One of the central roles of a church leader is to protect the flock from false teaching. It is a responsibility to take seriously. However, without very deliberate thought it is easy to fall into one of two extremes.
Extreme 1 – Just Really Nice Shepherd. Your desire to be liked drives you to avoid any controversy and confrontation, leaving your preaching as a parade of niceness. I’ve heard plenty of this in my time. It is the kind of preaching that seems to skirt any issue that might offend. The desire is unity at all costs. I sense that where this kind of preaching prevails, it reflects a situation where Evangelical Christians are perceived to be irrelevant, unaware and standing for nothing. Let us not set that tone from the pulpit.
Extreme 2 – Angry Bashing Shepherd. Your desire to be right drives you to bash freely at every person, idea or stream of Christianity you disagree with. I remember sitting through a very painful retreat where the famous speaker seemed to take every opportunity to have a go at top Christian evangelists and ministry leaders. It was unhelpful for the immature believers confused by it all and would have been offensive to any unbelievers present. We must be aware of how we are perceived. Non-christians see us as very angry people who just can’t get along with each other. Let us not reinforce that from the pulpit.
Why do we fall into one extreme or the other? I think our personality will influence it. I think our culture will influence it (in my experience I see the English church often falling into the former extreme, whereas the North American church often tends toward the latter extreme – obviously there are exceptions in both cultures). I think fear drives both extremes – fear of any confrontation or discord on the one hand, and fear of not having all the answers in our personal theology and philosophy of ministry on the other. I think a lack of thought leaves us at one extreme or the other.
As preachers we must think carefully about our role as shepherds. Sheep want neither a nice shepherd too polite to offend the prowling mountain lion, nor an angry shepherd lashing out at every bush, shepherd or other sheep that crosses their path.