Calvary Road Baptist Church

“NOT SPARING THE FLOCK”

Acts 20.28-30

 

This morning I dealt with the insanity of doing the same things over and over again to bring people to Christ, even though the results show that genuine conversions are too often not the result. That is one of the reasons why so many churches are composed of church members who are in the main lost, and why men who either are lost themselves or are operating under the same delusions that I operated under for so many years pastor so many churches.

Gospel preaching pastors have historically been among the most passionate and zealous evangelists over the centuries, dedicated to the salvation of the lost through faith in Jesus Christ. What happened, over the years, that transformed so many preachers, including most Baptist pastors, from being men who were devoted to making disciples as Jesus commanded in His Great Commission, to becoming men who simply counted attendance figures, to becoming men who cataloged professions of faith as if they were real conversions, and who tallied the number of people they could baptize as if that was a real measure of effectiveness in making disciples for Jesus Christ? To be sure, the Apostle Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 5.11, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” We admit that our efforts to reach the lost should employ persuasion. However, at what point did the ethics of the ministry become so distorted that the tactics employed to persuade sinners devolved into manipulating folks to repeat prayers instead of trusting in Christ, to baptizing anyone you can get into the baptistery instead of those with credible evidence of the new birth, or convincing folks in the pews that submission to the preacher is the same thing as submission to the gospel? Pastors seem compelled to keep statistics showing the number present as opposed to the same service last week, last month, and last year. Nothing wrong with that. Many also keep statistics showing the number of professions of faith and the number of baptisms to date this year as compared to last year. However, no one to my knowledge keeps comparisons of the percentage of those professions of faith that led to baptisms, or the percentage of those professing to be saved who are actually faithfully attending the church a year later, or whether those people who come into the church are the same ones that have supposedly been reached with the gospel.

Asahel Nettleton is barely recognized by most church-going people these days, even though he was the instrument God used to ignite the Second Great Awakening at the beginning of the 19th century here in the United States. Let me give you just two examples of the way it used to be under the ministry of a real gospel preacher. I read excerpts from Nettleton’s biography about his preaching in 1814. The authors, who published in 1854, tell us:

 

An account of this revival was written by James Morris, Esq., an intelligent and pious gentleman, who resided in that place, and who, for many years, sustained a high reputation as a teacher of youth. The account was never published; but the manuscript has been carefully preserved, and has been kindly submitted to my inspection. The narrative is very particular. It gives the names and age of eighty individuals, the time of each one’s hopeful conversion, and some account of the religious exercises of almost all of them.

A few extracts will be interesting to the reader.[1]

 

After several pages in which the authors provide for us brief biographical sketches of those converted under Nettleton’s preaching in but one location, the authors give this summary:

 

These few instances, taken from many similar to them recorded in this narrative, will serve to give the reader some idea of the character, not only of this revival, but of the revivals generally thirty years ago. The subjects of this revival, so far as I have been able to learn, with few exceptions, continued to adorn the Christian profession.[2]

 

In other words, those converts were still faithful to the cause of Christ thirty years later. Here is another excerpt about the results of Nettleton’s preaching, this time relating events occurring in 1829:

 

A large number of the subjects of this revival were young people, belonging to the first families in the place. Of about one hundred who expressed hope at that time, more than sixty belonged to the centre district. Numbers of them have removed to other places, and others have died in the joyful hope of glory. . . Of the number admitted to the church that year, only four have apostatized. They have generally maintained the Christian character; and some of them are eminently useful in the Church.[3]

 

You see, when keeping track of the results reflects well on the ministry, such as when those hopefully converted are truly born again, the numbers are kept. However, no contemporary church that I am aware of that keeps track of attendance figures, professions of faith, number of baptisms, and such things as that, is willing to keep track of where those people are a year later, five years later, and so forth. Why do pastors not keep track of such numbers these days? Because those statistics would be damning to their ministries, that is why. What has happened between then and now? Why are so many churches these days filled with lost people? If you doubt what I say, explain why so distinguished and experienced a preacher as the late B. R. Lakin said that seventy-five percent of those attending gospel preaching churches were lost?[4] As well, “Dr. A. W. Tozer gave an even more dismal figure when he said, ‘Among evangelical churches probably no more than one out of ten know anything experientially about the new birth.”[5]

