THE CHURCH NEEDS SHEPHERDS: SHEPHERDS NEED SHEEP-DOGS
In ancient Israel, sheep herding was a vital part of life. During the day, it was easy for the shepherd to see a wolf and protect the flock. Nighttime was a different story; when darkness fell, the shepherd was powerless. Not so with his dog. Even in the dark, when he could not "judge after the sight of his eyes or reprove after the hearing of his ears", the dog could smell a wolf. A dog’s sense of smell is 100 times greater than a humans. At a burned-out arson site a dog can smell 1/500,000th of a drum of flammable fuel. It was this usage of "ruach" which Isaiah said would typify the future Messiah. When Messiah came, He would not depend on sight or hearing for making judgment; instead, another sense, one which could penetrate the dark, would be His basis of judgment. When the Scripture says, "The Spirit of the Lord shall ... make him of quick understanding," that is, "quick to smell", it literally means the Messiah will be able to "smell a wolf in the dark". That is the clearest, most poignant illustration of the Holy Spirit's gift of discerning of spirits that you will find anywhere in Scripture. It also means that those who operate in this blessed sheepdog-endowment do not find themselves defenseless simply because night has fallen. Not so.
Every shepherd needs a sheep-dog. Knowing this, God sends them. Some shepherds cannot tell the difference between a sheepdog and a wolf and chase the dogs away. The loss to the shepherd and the flock is tragic. Other shepherds think they are sufficient by themselves and do not need assistants. This attitude is equally disastrous. Every shepherd needs a dog. Moses needed helpers and God sent them. One of his greatest was “Caleb”–whose name in Hebrew significantly means “sheepdog”.
In 1978 I returned to South Florida to begin a new work in an old congregation. I was freshly anointed with the Holy Spirit and alive with eagerness. For two years the church grew phenomenally. In a short time the congregation doubled, then doubled again, finances flourished, people were happy, and the Holy Spirit began moving in power. Word quickly spread that a church in Delray Beach, Florida, had come alive. Homes were rescued, addicts delivered, and lives changed. Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, came and experienced the power of God. One Catholic Monsignor experienced deliverance and was filled with the Holy Spirit in my office. He arranged for me to speak twice to the students and faculty at St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Seminary. I will never forget the young Latin Priests who pressed around me at the meeting’s end, wanting to hear more about the Holy Spirit. New believers were sometimes taken to the ocean after the night service and baptized in the dark. A young couple, Wendel and Jan Hollingsworth joined our staff and ushered us into genuine worship and praise. In that state, we attracted the good and bad, among them were sheepdogs and wolves.
In a short time the congregation found itself in the center of an ugly, public dispute with the denomination. My Ordination was cancelled. Suddenly, the glory ended and all-hell broke lose. One of our supposed-sheepdogs proved to be a wolf. The local newspaper carried his side of the story. I was accused of having stolen the church property from the founding family. To avoid that conflict we voluntarily gave up the church property, moved to the local High School–and fell apart. In a short time we went from a mountain of Glory to a pile or rubble. What had been a thriving, anointed congregation became a scattered, disorganized flock. Wolves carried off part of the lambs, the congregation dispersed, and sheepdogs disappeared. Worst of all, the community was robbed of its only Spirit-filled church. The pain for me was intense–unbearable. I felt abandoned, alone, wanted to quit preaching and hide. God said No. In that environment we struggled on.
During that depressing time I returned to my seat in the school cafeteria one Sunday morning, sat down next to a visitor–a gentleman I had never met–and immediately heard the Holy Spirit say,
“The young man beside you is one I have sent to be your helper.” I turned and looked. He was in deep worship and I did not interrupt. After the service I introduced myself and learned his name was Herb Young. In time, Herb became my assistant and proved to be a treasure of wisdom and endless motivation. He quickly took the lead as minister of music, served in every capacity from church janitor to counselor, errand-boy to personal friend. If a task needed to be done Herb was there to do it.
