As a youthful pastor in the early days of my ministry, I took a long walk in a Michigan woods with a trusted and admired friend, Ken Hanson, seeking counsel from a wise layman. We discussed many things, but his one word that has marked my ministry most was this: “Don, don’t beat the sheep.” That encounter led me to a study of the Lord as Shepherd — He knows His sheep and gently leads those with young: He restores their souls, and leads in paths of righteousness.
Most come to worship services battle-worn and weary, needing encouragement and communion more than criticism. If the Word of God is faithfully and lovingly taught, the Holy Spirit may be trusted to do His corrective work. Nowhere in the Bible are shepherds instructed to beat the sheep. A word of wisdom to all who teach, preach, or lead: DON’T BEAT THE SHEEP!
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While this admonition is usually for pastors, it applies equally to the congregation. How many criticisms does your pastor endure every week after delivering a thoughtfully-prepared sermon? You might be shocked to find out!
Rebuking others IS occasionally necessary. We all sin, and need to be encouraged to avoid shipwreck. But this “encouragement” can degrade quickly. All too soon we can find ourselves doing the work of Satan, “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Rev 12:10). Rather than affirming the powerful work of God in others’ lives, we can pretend that He is ineffective.
Pastors and church members should ask themselves some questions before accusing others:
1. How’s my own spiritual health?
2. How confident am I that the Spirit wants me to get involved in this?
3. Have I troubled myself to
a. Pray for them?
b. Talk with them and learn about their progress in other areas?
c. Cheer them on in that progress?