the church you are in is not preaching the gospel, then get your whole family out!

2. Things will fall apart if we leave there.
Well, I hate to tell you this, but things have already fallen apart if the Word is not preached and the Lord not delighted in! Besides it may shock you to find out that things will continue along on the same path without you. You are never as indispensable as you think. I suggest you quickly inform the leadership of your coming departure and get yourself to an authentic church.

3. We’ve been there so long!
Well, Lot’s wife lived in Sodom for a long time, too. Long enough to stop seeing what was wrong with that debauched city. Have you been there so long you cannot see how bad things really are?

4. We don’t like changing churches and starting all over again at relationships.
Well, neither do I. Neither do many people I know. But, in serious matters, serious steps need to be taken. Sometimes change is the only option.

5. We are so comfortable there.
Well, Peter and James and John were comfortable sleeping on the ground in Gethsemane. Just because you can nap on a rock doesn’t mean there isn’t something better for your spiritual posture. If the Word is not preached – go out and find it and there will be comforts for your soul you never imagined.

6. We like to go to church close to home.
Well, so do I – and hopefully there is a church close to your home that preaches the Word and delights in its Author... but if there isn’t, I think it is worth driving as far as you have to in order to be with God’s people and grow in His grace.

But do you know what would be better than all these options? If you stopped in your tracks, called out to all the other sheep around you and said, “Hey, we are dying down here! Let’s go talk to the shepherds!” Then you all meander over to the misguided shepherds and say, “Attention, Shepherds. We want the green pastures and still waters! Baaaa.”

If they get up from their distractions and take you there – you have won your shepherd (and you can stay in your church!) But if they refuse to listen, you kick the dust off your hooves (do sheep have hooves) and find yourself shepherds that are following the Chief Shepherd.

I am never for leaving churches if we can avoid it... but life is short, and if your church is committed to ways that oppose the Gospel and the glory of God, I say, get out and find a place where God is delighted in. Only, don’t come to my church – that would be sheep-stealing.


  1. Very good points, Paul.

    Maybe people would do better to ask less relationally-motivated questions, eh! Maybe they would do better by asking whether the shepherds in the church are keeping watch over their souls (Acts 20:28), or whether they are regularly hearing the truth preached plainly and in such a way that the shepherd/pastors will not be accountable if the sheep die spiritually (cf. Ezekiel 33). If not, then they should also ask whether they are spiritual maverics who can survive on their own while their shepherds FAIL to shepherd. I know I'm too weak to be in a church that fails regarding the Word and shepherding!

  2. I am reminded of the story of a man who was asked why he stayed in the liberal denomination he was in. His answer? "It's not a bad boat to fish from". A reason with at least a little meat to it, although it is only good for someone who has no children to warry about being infected by the badness of the place.

    I asked my father once, who was pastoring in a church that was very dead, why he stayed there. His reply? "I am afraid what will follow me when I leave". He proved prophetic but at least gave the church some truth for a while and we pray that eternity will show the fruit of it.

  3. But you are talking about a whole different scenario... one that I am more than familiar with. That is, going or staying in a wayward church as a shepherd trying to get the flock going in the right direction. Some would describe this as "reforming" a congregation, and there is certainly place for godly men like your father-in-law to do just that. What I am trying to suggest is that there is no point in sheep staying in a place if they have kids or want a congregation where they can bring new believers.
    I think the two scenarios are a world apart. I didn't even abuse an apostrophe to say that!

  4. No, but you did call Ken's father his father-in-law. ;-)

  5. I wonder if you're talking about a mixture of "church-goer sheep" and "regenerate sheep". While the regenerate realize the lack of life and may be hanging around in a missionary sort of role, the church-goers could well be there for the socializing, the coffee, the appearance of doing what's right, not knowing or caring that there is no life. As far as they're concerned the grass is green and the grazing is good.

    Have you ever met anyone who enjoyed attending a church with a wayward (or negligent) shepherd? I'm not saying it's necessarily so, but I think it's likely that many there don't miss the Truth and the Life because they don't know the Truth and the Life. As you mentioned, some would really do best to pack up and ske-daddle for their own sake, but there are also those who can't bear to leave because there are still sheep headed for the cliff.

  6. Ahhh. Your post hits one of my chief concerns on the nose. I'm a student in a church that is running down the "church growth" cliff. The gospel is getting scarce from the pulpit and emphasis is getting more heavily placed on our strategies for getting people to "come to church". I have serious concerns that people are being made members after mental assention to the gospel facts. (unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God")

    I am staying because I do not think it is right to leave unless I have made a legitamite effort to reform the church. If I fail then I have standing to leave. Otherwise I am not loving my brethren that reside in that church still. I find this to be a heavy burden since it is hard to reform without much support from a church body and no "leadership position".

    Any thoughts or advice on my situation?

  7. Traveler,

    If you stay you need to make sure of a few things: 1) That a constant diet of thelogical junk food does not turn you into what you see your church becoming, 2) That you do not develop a bitter spirit that may result from constantly battling in an atmosphere that should be irenic, 3) that you get your soul fed. If you continue where you are your soul is in danger of drying up. Make sure you get fed, and remember that no amount of internet, books etc. is an adequate substitute for fellowship with fellow lovers of Christ. It is a dangerous thing to stay in a church JUST to change it. Pray hard and keep your powder dry.

  8. Odious - thank you for the correction. (You are so helpful at that!)

    Traveler - I wish I had some good advice for you. The only hope you have IMHO is to pray. If you are not in leadership, then you are not in a position to do much more than appeal to the leaders. I don't want to sound hopeless, for God is able to do mighty things. I would say, pray much; talk little; speak humbly; ask questions; listen carefully; pray more; stay close to the Lord through His Word.
    Anyone else add anything?

  9. Sorry - just saw Ken's good advice... (he posted 26 seconds before me!)