Looking back at the years of Herb’s ministry to the church, I seriously doubt we would have survived had not God sent him when He did. Herb was blessed with invincible determination. He could sense the presence of a wolf and was devoted both to me and the flock. Never once did I doubt his support for my role as pastor or the sincerity of his actions. Nor did I put him on a dog-leash. We soon moved into our wonderful facility in Boynton Beach and Herb disappeared as silently as he came. His work was done. An important truth I learned from him was this: The sheepdog is devoted to the shepherd. If needed, Herb would have protected me with his life. In a short time the congregation was thriving again, office-appointments filled our work-week, some pastors seeking help flew in from out of state. New faces appeared on Sundays. When I left the pastoral ministry in 1994 the church was filled and thrilled. Since then, I have learned much more about shepherds and sheepdogs which I think you need to hear.
I am aware that wolves and sheepdogs look much alike and that pastors must proceed cautiously–but I also know that it is spiritual-suicide for any pastor to pretend he is God’s sole gift to the church. Not so. If the church does not have sheepdogs–male and female–it indicates the pastor’s failure to recognize and encourage the development of spiritual gifts in his flock. Churches across America are literally dying because pastors are not devotedly mentoring their Calebs. Hear me: Pulpit preaching does not fulfill this pastoral role! Living relationally is the only acceptable route to pastor/sheepdog success. That requires giving responsibility to underlings and showing them how to develop their spiritual gifts. The proof of a church being a true New Testament organism is that God has “fitly joined the body together” with different parts working in harmony. Paul had Timothy, Barnabas, Silas, and other sheepdogs, as helpers and explained their function this way: “According to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body ...” Ephesians 4:16.
A healthy church is a growing church. If there is no growth something is wrong. And it is not God’s fault. I have been in churches across America and in other countries and can tell you without hesitation that every successful one has the “team” concept of ministry. One of the essential qualities of a true leader is that he recognizes his own limitations and supplements that lack by enlisting others. The best leaders–including the greatest American Presidents–have surrounded themselves with competent assistants and then delegated authority to them. Pastors who insist on working “solo” will ultimately burn-out and finish their ministry with nothing accomplished. Few things alarm me more than being in a church where the only voice I hear, the only activity I see, the only opinion working, is the pastor’s. A conscientious shepherd does not try to be the “whole show”. In my early ministry I knew a pastor who demanded sole care of church funds though his own record was one of financial failure and bankruptcy. How dare he put the church at risk! I say this kindly but I will say it none-the-less: I have yet to meet a pastor who was capable of being everything the church needed. He is not equipped to be administrator, treasurer, teacher, counselor, legal advocate, kitchen aide, etc., etc. Some have imagined they were competent to function alone—but in every case their records proved them wrong. Their congregations disappeared and the churches died as a direct result of their bad administration and egotistical self-image. Where were their sheepdogs? In some cases they had chased them away. Without sheepdogs the flock is destined to failure.
If I sound intolerant it is because I grieve for churches that are being endangered by arrogant–egotistical –pastors. And it is happening across the nation. We pastors, elders, church leaders, will be held accountable for the failures we have thrust upon the sheep. To me, the scariest verse in the Bible is when Jesus passes sentence on preachers at the Judgment who have “cast out demons in His name and in His name done many wonderful works”. Even so, to them he says: “Depart from Me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you!” Matthew 7:23. Was Jesus talking about pastors?! Yes. He had to be. These were “wolves in sheepdog clothing”.
At the same time I write this, I understand the pastor’s fear of trusting others. During my ministry there were times when I suffered severely at the hands of unloving Church Boards. Under no circumstance do I recommend that kind of behavior. Not only so, God will judge it. But one extreme does not justify another. We create greater problems when we circumvent the New Testament pattern. And what is that pattern? A plurality of Elders in God-fearing submission to each other while each concurrently supports the Pastor. There are times when a pastor is safe only when the Elders protect him from criticism and unjust accusation. Let me illustrate: In 70+ years of ministry I never signed a church check. Nor did I want to. Even Jesus had a treasurer. So did I. Though I now function as a private ministry I still have a well-qualified treasurer who carefully oversees the spending. Our records are judiciously kept. My Board members are my spiritual family–and I am grateful to God for them. Not only so, but I meet with them regularly to receive their advice and recommendation. I would not dare function any other way. Significantly, these same Calebs have been with me since 1994 when my traveling began. We have never had a controversy. God intends that all sheepdog-teams function this way. It can be done. When my pastoral ministry ended in 1994 and my evangelical work began, God quickly brought David Rhea into my life. David is a true Caleb. For years he accompanied me on trips from London to Alaska, Canada to South America, and points across the U.S.
