Sheep need a shepherd
It’s not my habit to read other people’s tweets or social media posts. I use social media as an extension of my calling to teach and preach and give pastoral care, serving first the souls of my own flock, so it has not been my practice to keep up with people online. Invariably Mary Lee lets me know what I really need to know about our church family and extended family, and yes this is a luxury for which I’m very thankful.
However, even not reading tweets and updates, I get enough pushback and correspondence related to what I write and I see enough promoted tweets as I post on Twitter that I have a pretty good sense of how Christians use social media, and thus this post pointing out you need a pastor.
As I tweeted something about fruit and manhood this morning—something I hoped would be merely helpful—another tweet blew onto my page just above where I was typing. It was about John Piper and it was apologetic. It was the statement you’ll often hear people make about any pastor who is actually helpful, Biblically: something like, “I don’t agree with everything Pastor John Doe says, but…”
Then they’re off and running about this or that statement he’s made they think he’s wrong on.
Now I’m not opposed to discussing the errors of pastors, and particularly those pastors who have succeeded in becoming rich and famous Christian celebrities. I grew up observing this scrambling for attention and money in Wheaton among Christian publishers, then continued to watch it at Gordon-Conwell, at general assemblies, at conferences where I spoke, and especially in my years as Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Trust my warning that you really don’t want to know many of these men and women personally. It’s a very rare man or woman who can get rich and famous from God’s Word without being corrupted spiritually by the wealth, attention, and power. Think of Saul. Think of David. Think of Solomon.
Dad used to say criticism is the manure Christians grow best in, and it’s true. We all need criticism because it reminds us we ain’t nothing. And that’s so very helpful, spiritually. Our only safe place to stand is the foreign righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is our only hope in this world and the next. It was very late in life that the Apostle Paul reported himself as “the chief of sinners,” and if you think he was lying or using hyperbole, you don’t get it.
But back to this guy’s tweet judging John Piper, but doing it oh-so-delicately.
It doesn’t matter what the subject was, but only that this man proved through his tweet (and then hundreds of people in their responses to his tweet) that they are sheep without shepherds. I’m neither angry nor rude when I accurately observe that almost every last one of those responses were as confident in their ignorance as the man who got them going in the first place. What was particularly notable was the absence of any single even oblique reference to Scripture. Almost all of the cocky declarations and judgments of all these men and women declaring John Piper wrong and misguided and harmful and abusive and old and wrong and misguided and harmful and abusive were the sort of stupidity people suck up from the media they spend their lives consuming on their smartphone, and it’s obvious they have accepted this received wisdom unquestioningly.
Which brings me to this point.
You, dear brother and sister, are almost assuredly one of the vast majority of Western Christians today who are harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. Sadly, though, because you can read snippets while you wait in the takeout line, you believe you are taught, fed, and wise.
You are not, and men set apart to the work of shepherding who are committed to feeding and cleaning and guarding their flock see it in you very easily. It’s glaringly obvious, and not because you speak hesitantly and ask questions, but because you speak as if thus spake Zarathustra and there’s no slightest hint of self-doubt in you.
We all know one of the chief evils of social media is the great levelling at its core where everyone accepts as good and right a twenty-one year old punk telling a fifty-five year old man who’s raised his family without making a shipwreck of those lives entrusted to him by God that he’s an idiot and stupid and old and should shut up because he doesn’t “get it.” Online, no authority is observed, honored, or even allowed. Instead, it’s the loudmouths who win.
But after almost seventeen years writing online, I can say with absolute certainty that very few men and women blathering their opinions online are worth reading or responding to because they are absolutely and desperately lacking in doctrinal, Biblical, and spiritual knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. Ninety-nine percent of the controversies among Christians are carried on between men and women who think because they can read and type, they have something worth saying.
Jesus saw the masses and was grieved noting that, because of the absence of shepherds, they were harrassed and helpless. But note, this was not because they didn’t have shepherds. They did, and it was those shepherds who set about opposing, exposing, mocking, threatening, and eventually murdering our Messiah.
