We have had several people live with our family throughout the years. Typically they were in a time of transition needing a place of safety and refuge until stability returned. We were usually eager to embrace each new adventure, though we were well aware that during or after the adjustment period issues would arise as we blended new people into the existing household. Even with well-established boundaries, conflict was inevitable.
As the established family we set parameters and expectations for all who lived in our home. We, not them, determined how to function according to God’s will and plan. We did not change what we were doing to fit their wants or needs because what we were doing worked. They needed to make adjustments and most were willing because they needed help. Several of the people were young and lived with us while we were raising our own children. The same rules, expectations, and consequences applied to all to avoid imminent chaos if different standards of behavior were allowed. In order to assure a smooth transition, we spent extra time, attention, and energy with the newcomers before they were fully immersed into our family.
Several times we welcomed people in our home with open arms without these precautionary measures. Those relationships all ended abruptly with conflict. We discovered letting people come into our home to live as they wanted, go in and out as they desired while establishing their own rules only led to pandemonium leaving our family confused as well. But when we declared Jesus Christ as the foundation of our life, explained household rules and expectations, devoted ourselves to teaching and training, and made clear that without cooperation they would need to leave, we had beautiful relationships.
This acclimation process of people living in our home is similar to sheep adaptation. Jesus calls us “His” sheep and the study of sheep characteristics reveals there is more depth to be uncovered as we parallel sheep with Christian behavior. When we apply this wisdom of God concerning sheep to our relationships in the Church I believe we hear God’s voice clearly and follow Him. In order for the Church to remain healthy, we must, like sheep and shepherds, learn and apply the Godly way of assimilating people into the body of Christ, teaching them to observe all things He has commanded rather than Church to be a free for all. (Matthew 28:19-20) Salvation is free for all, yet it is through a surrender of ourselves, a willingness to follow, and the acknowledgement of the great cost for our freedom that we cooperate with the body of Christ, leaving the disorder and confusion behind. 1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” Life in Christ is not a free for all. There is unity, harmony, peace, grace, power, joy, and love in Jesus and with His people.
We know sheep are “precocial” meaning they have a high degree of independence at birth. This can get them into trouble so the ewes take their responsibility seriously to train lambs to submit and cooperate with other sheep. Ewes raise and carefully train their young to fit in with the flock and be alert to their surroundings. Lambs learn quickly because they instinctively know if they do not submit to the smooth operation of the flock, they will be rejected and driven away by other sheep for health and safety reasons.
Compare this to bringing children into the family of God. Just as it is important for ewes to train and lambs to learn, it is crucial we bring children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) and children must hear and learn. We teach them the goodness of the Lord, the sacrifice He made for them, and the blessing of being in the family of God. We are to train them up in the things of God, the way they should go, not the way of the world. (Proverbs 22:6)
Unfortunately, we see children through their disobedience, disrespect, and unwillingness to cooperate, determining what church, family, or society will look like . Independence is fostered in our society and certainly a spirit of entitlement runs rampant amongst all age levels. Godly training and teaching should include boundaries and discipline with consequences when children do not obey. It is ludicrous to raise children outside of the fear and admonition of the Lord yet we are doing it in America, in and out of the church. The disrespect and disobedience we witness extensively in families, churches, and society is a sure sign of disease and a leading cause of unrest in relationships. Unlike lambs who know the consequences of their unwillingness to live in the fold, children have learned there is no consequence for their unwillingness to live in the body of Christ, thus they have no fear of God or anyone in authority.
The Church can also apply these truths when welcoming new believers into the body. New believers are generally excited wanting to save the world. There is a high level of independence in newborn, spirit-filled Christians because they are “on fire” for God. Oftentimes, as they observe other Christians with an apparent lack of zeal, new Christians become self-reliant and conclude others have lost the fire and are determined not to let that happen to them. This attitude inhibits the smooth operation of the body of Christ. Spiritual parents must take responsibility to equip new Christians to fit in with the body and be alert to their surroundings. At the same time, we do not want to hinder or stifle the excitement of new Christians. In fact, we should fan the flame and make sure we are burning hot for God as well. However we do want them to resist independence, teaching them the things of God in cooperation with the body of Christ. If left alone to be independent, they present great danger to themselves and others. We do not desire uniformity in the body of Christ but unity is a necessity for health and reproduction.