I have been so incredibly blessed by spiritually-empowered men and women such as these that I am puzzled why other pastors do not recognize their Calebs and encourage them. Every shepherd needs a sheepdog. A shepherd without a Caleb is spiritually crippled. Any flock of sheep, large or small, healthy or infirm, will attract wolves. If the shepherd has chased off his sheepdogs he will be no match for the attack. The wolf comes to “kill, steal, and destroy”. John 10:10. The sheepdog comes to help protect the flock from that terrible invader. Believe me, in my decades of preaching I have encountered both. In 1993 God specifically told Karen McMichael to assist my ministry, she became secretary, and has remained at her Caleb-post ever since. Her husband, Craig, (a giant among Caleb-sheepdogs) is the one who brought others to my meeting. Sheepdogs such as Craig search for wandering sheep and bring them back to the fold.
This may surprise you but one of the greatest prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament identifies Him with the role of the sheepdog. He is the ultimate protector from the wolf. To Scripturally illustrate this fact I need to compare quotations of Isaiah 11:1-3, from both the old and New King James Bibles. You will observe that these two versions use very different language in translating the same word. Here is a partial quote from the original King James:
"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him ... and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears." Isaiah 11:1-3.
Where the old King James says, "Shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord," the New King James says, "His delight is in the fear of the Lord." "Quick understanding" and "delight" seem contradictory translations. Which version is correct? The answer: Both are correct. The same Hebrew word, "ruach", is the source for each, and both are valid renderings. Not only so, but their combined messages bring a valuable revelation about Jesus’ identity as a sheepdog.
What I say may seem technical but it is vital. Please stay with me. First of all, if you have an acquaintance with the Hebrew language, you recognized that ruach is the same word translated as "spirit”, “wind”, or “breath". Genesis 1:1. In the New King James, ruach refers to the inhaled breath; specifically, as "the delight of breathing the fragrance of roses". The original King James, instead of referring to the delight of breathing refers to the result. This is significant and provides a profound revelation about the sheepdog’s discerning the presence of a wolf. The New Testament calls this "discerning of spirits".
I meet pastors and church members who are virtually powerless in the area of discernment. They excel in their love for God but in detecting Satan's devices, they remain spiritually naive. Costly mistakes are made. The sheepdog is urgently needed. Theoretically, what these Christians observe in daylight hours, they recognize well. When darkness falls, they are helpless as anyone else, easily victimized by "those who lie in wait to deceive". Ephesians 4:14. When the thief comes to "kill, steal, and destroy," they are quickly exploited. John 10:10. The high divorce rate among Christians is primary proof of what I say. Deception tears good couples apart. Families, individuals, even churches, frequently have long histories of wrong decision-making. This cannot be the will of God. He is not honored when the world makes fools of His children.
God has provided adequate protection against this hazard through the Holy Spirit's gift of "discerning of spirits". I Corinthians 12:10. But this gift does not operate automatically; it has to be sought, nourished, and lovingly developed. A casual attitude toward it will produce superficial results; an earnest seeking of it will bring remarkable discretion and judgement. The choice is ours. In the New Testament day, the word "discern" was a Greek medical term which meant "to cut and look below the surface". With this spiritual gift in operation, one does not merely rely on things as they appear but may know them as they really are. Yes, it is possible, for believers to operate in the revelations of the Holy Spirit. In this capacity, we can regard ourselves as sheepdogs. Besides exposing things that are evil and dangerous, the Caleb-gift of discerning spirits also discloses the good and beautiful.