Something has happened. What has happened is not good. What has happened is what the Apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders would happen the last time he met with them, recorded for us in Acts chapter twenty. The Apostle was pressed for time, so he could not visit the city of Ephesus, and instead arranged to meet with the spiritual leaders of that congregation at another location. I read from Acts 20.16-17:

 

16     For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.

17     And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

 

We do not have time to read Luke’s full account of that meeting. However, there are three verses which provide for us what we need to see tonight. Read verses 28-30 with me:

 

28     Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

29     For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

30     Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

 

Paul speaks here of danger to the Ephesian congregation. This evening I want to make you aware of three sources of danger to this flock and to other congregations:

 

First, DANGER CAN ARISE FROM GRIEVOUS WOLVES WHO COME FROM OUTSIDE THE CHURCH

 

In verse 29, Paul warns them, “after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.”

 

Outsiders would not dare come into the congregation while Paul was anywhere nearby, because they would have to contend with him, and they were certainly not prepared for that. In the Old Testament dispensation, God’s provision for the protection of His people was angels. However, in the New Testament, though Hebrews 1.14 makes reference to guardian angels for those who shall be heirs of salvation, church pastors have been provided by the Lord Jesus Christ to guard over His churches, according to Hebrews 13.17 and Revelation chapters two and three. Few ministers of the gospel can be expected to be as effective as Paul must have been when protecting the flock. However, the importance of pastoral protection is clearly seen by Paul’s description of the threat. Those who come in from outside are “grievous wolves.” Grievous translates a Greek word that refers to an unbearable temperament, fierce, cruel, and savage.[6] Identifying them as wolves shows us Paul understands that they are lethal enemies. Labeling them “grievous wolves” shows us Paul knows that you will not fare well against such a person.

Do you not understand, my friend, that there are certain spiritual conflicts in which you are overmatched, which you cannot win, and against an enemy God has not and will not equip you to stand up well against? Not because He does not love you and has not made provision for your safety. It is because His plan for your safety involves your pastor engaging in the conflict, instead of you joining in the battle against the “grievous wolves.” That is why you do not allow someone to come into this church and open his Bible to teach you. If he wants to teach people, let him assume the pastorate of a church somewhere. No Bible studies conducted by him. No counseling sessions with him somewhere while I am in my office tending to pastoral concerns. Love our guests, like our guests, be open and receptive to our guests, but do not allow anyone who has not been charged by God to equip you for ministry to teach you from the Bible. You may be opening yourself to the dangerous influence of a “grievous wolf.”

 

Next, DANGER CAN ARISE FROM WITHIN THE CHURCH

 

Verse 30: “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”

 

There are three characteristics of this second kind of threat to the spiritual well-being of church members:

First, they are presently among us, or they will insinuate themselves into our congregation so that they become one of us: “of your own selves shall men arise.” “Is there nowhere we are perfectly safe?” Yes, in the arms of Jesus. Jesus did say, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”[7] Thank God, we are in the world but not of the world. Amen? Tragically, it can even be dangerous inside our congregation for those who are not careful.

The next clue about who such a threatening person is concerns his speech: “speaking perverse things.” The word perverse has to do with distortion, or to make something crooked that is straight.[8] This person twists and distorts scriptural principles and clearly revealed doctrinal truths. Keep your ears attuned to errant doctrine and to where it comes from.

However, it is the final characteristic that is typically most revealing: “to draw away disciples after them.” These men and women labor to build a following. They want to speak to their own constituency so that they can eventually speak for their own constituency. Such people do not always want to create a church split, though such is frequently the case. They do, however, want to elevate themselves to being a spokesman for their group instead of encouraging individuals to speak for themselves. This is not to suggest that there is not a place for leaders in a congregation. However, leaders need to be first and foremost spiritual, and leaders need to lead others in the right direction, which is hardly likely to be in a direction different than their pastor is leading. That should be a red flag.