Yes, they had shepherds, but their shepherds didn’t shepherd their sheep. They didn’t feed them. They didn’t guard them. They didn’t carry them when they went lame. They didn’t hit the head-butting ram with their rod and staff when he oppressed the ewes and lambs. They didn’t guard their sheep. They ate them.
So yes, it’s likely you have someone you call “Pastor John Doe” your children are somewhat deferential to, but it’s almost certain this “Pastor” doesn’t shepherd you. And this is very sad because it leaves you ignorant and foolish and stupid online while being convinced you are wise.
True shepherds seeing what you say online can tell you are harassed and helpless precisely at those points where you are most certain of your wisdom, and typically these are the places where Satan has focussed his most intense attack today on God’s Word and Truth. Of course, start with sexuality. The discussions are endless and cocksure and declarative and every one of them shouts aloud to those shepherds listening that he is harassed and helpless. The shepherd isn’t fooled. The shepherd hears. The shepherd sees.
Now right here, you might think you are doing well because you recognize the lies of those pushing sexual deviance and rebellion, and have repented, but you too show your need for a shepherd because your understanding of God’s Word concerning sexuality is wooden, engineerish, rigid, and too often serves more to promote the little man than to guard and protect your wife and children.
Listen, sheep are stupid. That’s why they need shepherds. If they get stuck in the fence, they sit there bleating until the shepherd comes and untangles them. No self-respecting goat ever did that.
So maybe you’ve gotten to the point where you simply accept the absence of a shepherd in your life and are self-reliant, and because you’re fairly intelligent, you think you’ve compensated rather well and are able to care for your wife and children, as well as the people in your home group. You think you do so fairly well, given the reality of your shepherdlessness. But of course, it doesn’t work like that. Sheep without shepherds are sheep without shepherds, whether two millennia ago without the internet sitting on hillsides or today waiting for the takeout, in line reading your smartphone.
Since most of you spend most of your life online now, you must recognize your true condition and take steps to address it Biblically. You are sheep without a shepherd, and what did Jesus do for all the sheep without shepherds?
He taught them. He didn’t ask them what they thought. He didn’t seek to be a part of their conversation. He warned them day and night. He rebuked them. He shamed them. He did so very knowledgeably and personally.
He taught them.
So listen, dear ram, ewe, and lamb, find yourself a shepherd and devote yourself to his preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. Do it in person at a church, and don’t worry what theological tradition or denomination the church is as much as you worry about whether the pastor, elders, and their wives will watch and teach and counsel and guard you and your wife and children. You need it. So get it. God desires you to have it.
Do it in person, but also do it online. Don’t waste your time reading and listening to ear-tickling false shepherds and their ignorant, opinionated loud bleating sheep. It’s stupefying and you should have no part in it whether as a participant or observer.
Get a shepherd and keep him close, sharing all good things with him.
Now, coming to the conclusion of this exhortation, I’m thinking some readers are wondering what on earth they were disagreeing with John Piper on, so I’ll tell you as long as you promise not to waste your time finding and reading it.
Okay, it had to do with how to handle abuse in marriage, which is one of the most frequent and difficult areas of pastoral care every man called as a shepherd has to work through again and again throughout his years of ministry. There are no easy answers and no two situations are the same. Writing about it is difficult and I know because I’ve been working on a book on marriage and most recently a long section dealing with abuse and violence in marital conflict.
But the thing that really got me about the long discussion criticizing and condemning John was the explicit statement made over and over again that, in marriage, men are the abusers and women are the abused.
This is a lie that absolutely permeates the online world, but any shepherd who loves his sheep knows abuse is likely to be perpetrated by women against their children and husbands. Men and women both abuse their family members, and statistics show it. The violence and victims literature shows it. Crime stats show it.
But sheep without shepherds are harassed and helpless. Which is to say they believe lies.