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Keeping watch - Part 1: A series for leaders

Updated: May 30

Editor's Note: This series is taken from chapter 13 of Wildfire, a book that discusses how Progressive theology can slowly but subtly makes its way into the church. This is part 1 of a 4-part series, designed to help anyone in a position of leadership navigate these times faithfully and Biblically. Specifically, ministry staff these days need training, teamwork and support from church elders in order to faithfully equip God's people for works of service.


“The devil doesn’t fill us with hatred for God, but with forgetfulness of God”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Really bad things can happen when we’re not paying attention.

 

When I was in the Architecture program at the University of Washington, I was required to take a soils engineering class – it was on hydrology.  The course description sounded so interesting, as it turned out, it was probably one of most difficult courses I took, as there was a painful amount of calculus.  As hard as it was, it taught me one of the most enduring spiritual lessons of all time.

 

Since the Northwest is hilly and loaded with water, you really have to pay attention to the foundation of a building, especially if it is built on a cliff or a shoreline.  I remember our entire class went on a Saturday field trip to a street in the Magnolia neighborhood called Perkins Lane.  There were several beautiful houses built dangerously onto the slope.  Having said that, if you were to visit the site, you know why people take the risk!  It has views of West Seattle, downtown, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains, something you can almost find nowhere else.

 

Here is the problem.  Water is always moving on the hillside, slowly eroding away at the strength of the home’s foundations, making them less stable.  If enough of it happens for too long, the buildings may instantly lose their structural integrity and slide off into the water.  For that reason, Perkins Lane is known as “the poster child for landslide risks” in Seattle.  Every decade or so, soil erosion causes one or more houses to slide, sometimes right into the water!  People know the danger when they decide to build or buy there, but without fail, when a disaster happens, they nearly always act surprised or shocked.


pay attention

As you can tell by this point, I consider progressive theology the “poster child for instability” in the church.  It is mainly put together by a combination of postmodern thought, secular theory, and a somewhat open and subjective approach to biblical truth.  My research has shown me that it has not borne good fruit, churches have not grown, and it has consistently left people disillusioned. 

 

It also never really seems to walk up and smack Christians abruptly in the spiritual face, but over time it worms its way into the vernacular and theology of a church.  Often, it goes undetected for quite some time, reinforcing in us the need to begin paying close attention to it.  Leaders are too often caught off guard when they turn around one day and notice some bad theology.

 

The people reading these articles will have to make up their own minds about its danger, but for those of us who agree it is a major problem, it requires intentional thought and careful, patient shepherding.  In the scriptures, the shepherds were also known as overseers, elders.  They were given the task of keeping watch over the spiritual health of the people they served.  This chapter is mainly an encouragement to the elders and the ministry staff in each church, but I would say it is something that anyone who has been given the responsibility of attending to another Christian should also keep in mind.  We are all, in some way, shepherding another person, or our family.

 

wolves in sheep's clothing

During the later years in Paul’s missionary activity, he was heading back to Jerusalem from Greece, and stopped off in Asia Minor to check in on the churches he oversaw.  Paul was in a little town called Miletus, and sent for the Ephesian elders to come and meet with him.  They traveled about 30 miles by land, eager to fellowship with Paul and hear what he had to say.  Their meeting is recorded in Acts 20, and it is a wonderful picture of biblical shepherding.  After recalling the work they did together to build a church in Ephesus, he told them he had a hunch they wouldn’t see each other again, and left them with this charge:

 

“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdoma will ever see me again.b 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you.a 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.a 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flocka of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.b Be shepherds of the church of God,a c which he boughtd with his own blood.b e 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolvesa will come in among you and will not spare the flock.b 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciplesa after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three yearsa I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

Acts 20:25-31

 

The health of the church is deeply personal for Paul.  He recalled how all of them laid their lives down in order to proclaim God’s will in Ephesus.  They were preaching God’s will, not their own.  He warned them that after left, “savage wolves” would come in and try to pull people away from the faith, distort the truth of the gospel, and destroy people’s lives.

 

As I mentioned, the work of destroying doesn’t originate with people, but with the schemes of Satan.  However, savage wolves are people, and you don’t need to be a Bible scholar in order to translate the seriousness of this.  False teachers were waiting to confuse well-meaning Christians. He urges them to pay attention, watch over people, and actively refute false doctrines. 

 

By the way, it is encouraging to learn that they heeded his warning.  How do we know that?  In Revelation 2:1-3, the church in Ephesus is lifted up by Jesus for standing firm against false doctrine. 

 

There are at least a couple of important things we can learn from the passage in Acts 20.

 

First, we need more courageous shepherds in the church.  Have you ever wondered why false teachers might have been waiting for Paul to leave?  My guess is Paul was the one who came in and dealt with stuff when they tried to spin their false teachings.  They knew not to mess with Paul, but might not have been that frightened by the Ephesian elders without Paul adding backup support!  Bold leaders like Paul are rare, and needed, but what we actually need are more bold and courageous leaders throughout all levels of each congregation.  We cannot take lightly what is at stake.

 

Paul told Timothy to be strong in God’s grace, but also to entrust the work to other reliable men, ones qualified to speak into the situations they were all dealing with (2 Timothy 2:1-2), so they could spread the work around.  The church needs a unified approach to theology, and needs every invested leader to take the health of the church as personally as Paul did; to step in and deal with teachings that threaten the faith of Christians.  In this day and age of competing truths, we simply need more than a few competent leaders in churches to prepare themselves.  More on that in just a minute.

 

Second, every Timothy in a church needs help so they don’t feel isolated in times like these.  Paul met with the elders of the Ephesian church, but they were most likely supporting a leader like Timothy, which is the same dynamic many churches today are experiencing.  Here is the thing: progressive theology, and the secular forces of the world that are set up against the gospel, will only get stronger, and put immense pressure on ministry people in the years to come.  We have to pay careful attention to the kinds of things leaders will be forced to navigate very soon. 


In next week's article (Part 2), we'll take a look at a very real but also scary example for the church. Stay tuned...


Daren Overstreet


Daren Overstreet is a Senior Leader at

Anchor Point Church in Tampa, Florida.  He has been in ministry for nearly 30 years, and holds a Master’s Degree in Missional Theology

You can contact him at

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