 

Finally, DANGER CAN ARISE FROM OTHER CHURCHES

 

In Paul’s day, congregations generally numbered one per city. Not much danger of one pastor in a town being a threat to a congregation located in another city located miles away over a difficult route. These days, however, there are churches all over the place, with most church growth not coming from real evangelism of the lost but by means of enticing members of one church to leave and join another church. So rare is the church that is committed to real evangelism that even churches that muster massive door-to-door soul winning outreaches, so called, do not grow from their soul winning outreaches at all, but by impressing people with their massive outreach and then enticing those members of other churches to then come and join their church. Thus, the church actually grows by sheep stealing while pretending to be evangelistic.

A longtime professor of systematic theology at a large Midwestern Bible College once told me how it happened in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. When the great soul winning independent Baptist churches all across the USA were burgeoning in such cities as Chicago, Detroit, Canton, and Akron, what was really happening was not evangelism at all. Rather, it was people being persuaded to leave their compromising mainline churches to join the aggressively evangelistic churches. It looked to everyone like soul winning growth, but it was actually transfer growth.

Here is how it happens today, folks. A young man comes under conviction and receives Christ. The same thing happens to a young woman. They meet and marry and begin to have children and are happy in their church. One day they receive an invitation to come and visit another church that seems more entertaining to their children, or has what seems to them to be a more exciting music ministry. As it happens, the pastor of the church they are invited to visit is entirely without scruples because he has not the first notion of how to truly bring a sinner to Christ, so his commitment to growth is really by means of sheep stealing, enticing those from other churches to come and join his church.

Of course, such a move greatly burdens the church whose pastor is committed to evangelism, but the young family who moves their membership away from the church where they were saved gives no thought about the folly of placing their children under the ministry of a man and a ministry that is not committed to seeking the salvation of the lost. It will not be until the parents get to heaven without their kids that they will realize what a terrible mistake they made, and how tragically complicit was that pastor who flattered himself that he could better minister to that couple than the man God used to bring them to Christ.

Want to know how committed preachers are to sheep stealing? Several years ago I finally met in person a young Baptist pastor not too far from here that I had spoken to several times on the phone. As I shook his hand, I told him three things: First, I told him I wanted to be his friend. Second, I told him that I would never allow one of his members to join this church. Finally, I told him that I would not encourage anyone from his church to even visit our church, and expected him to do the same thing for me. The look on his face was shock, and he turned and walked away from me. At pastors fellowship meetings he avoids me like the plague. He has no concept of ministry that does not involve sheep stealing.

Our final focus this evening is on that danger from outside, from someone who would not be a threat if his church was just a little farther away, or if he was committed to conducting an ethical ministry. Here is why I cannot fellowship with such pastors of nearby churches:

First, they seek members from nearby flocks. There has never been a time in human history when some migrations of members have not taken place. However, among Baptists that seek the salvation of the lost and are committed to an ethical ministry, such practices were rare except during the great migrations to the south and west. It used to be that transfers were otherwise infrequent and occurred only with the consent of the pastor of the church that had been left. We Baptists always understood church membership to be a serious commitment that was the consequence of only the most serious consideration. Nowadays, however, pastors have such a low view of the church relationship that they very aggressively solicit members of even nearby Baptist churches. How can you tell the pastors who do this? When you typically hear the pastor say something like, “Mrs. Jones comes into the fellowship of our church today by transfer of letter.” Only the letter was not sent to her old church to ask permission for Mrs. Jones to transfer out of her old church, but to declare to her old church that she was no longer a member. That is what seemingly old-fashioned churches do these days. Most “modern” pastors no longer bother with notifying the person’s old church of a change of membership at all. My friends, we want no part of this approach to church life, which is why I urge you not to invite your church-going friends to any of our church activities. I do not think you should go to their cantatas, or that they should be invited to ours. Why not? Because their pastors seek members from nearby congregations, without regard for the ethics of what they are doing, that is why.

