If you are a pastor or elder in the church, then your responsibility is to provide and protect. We see this in Acts 20:28-31
28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood[h]—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.[i] 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
Your responsibility is like that of a shepherd to the flock. You are to provide by feeding them with God’s Word and you are to protect by warning about danger. The danger comes, as seen in this passage from wolves, false teachers and leaders who come into the church and cause harm for their own selfish ends. But the danger also comes from ourselves. Elsewhere Paul will talk about spiritual warfare in terms of our war on sinful desire (see Romans 8). The big dangers to the church are often not from the obvious high-profile wolf but from within.
- That a member of the church will fall into sin doing damage to themselves, even shipwrecking their faith.
- That other members of the church will be harmed by their sin. The obvious example being when a man is unfaithful then his wife and children suffer harm.
- That they bring others down with them, tempting and encouraging them to join in the same sin.
It’s important to get this because if we are honest, we enjoy the first part of the responsibility: providing, feeding. There’s the intellectual stimulation of preparing talks and Bible studies. Theirs the emotional satisfaction of seeing others growing. And yes, let’s be honest, we appreciate the attention and the connection. Feeding sheep, pets, babies has an obvious and immediate reward as a bond is built.
The protecting bit doesn’t seem so immediately and obviously rewarding. It means that I’m going to have to warn and challenge someone. This will mean being alert to when someone is in danger and when they are becoming a danger to others through
- The company they are keeping
- The books they are reading or podcasts they are listening to
- The habits they are cultivating.
- The aspects of their life that they are ignoring.
- The decisions they are making (e.g. to start a relationship with a non-Christian)
They may well not want to hear my warning. They may react badly, especially when things have moved so that there is sin that needs rebuking. And it may be that we need to warn others in line with 1 Corinthians 5 which again may lead to conflict.
Yet, the point is that whether or not we like it, this is part of our calling. If we won’t have the difficult conversations, then who will? And if we are not showing love by offering protection, what then happens to the sheep?