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The signs of backsliding

The task of the shepherd is so to watch over the flock that he is aware of any potential danger that would threaten their security and well being.

At all times he must be alert to the continued attempts of predators to inflict harm and be prepared to expose himself to attack as he seeks to keep them from his flock. He will want to teach his people the Truth and shield them from false doctrine and those who peddle it.

To take on those whose teaching is contrary to Scripture will never be easy and opposition may arise from the ranks of those outside ‘the church’ as well as those who remain within its structures and denominations yet have compromised the Truth for more acceptable yet less scriptural positions.

The true shepherd will have to see the threat to his flock and warn them of its nature and how it will, unchecked, affect their spiritual well being.

Likewise he will have to discern patterns in their behaviour that indicate a moving away from obedience to the law of God. He will know that the purpose of God for His people is that they be ‘conformed to the image of His dear Son’ He will be aware of and need to counsel those who are drifting backward in this respect.

It is of course quite likely that the caring elder will be accused of being ‘over protective’ and interfering. Nonetheless he must look out for and act upon signs of approaching predators or the sheep’s own tendency to wander toward the ‘greener grass’ on the other side of the hedge.

A businessman once told me that success or failure doesn’t happen overnight or ‘out of the blue’. Success may appear sudden and spectacular, and failure sensationally dramatic but there is always something that leads to it, a direction pursued.

Before a man falls over the precipice he will have trod a path toward the cliff edge. He may have been prevented from a disastrous fall had he been more aware of his surroundings, the changes in terrain or the increasing sound of crashing waves. He may also have been saved from such an awful end if someone who knew the area or was more alive to the signs had been there to warn him.

I believe that in most, if not every case of backsliding there are signs which the person in question ignored or failed to see and which others could have made them aware of but for a variety of reasons failed to do so. Maybe they didn’t feel qualified, lacked confidence in their own assessment of the danger, were afraid of the possible reaction they would get or thought ‘surely he can see the danger for himself’.

Looking back I can see that danger signals flashed which at the time I failed to recognise, others I chose to ignore because of a spiritual pride that perceived they could be a danger for others but not for me, I could handle it! A false confidence caused me like Samson to play with fire.

Some of these danger signals were noticed by others and although some were mentioned to me, many were not. I was recently asked the question “would you have taken any notice?” Frankly I don’t know, it may have depended at what point in my decline I had been spoken to.

My intent here is not to criticise my brethren or to put any measure of blame for my behaviour onto anyone else. I and I alone am responsible for my fall from grace.

Church elders are set as watchmen and whilst they are not responsible for the people's sin, they do have a duty to sound a clear warning note.

There are of course some general signs such as who the flock are mixing with, the extent of their relationships, their falling attendance at the meetings of the church and their neglect of the Word and Prayer.

The more an elder knows his flock, like a parent who knows the weaknesses and strengths of their children so as to be aware of their differing needs and vulnerabilities; he will know the susceptibilities of those in his care. 

Pastoral care is of vital importance and to be carried out effectively is largely dependant upon a good relationship between elder and people.

Jesus said that the Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He knows them by name; He understands them and cares for them as individuals. Our Saviour also tells us that His sheep know Him. They know that He loves and cares for them; they know that He is perfect in wisdom and can trust Him to protect and guide them.

Those who act as His under shepherds within the local flock need to build up good relationships with the flock. Those they serve must know of their genuine concern and have confidence in their spirituality and wisdom. They must have gained the people’s respect and conduct themselves in a manner that is devoid of self interest or aggrandizement.

Where elders have built up this kind of relationship not only will their knowledge of the flock enable them to more readily spot the signs of any tendency to backslide, but also increase the likelihood of them being listened to.

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