In story after story, pastors are being targeted for persecution. One recent story told of pastors in Asia who were chained to metal poles and beaten so they would renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. I know at least one of the pastors in the story remained faithful. I hope they all did. But the persecution pattern is predictable: “Strike the shepherd, and they will flee.”
Jesus applied a prophecy from Zechariah to Himself when he quoted this phrase (see Matthew 26:31). Though the original quote refers back to a judgment passage, Jesus quotes the verse in application to Himself. He was going to suffer God’s wrath and also the injustice of sinful men; and His sheep were going to turn away from Him. Sadly, the enemy knows this scheme is still effective. So he still uses it.
In contexts like the Asian one mentioned above, local leaders target pastors with severe persecution. They know if they can defame and dishonor the pastor, then the flock will flee (either for safety or just to save face, as Peter did on the night our Lord was betrayed). Defamed pastors put the flock in disarray. So, strike the shepherd, and the sheep will flee.
For most of us reading this blog, there should be two simple responses to this diabolical scheme. First and foremost, we must guard our shepherds and watch their backs. There will never be a shortage of folks attempting to discredit the shepherd. They know any defamation of his character will lead to a separation of his power. Deceivers in the church wish to divide the flock, thereby gaining power to levy against the shepherd—to force him to bend to their will rather than following Him as He obeys God’s will. The gravity of this scheme is affirmed in the commands of Scripture which tell the flock not to even entertain a charge against a pastor except on the presence of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).
This protection is put in place for elders because of how vulnerable he is. Anyone who leads is obviously a target for ridicule, slander, and malicious gossip. Any pastor who leads faithfully will offend some people (even as Jesus and Paul and Peter offended some). The gospel is offensive to the flesh! For the good of the flock, God commands the flock not to entertain an accusation against the pastor unless the proper protocol has taken place.
And what is the proper protocol? The idea in 1 Tim 5:19 is that anyone wishing to make an accusation must FIRST go and speak directly to the pastor and work for reconciliation. If there is no reconciliation at that point then the SECOND step is to take along two or three witnesses and work toward reconciliation. Only after the FIRST and SECOND steps have failed to bring reconciliation should there be the THIRD step of entertaining an accusation against a man called by God to be a pastor.
What grievous wrongs might be made right if only churches would properly safeguard the Scriptures and, thus, protect their pastors from gossip, slander, and even more intense forms of persecution!
The second simple response to the reality of the devil’s “Strike the shepherd, and they will flee” scheme is for the flock to doubt the accuser instead of the accused—unless the accuser has followed the biblical pattern. If he has followed the pattern stated above, then the charge must be taken seriously. If he has not, then take notice of him and warn him against the sin of being divisive. If he continues to make accusations without following the biblical order, then have nothing to do with him:
You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned (Titus 3:11, see vv. 9-11).
Finally, decide that you will be a faithful servant of God’s flock. Follow Titus 3:1-2,
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
Do not go with those who make accusations in secret rooms or in public settings but never bother to actually seek reconciliation in private with the person they are accusing of being unfit for ministry. They are doing the bidding of the one still hoping to strike the shepherd so the sheep will flee. Protect your pastors. They are always particularly vulnerable.