The Filthy Sheep Stealer
Pastoring is dirty work. A pastor is soiled by his own sin, but he is also subject to the sinful lives of Christ’s flock. The pastor is a party to each believer’s sanctification, for those in his care. Even as some are truly living more aligned with Christ, others have just been transferred from the pig pen they have been living in.
New believers are brought into the sheepfold of the local church by the faithful preaching of Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:1–4). The Word of God gives faith and adds to His church (Mt 16:18; Rom 10:17), as the Spirit gathers the lost, elect (Jn 3:1–8; 2 Tim 2:19). Heaven rejoices when one who was blind, now sees…when one who was lost is found. The church assimilates the babe in Christ and nurtures the new believer to spiritual maturity (Acts 2:37–47; 1 Cor 12:13).
There is a despicable work done by the false shepherd of a false church. This work is set in stark contrast with the supernatural church growth, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, noted above. This is the work of sheep stealing, done by the meanest of hirelings.
What drives sheep stealing in the realm of the kingdom of God? It is often employed by church growth pastors, who obsess with flock size, for the sake of their own pride. Their justifications are too many to address here, but not one of their justifications is valid.
A number of years ago, I was slandered in a Southern California pulpit for, “taking 150 people with him.” Not only was there zero evidence for such a claim, there was no apology by the one who slandered me before his congregation. I forgave this pastor, and I wrote him with the accurate accounting of the disgruntled 150, who were lied to by a church board, and who understood they were being lied to by that group. This happened in an unhappy meeting with those who fired me from being the senior pastor, without informing the congregation of what they were doing. Those 150 scattered, as their pastor was struck down. They were sheep without shepherd.
At the time I was accused of this significant coup d’etat of Christ’s local pasture, our family was homeless. A very gracious couple rescued us and gave us use of their cabin in the San Bernadino Mountains some two hours away. I was in no position to steal sheep, and the fact that I have preached my whole ministry career against this deplorable activity meant nothing to my accuser. I know I have inched up to the border of this reprehensible action (sheep stealing) and left the door of the sheepfold open to a couple of people, and this I regret, even confess as sin. The temptation is real, and pastors should be vigilant.
I admit, I laughed out loud when I heard my name in the audio recorded sermon, attached to the heinous charge. My regular readers know how I loathe church growth gurus and the whole church growth movement. Few things in the church stink of the world so much! Never before have I been grouped with such ambitious men. My wife also laughed out loud when she heard the news of my fictitious prowess, and if her laughter does not tell the truth about me, I don’t know what will!
This sad saga does have some redeeming qualities. The pastor who was misled and who slandered me did later apologize to me and even repented before the congregation in a very humble, albeit frustrated way. He had acted on bad information. He was very gracious toward me afterward, and we can rejoice in every Spirit-led reconciliation. It is good for brothers to dwell in unity (Ps 133:1–3).
How many people can one pastor intimately care for? A while back, I had lunch with then my pastor, who had no more than 50 souls under his care. He said to me, “If God were to give us another 20 or 30 people, we would need to plant a new church.” Here is a man of God who knew his limitations and who was content with God’s allocations.
The local church is a family where everyone knows the names of his or her brethren. The pastor cares for each soul and refuses to employ anything other than the preaching of the Gospel for evangelism and edification (2 Tim 4:2).
Having been accused of something I lament, even detest, serves me with the opportunity to challenge pastors to guard the sheepfold. Disgruntled, wayward sheep are no blessing to anyone. They should be sent back to their pastor and church family; or, if this is the crux of their wandering, the pastor in question should be sought for an agreeable transfer.
People of God, the tree planted and replanted again and again will not prosper. God is faithful to call you to join His family. Be very sure of your placement in it, so not to hurt the bride of Christ. Father, forgive me, and forgive us for mishandling your people in any way.
Pastors, care for the sheep God has given you to feed and tend. Be content with what you have; and if, in His providence, He displaces you, then move on to what he has next for you. He is faithful, and we must learn to be content whether we are abounding or being abased.
Spokane Valley, Washington
November 4, 2021