The downfall of pastors both great and small should sadden us. But such events should not surprise us. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus tells his disciples, his church, to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In other words, false teachers will come. Pastors will fall. The church should prepare for the arrival of wolves.
Why no Guards?
The prevailing sentiment of God’s people makes no allowance for the possibility of such false teachers. The local congregation sees no need to guard the pulpit or its ministry apparatus for it assumes that only qualified, sincere, and devoted candidates will express a desire to pastor or lead a class. The local church assumes the very inclination towards the pastorate, mission field, or Sunday school room is the greatest prove of the person’s qualifications for the said ministry. When a question or two does arise that challenges the persons fitness, the majority of the congregation falls back upon this or that positive experience that they shared with the pastoral or missional candidate. The members remark that he was pleasant a conversationalist at lunch the other day or that she passionately cared for the kids in nursery the other night. Moreover, they assume that if the soon-to-be installed leader were truly of the devil, he would tell us about his love of money, or she would list teaching heresy as one of her hobbies on her social media profile. Since he’s nice, he must be qualified to lead the youth group. Since she’s nice, we really should support her trip to Nepal. No thought is given to the possibility that that the nice face could just be a mask hiding the soul of a wolf.
Beware the Wolf
According to Jesus, we should entertain such a possibility. Instead of blindly trusting every person with a Bible, our savior longs for us to test the spirits. In other words, we should examine the fruit of those who aspire to church and ecclesiastical leadership. Jesus notes in Matthew 7:18, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” When a prospective leader arrives at the church, the church should pat down the person’s character to see what fruit he or she has produced. Anyone can say “Lord, Lord,” talk passionately for a few minutes, or make a charming impression at a church social. But a man called by God to serve as an elder will bear fruit well beyond the controlled interactions tied to his professional ministry. He will consistently affirm others with his words, demonstrate a love for his family, a compassion for his enemies, a contentment with his income, and sexual purity. The man who spews out hate, hungers for money, and focuses inordinate amount of his attention upon sexual topics should not be advance into the pulpit even if he seems sincere, passionate, and gifted. In other words, the man who justifies his moral failings through appeals to his ability (an ability he may truly possess) is unquestionably wolf. To borrow the words of Paul, a faithful teacher must be above reproach (Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3). There is no room for equivocation. A good teacher will not preach truth on Sunday and then lie on Monday. A godly leader will produce good fruit.
What A Wolf Does
Once the church grants the wolf unfiltered access to the sheep, the false teacher will feast on the lives, relationships, and finances of the sheep, leaving a path littered with the bloody fruit of sin. The wolf may not stop feasting until he has eaten that local church into extinction. The damage one wolf or a wolf pack can do stretches the limits of our imagination. If a wolf cannot be removed quickly, the sheep should flee.
What God Does
Though wolves remain a very real threat, no wolf will overthrow the Church. Local outposts may fall into disrepair when their pulpits are left unguarded, but the church militant will forever survive. Moreover, justice will come. Someday soon, the false trees will be cut down and cast into hell (Matt 7:19). The good shepherd will also attend to his wounded sheep, restoring them to health. God will always show himself faithful even during a wolf attack.
Though God will stand by his church, wisdom demands that local churches should exam a potential church leader’s spiritual fruit long before giving him the keys to the pulpit or the ministry framework. Not every wolf has to run rampant among the sheep if we will but stand guard. Will you?