written by
Major Tom

Elders: Wolves in the Midst

12 min read
wolf pack on rock formation
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
You were running so well. Who has obstructed you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the One who calls you. A little leaven works through the whole batch of dough. (Galatians 5:7-9)
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)
  1. Who are the real wolves?
  2. Pastors -- maybe, but where did they come from?
  3. New Christians -- too young to have influence
  4. Elders poorly prepared
  5. This is more common and more detrimental than most churches realize
  6. Poor elders cannot put in check bad pastors
  7. Poor elders fail to check younger Christians of their errant spiritual
  8. Poor elders may actually indoctrinate poor teaching...and in this way....lead people away from Christ
  9. This is often a form of spiritual blindness -- they speak like a Christian, act like a Christian -- but really, with the right circumstances can be detected
  10. Problem: churches don’t know how to either qualify, develop and validate
  11. My own experience:

Eldership it's a form of leadership that actually people don't invest much in.

The role is critical to the health of the church. Yet, it is from the ranks of elders that wolves and false teaching arises.

Is this surprising?

I'm going to reference three scriptures that you'll find in the show notes, and then we'll talk through about why my thesis that elders are actually both the most critical, under invested area in most churches and why it's dangerous because that is a breeding ground for Wolves. So the first is watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious Wolves from Matthew 715. And I highlight this because it's a warning.

If it were simple, then there probably wouldn't need to be one or many of these warnings. But notice that they come in sheep's clothing, which means they look just like other Christians. And this is what I found to be the case as well. Now it might be just slight. Most people think of false prophets and elders who are Wolves, like doing something dramatically wrong, something egregious, but that runs against the scripture itself, which says they come in sheep's clothing.

In fact, some of the most dangerous elders I've experienced it's in the small forms of teaching that are errant, but you can tell it reveals something far deeper. Listen to this from Galatians five seven nine, you were running so well. Who has obstructed you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you a little leaving works through a whole batch of dough.

Third is what is the expectation, what is a requirement for an elder? And I think this is something that's overlooked way too often. And I'll talk about another episode, why that's done. But let's listen to Titus one nine. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

So this is actually the key point, that the teaching is poor, their capability to teach is poor, but that is not the primary area where they are vetted, qualified, developed. So let's think about why I think this is the real Wolf. So first, let's start with is it a pastor, sort of three tiers pastors, elders and new Christians. So pastors, where did they come from? Like a pastor?

And we know there are many churches that have pastors that are false teachers. And on the one hand, I feel because they are so visible and there are now a lot of forms of discernment ministries that call them out, particularly, they have very large audiences. I feel like this is slightly less of a big issue. It's still important, and I'm glad that those exist. But I feel that somewhat harder for that to happen to sort of like out of the gate, particularly if they're coming from a reputable seminary background and from a Church.

But ha, there is the rub. Most of these pastors or many of these pastors were rose through the ranks and were elders, either formally or informally. They were leaders in that Church, but they weren't checked and developed. And the weakness was they're not putting enough attention on the eldership basis. And so what happens is someone comes in, they suddenly feel the authority as being an elder, and then they go off and become a pastor and they were Wolves in that pack of elders.

And that's because the focus is much less think about it, how much inspection of the thinking and teaching as a pastor versus the elders. You have the entire congregation. If there's at least somebody there who's discerning, they'll figure it out from the pastor with an elder, an elder who doesn't teach, who doesn't speak much, who isn't around people, which is a whole slew of problems right. There is a false teacher. The third one is new Christians.

They're too young to have influence. So there are many who just don't have the background. They haven't studied it well enough. They might have errant thinking, but that's actually okay. That's supposed to be part of the Church.

There are many churches that have that. Paul encountered that and that he acting as an elder influence. He wasn't necessarily the pastor of those churches came in and corrected them, as he should.

Here. You kind of see the problem actually stems from poor elders, but they have the least visibility, the least transparency. But they also have an incredible responsibility. Many of these bad pastors who go awry at big, well known churches such as Willow Creek or Hillsong, the elders protected the pastors that went awry. I mean, Hillsong.

Famously, the elder board shielded and blamed the other innocent people because their goal was not to be stewards of the people. They were trying to protect the lead pastor. And that's faulty eldership right there. And so you can see the problem with elders are they don't put in check the bad pastors. Poor elders fail to check young Christians who might be developing errandsy in their thinking when that's the most critical time to get them.

