Don’t Beat the Sheep

Episode 003 – Don’t Beat the Sheep –

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 23:1-4 ESV

God takes quite serious the role of pastors and church leaders because they are the ones who are overseeing HIS sheep, not their own. He owns the sheep, pastors and church leaders simply help manage them. So it should come as no surprise when pastors and church leaders abuse the sheep that God is probably not going to be too happy about that.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I was, on more than one occasion, a sheep beater. Keep in mind that beating the sheep doesn’t always have to be a form of physical abuse, but can also be verbal and spiritual abuse.

My particular rod of choice was my tongue. I was (and still am) quick witted and could conjure up snarky unkind responses at the drop of a hat. All a church member had to do was corner me, or hit me up before the church service was beginning to complain about something, and the rod (that was my tongue) would get whipped out and promptly applied to the head of the unsuspecting sheep.

It wasn’t always words with me though.

I remember one night during praise team rehearsal leading up to the Christmas season as we were going through the Christmas music. I totally lost my cool. It all happened over a song we were playing. The drummer and bassist swore we had never played it before and I was quickly getting frustrated with them and the fact that we were totally botching the song.

I got so mad that I finally yelled, “Fine! Then we just won’t do it” and then I promptly balled up the sheet of music and threw it at the drummer and walked out of the practice space (which at the time was the drummers garage).

I eventually came back in and apologized for my outburst and we moved on with rehearsal, but to this day I have never forgotten that moment. It was in that moment that I took my position of authority and responsibility of overseeing a group of good folks, and used it as a moment to beat the sheep.

Sadly, this wasn’t the only moment I had like this over the years of ministry. Fortunately for you, I’m not going to detail each of those out in this article. That could take years…

In looking back over those moments, however, I have a lot of regret. I regret that I lacked the self-control needed to respond in a frustrating moment with a calm and wise demeanor. I regret that I allowed my anger to get the best of me and make me a fool. I regret that a group of people, who were well meaning and loyal people, became the target of my wrath.

I didn’t heed Paul’s warning in Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

Paul would later go into greater detail about how a shepherd ought to behave in his letters to Timothy and Titus.

For example in Titus 1:5-9 he says the following should be characteristics of an elder (pastor/shepherd/leader):

  1. Above reproach
  2. Husband of one wife
  3. Children are believers
  4. Not arrogant
  5. Not quick tempered (angry)
  6. Not a drunkard
  7. Not violent
  8. Not greedy
  9. Hospitable
  10. Lover of good
  11. Self-controlled
  12. Upright
  13. Holy
  14. Disciplined
  15. Hold firm to truth

You see, in the moments that I was spending beating the sheep, I was lacking a lot of these characteristics. Specifically I was acting violently, I was angry (quick tempered), I was not being hospitable, I was not self-controlled, I was not disciplined, and I was not behaving humbly.

I wish I had listened to the words of Paul in Acts 20:28…because what he was really saying was “take care with how you treat the church (the sheep), because God paid for them with a high price…his own blood. So don’t think he won’t be very angry if you end up mistreating those he has purchased at great cost. “

It would be a lot like you buying $100,000 car, and lending it to someone. You would probably say something like this to them, “Look, you can drive this car, but you better take care not to scratch it, wreck it, or harm it in any way. I paid a LOT for this car. It had better come back to me exactly as I gave it to you, or you better believe I will be suing your butt.”

I know the person borrowing the car would be EXTREMELY careful, because there is no way they want to be held responsible for damage done to a $100,000 car.

Likewise, God has said “I bought the church at a great price. You as the shepherd, the overseer, had better take good care of them and return them to me just as I had given them to you or better, otherwise there will be literal hell to pay.”

This isn’t the first warning God issued to shepherds. God actually issued His warning through Jeremiah to the ones who were overseeing Israel (see passage at the beginning of this article).

The reality is, when we beat the sheep we risk a lot. Not only the obvious wrath of God, but also the impact it has on the sheep.

As mentioned before, God said through Jeremiah that the shepherds were mishandling the sheep and it resulted in:

  1. The sheep becoming scattered
  2. The sheep becoming fearful
  3. The sheep becoming dismayed
  4. The sheep becoming neglected
  5. The sheep stop being fruitful
  6. The sheep stop multiplying
  7. The sheep get lost

God issued another similar warning to the shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34:1-11 that gives an even bigger picture of what happens to the sheep when the shepherds do not properly care for them, and what God’s response will be.

I’ll summarize:

What happens to the sheep:

  1. The sheep starve
  2. The sheep get slaughtered
  3. The weak sheep do not get strengthened
  4. The sick and injured sheep do not get healed
  5. The lost sheep stay lost
  6. The sheep become prey to those who seek do harm
  7. The sheep wander
  8. The sheep are ruled with force and harshness

What happens to the shepherds:

  1. They are stripped of their responsibility and influence
  2. God becomes their enemy
  3. God will hold them accountable for the treatment of His sheep

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be God’s enemy. Just read the old testament and see what happens to the enemies of God. Not…good. Not only do you become an enemy of God when you mistreat the sheep, but God will literally hold you accountable for your treatment of them.

Now, I think that God is a deeply patient God, and understands that we are not perfect. We are going to make mistakes. My throwing a waded up piece of paper at my drummer is probably not the worst thing that could happen, and I’m sure that God isn’t waiting for me to get to heaven and then say “Sorry pal, you’re not coming in here. Remember that time you threw paper at your drummer?”

So while we should breathe a slight sigh of relief that God is a patient and understanding God, it doesn’t mean that we need to be careless with our role as shepherds and lose sight of the fact that we are taking care of God’s possession…not our own.

All of that said, let me encourage you to return the fields with new eyes for the sheep. I know I’m personally taking it to heart as I enter in to the next stage of my own ministry.

I hope you will too.

On Tuesday October 8th, The Angry Christian Podcast will be releasing a new episode by the same title as this article, “Don’t Beat the Sheep” where we will be discussing this topic with the very same drummer mentioned above who is now a host of this podcast.

Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you get your podcasts to catch this episode and more!

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    1. I hope that is a good thing 🙂 I don’t feel right at all to call others on the carpet for things I have done without first acknowledging that I have done those things, and may even continue to do those things but that I’m trying to work to be better. I think honesty, transparency, and humility are necessary if we are going to grow and move forward as a Chrsitian people.

  1. I’ve been (still am) the target of an angry pastor that uses “humor” to address you! It’s made me feel unloved, vulnerable and unwelcome in a church I’ve been a part of for 36 years. He’s been there 25 or so! I’ve been looking to go elsewhere as his influence is widespread. If he doesn’t care for you, others don’t. Even old “friends” – it’s disheartening! Thus article really helped me.

    1. I’m glad to hear this article helped you. Unfortunately, I can relate to your story. I once served under a pastor and in a Church that seemed to view people leaving the church for another church as being “disloyal” and while it was never explicitly stated, it definitely was implied that they were not people to be friends with. Sadly, I know many who left that church who were practically “disowned”. Thankfully, not all are like that.

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