Skip to main content

To the Ends of the Earth: When Sheep Attack

April 13, 2017

by a WSC alum

Going in to ministry everyone knows there will be opposition. We know that there will be hostile atheists heaping scorn upon us. We know that there will be secularists who wonder why we are so intolerant. We know to expect the sideways glance and snarky remark from our culturally elite relatives at Thanksgiving dinner. Seminary, to some extent, prepares us for this. What I was completely unprepared for was something different; something that came from the inside—I had no idea what to do when sheep attack.

As I began my ministry I knew I needed two kinds of people. I needed really broken people to minister to and I need really mature people to help me minister to them. As I thought and prayed about whom I might ask to help one couple stood on top of the list. I asked them to come and they agreed. I was elated! They were perfect for the mission! As our friendship developed there were some red flags but I took them in stride considering the amazing work they were doing. Then the unthinkable: they were offered another ministry opportunity through our connections and used us as a stepping-stone, throwing a couple hand-grenades of slander, gossip, and dissention into the mix on their way out for good measure. BOOM.  

As the shock waves of the explosion made its way through the church I was devastated. These people were our friends. We had TRUSTED them. I tried to reach out and restore them to no avail. I found myself in the bizarre position of having to defend their character to the rest of the church in order to stop the spreading dissention they had left in their wake—all the while reeling from the feeling of deep personal betrayal and fear. I wondered why I hadn’t had better discernment about them earlier? I began to mistrust everyone else around me. I questioned my leadership. Was this somehow my fault? I feared the church would start to splinter and break apart. I wondered: Why would God allow this to happen?

Here is what I learned:

1. Everyone is broken, even the mature ones. That’s why you’re a pastor.

I realized I had made an artificial distinction in my mind between the “sick” ones and the “well” ones that caused me to overlook the early red flags I saw. Emotional and spiritual maturity are on a continuum, and everyone has bad days. As a pastor I am responsible to keep guard over all the flock and to know that everyone (myself included) is in need of spiritual care, sometimes.

2. Ministry is not safe, but it’s good.

I’ve learned that ministry means I will be hurt. Every part of me wanted to retaliate, but I knew that it would have hurt the church even worse. I had to be the one to absorb the evil. Sometimes your hurt will fall under the “pick up your cross” category, and it will result in the long-term benefit of the people. Not that we’re to be doormats, but if you know someone is going to take the hit, it needs to be you.

3. Trust God to protect you and His Church.

The church survived and actually became stronger. We forged new levels of trust as our session, our friends, and our people ministered to my wife and I through it. We became more resilient. We learned to trust God more. I painfully felt God use the situation to temper some of the pride and anger in my heart and create in me a more gentle, compassionate, forgiving spirit—and that has made me a better minister.

Now that the dust has settled and the fracturing abated, I can see the lesson for what it was. As a WSC grad I’m big on academic learning, but I also believe that there are some things you just have to learn through experience, and I believe that God in His good providence runs us through controlled explosions to help us learn some of the hard experiential lessons of life that we must master to become effective ministers. May God grant some controlled explosions in your ministry!