I was reading an article in a religious magazine today reminding pastors that part of their job as “shepherd” is to “warn and reprove” the flock. The author went on to say that as a real shepherd protects sheep and keeps them out of danger, it is the job of a pastor to warn their (metaphorical) sheep and keep them out of spiritual danger.
My initial reaction was one of skepticism. Aren’t people supposed to be responsible for themselves? Don’t too many church leaders keep their congregations in a constant state of emotional and spiritual adolescence and dependence? And on top of all that, what socio-political assumptions were behind the author’s words? Was there some hidden agenda?
Then I remembered: at one point in the Old Testament God says to his prophet: “If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life.” (Ezekiel 3:18-19)
The apostle Paul also warned his friends: “I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert….” (Acts 20:29-31)
For someone who is seriously contemplating ordination these are pretty heavy passages. The job of a pastor is… well… humanly impossible when you get down to it. But I know God equips the people He calls. So I began to muse… if I were a pastor right now, what dangers might I warn my flock about?
For those readers who are pastors – I welcome your answers to this question. And for those readers who are not pastors – I welcome your reactions to, and any additions to, what follows. I could definitely have written much more. But I begin with…
Lies. Quit sugar-coating them with the words “untruth” or “misinformation” or “inaccuracy”. When facts are spun, when figures are re-interpreted to promote a particular agenda, this is not simply a “point of view”. They’re lies. And all lies have the same source… which leads me to…
The words of Paul, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Our enemies are not Democrats, Republicans, the rich, the poor, liberals, conservatives, or any individual politician, businessman, celebrity or religious leader. A follower of Christ is called to contend against unjust practices, fallacies, errors, misconceptions… whether they are accidental or deliberate… and stand for what is true, just, and compassionate. One of the biggest lies people of faith fall for is that anyone other than God can make the nation (or the world) what it should be, and/or that God’s kingdom can be brought about by political means.
I would tell them: Be aware of the sources of lies, including but not limited to: political campaigns. Advertising. Infomercials. Press releases. News “analysis”. Selling smaller packages of goods in the grocery store while charging the same price. Corporate policies. Governmental policies. Church hierarchies. Prosperity preachers. People who want your money. People who see lovemaking as a sophisticated game of IOU. And just about anyone who doesn’t want to be held responsible for something.
I would tell them: The world is a dangerous place. Remember 9/11 – how for a moment the flimsy gauze of our societal fabrications was torn away and we realized how, at any given moment, very little stands between us and annihilation. This is the reality our society tries to cover up with its focus on money, power, success, fame, and lots of sex. Just going about one’s business every day, making an effort to do things God’s way, is an act of courage and the beginning of reform.
And I would tell them: Given all of the above bad news, we believers are delighted with life – because as the ancient king David wrote, “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” The principalities and powers will not win, because God is Truth, more powerful than any lie. People who know the Father, Son, and Spirit are free – free from fear, free from the need to justify the space they’re taking up on the planet, free to love, and serve, and give and receive, and delight in God’s creation and the grandeur He has made in the spirit of every individual. “If the Son makes you free you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)