Second, they do not seek the salvation of the lost. Please listen carefully. I am deadly serious when I tell you that the most aggressively evangelistic churches you know, with the exception of our friends downtown, are not really committed to seeking the salvation of the lost. How do I know? They refuse to do those things that are necessary to actually bring sinners to Christ. Those of you who have been here a long time will remember that we used to have a Thursday night soul winning and visitation time. As long as we put forth that effort, we had no real chance of seeing sinners come to Christ. Why not? Because it was not a serious effort to reach the lost, but was so much busywork to help people feel good about themselves, that is why. When sinners are dealt with in a silly and superficial manner, or when a pastor assumes everyone who says he is a Christian really is a Christian, or when a pastor receives people into his church on the basis of what they tell him without any attempt to verify that they really and truly know Christ, the efforts to bring men to Christ are not serious. We once had one of the most well known and reputable youth ministries in Southern California, yet not one of the young people involved in that youth group is here today, or is involved in a decent church wherever they happen to be. Why not? That is not how young people are brought to Christ. Do not invite members of gospel preaching churches here, and certainly do not encourage their members to invite you there. Why subject yourself to needless flattery and temptation?

Third, they are content to steal sheep. Understand that although it is possible to take a Biblical analogy to an absurd extreme, there is some real benefit to applying the principles of the shepherd and the flock to the pastor and the congregation. Why else would the Bible have used the metaphor? That said, it is a very clear requirement of the Mosaic Law that one of the flock of the herd that has wandered away be returned to its flock or its herd. Deuteronomy 22.1-4:

 

1      Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.

2      And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.

3      In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother’s, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.

4      Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.

 

Is it an accident that in our text Paul encourages the Ephesian elders to “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God”? That verb translated feed is the verb form of the Greek word for pastor.[9] Stealing sheep, real sheep or church members, by luring or enticing them, is just not right. It is wrong. Flocks should grow by reproduction and not by rustling.

Fourth, they think nothing of disrupting other men’s ministries. Notice what pastors are described as doing in Ephesians 4.11-12:

 

11     And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12     For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

 

Verse twelve shows that my charge is to perfect the saints, which is to equip you for ministry. That involved process takes years. What happens to that process when the pastor of another church takes you into the church he pastors? Is the equipping process not thereby interrupted? Is it not disrupted? The Bible teaches that before honor is humility, Proverbs 15.33. I can tell you of several instances where I believe God was humbling someone to save them and to make them extremely useful in this ministry, but they were lured away by a pastor to another church, where I think they are presently neither saved nor useful in God’s service.

Finally, they contribute to chaos and corruption. I am of the opinion that pastors are generally so devoid of any real sensibilities when it comes to bringing the lost to Christ that they will say just about anything and do just about anything to grow their churches numerically. I know of a pastor who teaches a course in pastoral ethics at a Bible college, though he has stolen a number of sheep from this church. Imagine that. Teaching young men what ethical conduct is while doing what he does. I have the notes from his course in my library, and have noticed that he never mentions sheep stealing at unethical conduct. That is how bad it is. Some years ago I asked evangelist Jim Cook what he thought was the greatest sin of pastors in the gospel ministry. He said it was greed. When I asked him to elaborate, he said he thought pastors would do just about anything to get people in, even from the churches of their closest colleagues, to get the tithes of the people. My friend, God is not the author of this kind of confusion. He is a God of order. It is orderly and scriptural for congregations to grow by reaching the lost, not by enticing members of other churches to come here, or by members of other churches enticing you to go there. Members of other churches do not have much sense. They are not well taught, so it is not surprising they are so unethical in their conduct. However, their pastors should know better, and are guilty unethical conduct if they do not teach their people to leave members of other gospel preaching churches alone.

 

It is dangerous to be a Christian, though certainly not eternally dangerous, and not nearly as dangerous as it is to be lost. Church members, especially good ones, are prey for the predators in spiritual conflict. Beware of grievous wolves. Beware of those who rise up from within. In addition, beware of the innocent and flattering invitations from well-intentioned but misdirected members of other churches.

Our church is committed to growth by reaching lost people and by being no threat whatsoever to nearby gospel preaching churches. Let us do what we need to do to make sure pastors of nearby churches are not a threat to us. When invited, I urge you to politely decline.



[1] Bennet Tyler and Andrew Bonar, The Life And Labours Of Asahel Nettleton, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1975), page 71.

[2] Ibid., page 78.

[3] Ibid., pages 282-283.

[4] R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Preaching To A Dying Nation, (Los Angeles, CA: Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles, 1999), page 42.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 167-168.

[7] John 16.33

[8] Bauer, page 237.

[9] Ibid., page 842.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org