In fact, poor elders might actually indoctrinate people in their poor teaching and unbeknownst to them, lead people away from Christ. And that's why the verse from Galatians is so important. It doesn't take much. And I'll give you an example of an elder who, on all intents on the surface, seems like a good Christian, meaning attending faithfully and giving and doing sort of administrative tasks like corporate prayer. But the teaching is totally arranged but undetected.

And this is more common. That's why I felt to start the series to do this because it's dangerous. It really had negative repercussions in the Church. Now you might be saying, but wait a minute, that guy is going to Church. If I were to go to him and say, hey, I think you're kind of teaching errantly.

And this is sort of like bordering on being a Wolf. The responsibility, but he doesn't have that intention. Well, I want to help Church. I'm going faithfully. I'm serving faithfully.

How could they possibly be a Wolf? And here's where we'll spend some more time in some of these subsequent things. That's a form of spiritual blindness, to speak like a Christian, act like a Christian. That's why many churches are called goat farms. And the spiritual blindness is a sense of they believe they are acting and following God, but they really aren't.

They're actually doing their own thing. And it is in many ways an element of the original sin. If we go back to Genesis one through three, particularly three, I don't believe, although they knew deep down Eve certainly didn't think she was doing something explicitly wrong, even though clearly it was she was becoming her own God and Adam wasn't thinking anything explicitly wrong. I mean, how could they? They didn't have sin sort of there as we know it, but he clearly also did something wrong and believed he was doing something right.

But when faced with God actually asking them, what are you guys doing? What's going on? That they began to realize something was not right, but they couldn't vocalize it. They didn't really understand. They just started to develop a very sense of shame.

And so this is the problem. The churches don't qualify. And I'll talk about the false qualifications which are common. They definitely don't develop them and they don't empower broad congregation to validate it. And that's actually the best way to mitigate it.

So my own experience was someone who was an elder and already I felt off that there was a number of things which I will go through more detail, particularly around teaching, and presented something that was actually countered to scripture in a meeting with the Deacons. Now, nobody questioned him because he was already being granted this higher set of authority as an elder or an elder candidate. It was never really clear. But I then realized when I went to him assuming, well, he is an elder for advice and advice was wrong and the demeanor wasn't becoming of a Christian. And then I started to drill down more deeply and I started to think through what are the things that make for a good elder in the quality of teaching and the ability to Minister in their ability to be faithful, in following Christ's word when it comes to the material things in the word world and money and all these things, to start to break down, I started to realize, but nobody is questioning it Because we're looking at different things.

And so but once you have someone like that in there is what happened to me got bad vice, which ended up becoming very, very damaging. But it will continue, like in this meeting with Deacons Completely led the group completely in a wrong, unbiblical direction. And I think it hurt the Church. It created division. And so I think that this is the time for us to really empower anybody who's a member of the Church To know, what am I supposed to look for in the elders?

Because that'll help you to determine whether you should even bother being at the Church. This is valuable for pastors Because the time start raising up elders begins way before you need it. I think one of the mistakes that many elders or Church leaders wait until they're like, oh, my gosh, we've got 200 people. We don't have any elders. We got to get working on this when it should have been two years prior, when you only have 60 people, which sounds like too early, but I actually disagree, I think actually being very clear and transparent about what's involved.

And so that's the purpose of this series, and we're going to go through it Because my personal experience is just very damaging in multiple churches, Seeing elders who are completely incapable not that they were bad people, and this shouldn't be to shame them if they are able to repent and realize that they are working on their own qualifications of being unqualified and are humble and are able to realize that there is a higher bar that is to be set. And it's not just another sort of rung on a ladder that you kind of, like, can dial in. And so the third audience for this first Is for the congregation. That's the most important one. If you're never aspired to be an elder and you're just in a Church, you should be investigating the elders have conversations and ask yourself if I don't know the answer to these questions Or I can't feel the evidence is there on these things.

And then maybe I've got to really question the leadership itself for how are they picking them? And pastors need to be able to be much more Proactive In defining and clarifying and instructing and discipling. And then the elder candidates and elders themselves should use this book, or it's going to become a book at some point, but use this content to self evaluate themselves and to be convicted. One of the biggest risks to all churches Is allowing the den of Wolves that are coming up through the ranks as elders Because you just don't spend the time you don't know how to do it. So this series hopefully will help people to address some of these issues, So stay tuned.