Soon after my return to Florida I felt isolated and in need of friends. My baptism-in-the Spirit caused the loss of my denomination and acquaintances. One morning I went to a pastors' meeting in West Palm Beach and then to a large cafeteria for lunch. As I sat alone, watching people enter the dinning room from the serving line, a young man appeared whom I had never seen before. In that instant, the Holy Spirit spoke, "He is your brother. I want you to meet him." The same moment, I was able to discern a godly presence upon him. When I finished my meal, I went to his table and said, "The Lord tells me you and I are 'brothers'." He gripped my hand, "Praise God!," He said, "Sit down. I am glad to meet you!"
Instantly, we experienced a fellowship as deep as if we had been friends for years. But, more was to happen. While we talked, the Holy Spirit told me to show him the business card in my pocket. There was only one. Handing it to him I asked, "Do you know this man?" He took it and said, "Yes!, this is my prayer-partner and brother in the Lord! Where did you get his card?" Briefly, I explained about meeting this pastor at the meeting a few hours before.
The significance of that event in the cafeteria was not about the man at the table, the card, or the person who gave it. Rather, the Holy Spirit was showing me how His gifts could bring new friends into my life, bless, protect, and direct me even in the smallest ways. He was demonstrating that I need never be afraid, feel alone, or think I was helpless. As with Philip and the Ethiopian, Acts 8:26-39, He could cause believers to meet in the middle of the desert or in crowded cafeterias. Please hear this point: Had that man been a "wolf" whom I was planning to trust in some vital way, the Holy Spirit could also have shown me that. In California one time, while praying for a man whose office was on Wall Street in New York City, the Holy Spirit accurately gave me the names of two men in his New York office who were dangerous to his business. I had never heard of either of them. My friend confirmed that both men were there and he had already distrusted them.
I am not saying that we–or any other sheepdog–will function perfectly; I certainly do not. At best, we are imperfect vessels. What I am saying is that we can function much better than we are presently doing. Nor do we seek gifts of our own choosing. We seek the Giver who distributes “to each one individually as He wills.” 1 Corinthians 12:11. Let me ask you a personal question: Have there been times in your life when you made imprudent, costly mistakes, because you depended on your eyes and ears and not your heart? The answer, of course, is yes. We are all guilty. Were there other times when you had a deep, deep "sense of warning" which you ignored? Again, all of us must admit that we have done so. Had you known that God had a provision to protect you from many of those blunders, would you have accepted it?
Before you answer, let me explain that "discerning of spirits", is only part of the Holy Spirit's package. Acts 1:4-8. I Corinthians 12-14. There are other endowments which come with it. All are wonderful, good, precious, blessings from Heaven. Even so, some well-intended, but wrongly motivated Christians scorn them. Not every church or denomination believes in the "package": The baptism in the Holy Spirit. Many churches have been victimized by deception, stripped of power, left in a spiritually-inert state but still adamantly insist nothing is wrong. Year after year, they continue their downward slide. Seemingly, they can see everything except the presence of this crippling attitude in themselves.
Without a sheepdog to sniff-out and expose the wolf, the church suffers. In rejecting sheepdogs and spiritual gifts, we Christians merely deprive ourselves. God says these Caleb-gifts are real. More importantly, the Holy Spirit wants us to have them. They are part of Jesus' provision for the Church. In our denial, we leave ourselves wide open for more destruction by the wolf. Acts 20:29. If you want God’s provision of spiritual gifts, they are your's for the asking–provided you will love them, treasure them, nourish, and encourage them. That requires submission to the total New Testament message. It requires time in prayer, fasting, communion with the Holy Spirit. Pride, ego, self-seeking, carnal ambition, must go. If you are a pastor, I pray God will bless your ministry with wonderful sheepdogs. If you are not a pastor, my prayer is that God will make you into the best sheepdog any pastor ever had. Either way, you are a winner. Satan is a loser. The Kingdom is advanced through Calebs. Long after Moses was dead and gone, Caleb carried on the work of the one who mentored him. Thank God for spiritual-sheepdogs and pastors whose Kingdom-work outlives them! Amen!