There is a lovely little meme doing the rounds on twitter. A sheep has been found wandering in the wilds. Over time it has grown a thick coat of wool. It has been attacked many times by wolves who have attempted to devour it but none could bite through the wool. The lesson, to defend ourselves and stay safe, we just need to be like the sheep and stay soft and fluffy.
It sounds fantastic doesn’t it? Especially with the obvious application to Christians and those who seek to undermine the church and harm believers, especially in the face of abusive and corrupt leaders, especially in the face of bullying church members.
There is one little problem. The story is untrue. The sheep, named Shrek, is from the south Island f New Zealand where the just happen to be no wolves. It provides no evidence for how we should stay safe from wolf attacks.
Now one of the broader points made by Christians who picked up on the original tweet was that we don’t help sheep stay safe from wolves by becoming wolf like ourselves. That is a true and important point. However, what we will not do is defend the flock by being fluffy and woolly. Too much woolliness has in fact been the very reason why too many Christians have suffered for far too long at the hands of false teachers, bullies and abusers.
So, how do we defend against wolves? The answer is found in John 10. There, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, he lays down his life for the sheep. The image is of the sheep, known by name, counted into the sheepfold and then the shepherd himself stands or sits in the gateway to defend from attack. The wolves come, in packs, howling in the night. Their aim is to cause the sheep to panic and scatter, then they can be picked off one by one. The sheep need to stay safely together with the shepherd. Our first responsibility is to stick together, to look out for one another. Watch out for those who are becoming isolated, call them back to the Gospel and to the community of believers. We should be encouraging each other regularly with prayer and God’s Word.
Jesus warns that hired hands will scatter in fear leaving the sheep unprotected. Churches suffer I the hands of hired hands. Now, this can be that a pastor is in place just for the pay but also others can act like hired hands if they get into leadership for status, personal satisfaction or just out of longevity/family connections. Churches need shepherds, and elders/pastors are meant to do that under Christ. Those of us in leadership are meant to both feed the flock with the goodness of God’s word and protect them from wolves.
This means that the shepherds need to use the tools for the job that have been given them. A wooly coat is not enough for a wannabe shepherd. Defending against wolves means that false teaching must be refuted and bullies confronted. The specific tool we have been given for this is God’s Word.
But most of all, the sheep are kept safe because of the good shepherd. Even the most godly, fearless, hardworking pastor/elder cannot keep the church completely safe. It is specifically in the Shepherd’s willingness to lay down his life for the sheep that we find true safety.
There is an alpha male in the wolf-pack, Satan. All wolves are doing his work when they try to get in to destroy the church and devour its members. When Jesus died and rose again, the alpha male was defeated. False teachers and abusers rely on being able to manipulate and control through accusation, they feed on fear, guilt and shame. Jesus’ death and resurrection removes the wolves’ fangs because the accuser has nothing left to say. We have been declared righteous in Christ.
We help each other to stay safe from the wolf attacks when we remind each other of the Gospel. Every church member has a responsibility to one another. Church leaders have a particular responsibility to defend the flock by pointing them to the good shepherd.
We discussed this at #afternoontea on Sunday 19th April