The greatest threat to the church is not the blowing winds of culture from the outside, but false teachers who infiltrate from the inside. Those who look like sheep but are wolves. Those posing as shepherds but are charlatans. These false teachers will most certainly be conduits of cultural ideologies, while at the same time, spewing licentious lies and exploiting people with their greed.
I Know, You Don’t Want to Talk About False Teachers
Talking about spiritual threats in the church can be uncomfortable for some people. I was recently in a conversation with another pastor who remarked, “I would much rather focus on good things and the Good News than strike fear in the hearts of our churchgoers with ‘doom and gloom’ remarks about false teachers.” While I understand the sentiment, Scripture is our authority, not peddling to consumers or mitigating reality — even with the best of intentions. We don’t pick from the menu of pastoral options and decide, “I’ll take the easy parts of church-life for my main course, with a side of ‘no controversy.’” No one who is enlisted as an under-shepherd of Christ gets to pick and choose their job duties like they’re walking a buffet spread. We are servants of Christ, not ourselves! Yes, we all want to major in the good things and the Good News. Yet, more often than we’d hope, we will find ourselves muttering Jude’s words as he agonized, “Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
This is The Pastoral Normal
Whether you like it or not, protecting the flock from false teachers is a pastoral normal. In Acts 20:29-31, Paul tells the elders what is going to occupy a steady portion of their time. He warned, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” There is no question. Threats will constantly come against the church from the inside, and the goal will be to draw sheep out of the fold. Alertness is mandated!
Jesus Himself warned in Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves…”
Does local church ministry sound like fun and games? Is pastoral ministry about being a glorified event planner who employs pragmatic gimmicks to keep the people coming back? Not even close! We need more pastors who take their job seriously and leave the Americanized, consumer-driven antics to the local business owner trying to get you to try his new coffee blend.
As false teachers and wolves circle your ranks as a church, you don’t have to be scared. Many happy leaders major on Good News and good things, yet they know how to turn on the switch and pull out the sword. There are also systems you can put into place within your church that can help mitigate threats and help you be proactive, instead of reactive.
Here are six steps you can start taking today:
#1: Refuse to partner with them in any way
False teachers wouldn’t have such a wide reach if we’d stop platforming them. If you want to guard your church against false teachers and wolves, stop partnering with them for any purpose whatsoever.
#2: Keep the standard for leadership & authority as high as the Bible does
1 Timothy 3:1-7 is typically the standard used to protect who gets authority in the church, but it’s not uncommon to find the wrong men in leadership for the wrong reasons. Simply put: doctrine matters, and so does character. No matter what, keep the standard for leadership and authority as high as the Bible does. Do not compromise because people give money, promise loyalty, or seem genuine. Let Scripture be the bar — not your emotions or opinion. This should include who teaches the kids, students, Sunday school, and who has authority to make major decisions with money and church trajectory.
#3: Actively enforce the “Truth & Time” principle for key roles
I remember a man coming to our church several years ago who had a degree from a top seminary. He insisted we make him an elder because he was educated and had more experience than most of the leaders on our team. However, it was a minimum of around three years to enter the elder process and you had to be nominated, not self-appointed. Eventually, he huffed and puffed off and didn’t return. He was looking for power. Truth and time go hand in hand. Make people wait for major opportunities. False teachers and wolves won’t like that.
#4: Prudently purge the bookstore
Like parents who carefully fill the pantry and fridge with the right kind of food, churches should carefully curate their bookstores and make sure the right resources are being provided for the flock. It wouldn’t be wise for a parent to keep rat poison on the pantry shelf. Nor is it wise for pastors to leave false teachers and wolves on the shelves of the church bookstore in the name of “chewing the meat and spitting out the bones.” Think of the church bookstore as a spiritual grocery store. Fill it with what you want people consuming.
#5: Preach hard
Wolves and false teachers hate hard preaching. By “hard,” I mean truthful preaching loaded with Scripture that targets the heart. Wolves don’t mind you boringly spitting out information, but they can’t stand when you press in on transformation. They don’t like applications and exhortations that “go there” because they can feel their heart pounding through their chest and feel like you’re talking directly to them. Consistently sitting under easy preaching is enjoyable for wolves. Sitting under hard preaching is unbearable. The reason why wolves usually find a home in soft churches is for this reason: it’s easy to leave every Sunday unchanged. Preaching hard will move people beyond information and into transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
#6: Implement systems for reporting “up”
We’ve all seen this happen in the church: you sign up for a small group, then you sign up to lead one, then you get trained, and then you get deployed. It’s a wonderful send-off! Then, crickets. You’re on your island. Until one day, a false teacher or a wolf gets into your group and you have to send up smoke signals, a barrage of text messages, and set off fire alarms to get any help from disconnected leaders. A wise church requires reporting systems. We call this “reporting up” in church work. It means that communication from those who are deep in the root system of church discipleship ministries can quickly send reports “up” to the leaders and get help. Like an infection getting treated before it turns ugly, good systems of ministry reporting mean that false teachers and wolves get dealt with quickly.
Much more can be said, but my prayer is that these six steps are ones you’ve already taken in your church and will continue to monitor closely. If not, consider taking action to ensure you are weeding out wolves and false teachers out of love and care for Christ’s flock.