In the sheep world healthy animals are the cornerstone of a successful sheep business. The introduction of new animals always poses the greatest risk of upsetting the health and stability of the established herd because they bring the risk of potential disease even if they appear healthy. Therefore preventative measures are taken before adding them to the flock such as questioning the former owner to determine the health and disease status of his farm. Another interesting thing shepherds do before releasing new sheep to an existing flock is isolate them for two to four weeks. This period of isolation is not punishment or judgment but is for the protection of other sheep as well as for their own welfare as it provides opportunity for the new shepherd to inspect and detect hidden disease problems, cleanse, trim their hooves, and de-worm them.
Just as introducing new sheep requires precaution, the Church should use the same caution when Christians transfer churches. If healthy sheep are the cornerstone of a successful business, it would seem healthy Christians would benefit the cause of the Gospel. Do we sense the same risk as sheep farmers, when new people come in with potential “disease” which would upset the health and stability of the congregation? Or do we just “assume” if they say they are believers they will fit in nicely with our congregation? Do we take any preventative measures to preserve the life and health of our congregation? Do pastors contact the former pastors of these people to discover the health and disease status of their church like shepherds do? Or are we fearful new people will think we are judging and inspecting them, concluding we are unloving and unkind? Of course we are not going to “isolate” people like shepherds do with sheep, but would it not be wise to take some extra time to know them, look at the fruit, detect issues, and learn how we may best minister to and with them? Remember when a sheep farmer isolates new sheep it is for their own well-being as well as the existing flock. It is not a time of punishment or judgment but opportunity to protect the church, and minister effectively to the people transferring in. It certainly seems important to take time to really get to know people, inspect them so to speak, before immersing them into congregational life.
Perhaps part of the problem is we do not call what is evil, evil! We do not view independence, dishonor, disobedience, or rebellion as sin, nor do we call sin, evil. Therefore the church refuses to purge evil from the body of Christ, choosing instead to work around the evil, believing we are demonstrating grace. As a loving, grace-filled body of believers, we are still to tell the truth, still to purge evil from amongst ourselves, and still cry out “Repent” and “Have mercy on us, God”.
Sheep intuitively know the damage caused by a lack of cooperation therefore they drive away any sheep unwilling to live in harmony, peace, and unity with the herd. This might sound extreme but again we should look at what the Word says when there is unwillingness to cooperate, submit, or live in unity with the body of Christ. The Church might believe it would be unloving to send someone away who refuses to cooperate which is “sin”. But, what does the Word say? Read what Paul had to say to the Church concerning those who practiced sexual immorality and other sin:
1 Corinthians 5:4-13 “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
What if the Church actually did what the Word says for these issues? It would be a huge eternal blessing to the person and to the Church if we followed through and were obedient and faithful to the Word. If we fashioned our lives with eternity in mind at all times it would not be difficult to call sin, sin, and put evil out of the church. But instead we boast that church is a place for sinners. Yes! But the truth is Jesus died for sinners to make them saints. Though we come to Him just as we are, He transforms, renews, cleanses, purifies, and forgives us through His blood. Therefore the church is a place of peculiar people, sanctified, pure, and holy. When the Church begins to see herself as God sees her, perhaps we can really be people who embrace God and reach out to a dying and lost world with His perfection, bringing them into His redemptive purposes. We must not undervalue the sacrifice God made for us, nor the fact that we have the greatest news on earth to share with the world. But it must start in the Church and we must stop settling for less than the spotlessness He is coming back for one day. The most loving thing we can do for every individual is to obey the Word of God and keep ourselves in Him, that we might be pure and spotless rather than a place where we co-exist with evil.
We welcomed people into our home to live and grow with our family. They knew the rules, expectations, boundaries, but above all, the blessings from our heavenly Father flowing down unto them when they lived in agreement. Shepherds welcome new sheep into their flocks, take them under their wings, but do not release and incorporate them into the flock until they are clean, disease free, and willing to cooperate with the rest of the sheep. The Church welcomes children, new believers, and all others into the blessed family of God. We must love people enough to keep eternity in mind, love extravagantly, put evil outside the church, train them up in the fear and admonition of God, teach them to submit to the God who cleanses and purifies, so they might participate freely and joyfully with other Christians.
Have mercy on us, Oh God!!!