There are two things you should never let your wife play with:
- Someone else’s baby.
- A puppy in a Walmart parking lot.
In either case, you’ll be getting one of your own soon.
A few years back I made the mistake of stopping to let the family play with the puppies in a Walmart parking lot. They were five or six weeks old, they had that awesome puppy smell, and they were SOOOO cute! So we played with them for a few minutes, and then I was ready to leave. As if that was gonna happen…
Lauren said something like “how can you say no to this face?”
And that’s when I knew we were getting a puppy.
But I’m not THAT much of a pushover. We had two small children, and we needed to make sure the dog would be good with kids. After all, you don’t just buy a dog from the Walmart parking lot, right? The owner said the puppy was half English bulldog and half Alaskan husky. We were super excited because the combination of a bulldog’s personality and a husky’s intelligence seemed like a lot of fun, so we dropped the $25 and Lucy became a part of the family.
We took her home and everything was great. She played with the kids, she played with us, and she played with the cat. And at least two of the three groups really enjoyed the situation! She was sweet, she was smart, and she had a little mischievous side too. But as the weeks went on, we began to suspect that something was wrong with Lucy. She grew, and grew, and GREW! And then she grew some more. Three months in, it became obvious that Lucy was going to be huge, and that was confusing, because English bulldogs and huskies are medium sized dogs. We could tell that she was half bulldog, but Lauren began to suspect that she wasn’t really half husky. Lauren started sleuthing online and it turned out that Lucy wasn’t a husky at all. She was half German shepherd.
Now German shepherds are great in their own right. They’re big, they’re smart, they’re energetic, and they can rip the arm right off a fleeing criminal. But they’re not typically the dog you want around small kids in a 1,500 sq foot house with a tiny back yard. We loved Lucy, but no matter how much we wished things were different, we couldn’t ignore the fact that our “husky” was actually a German shepherd. So Lucy had to go.
And that really hurt.
And those situations always hurt, don’t they? You think you know someone. You have high hopes for them. You even have a relationship with them. But then something happens and you realize that your assumptions were wrong and the person you thought they were turns out to have been a fiction. It hurts when it’s a friend, but maybe it hurts even worse when it’s a spiritual leader.
As someone who leads others, I often think of James’ warning that
Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes… (James 3:1, NLT)
For a long time I thought that James meant that teachers and leaders like me would be judged more strictly by God. But I’ve come to think he also means that those of us who dare to lead the church will be judged more strictly by those we lead. And that’s the way it should be, because when people give us their trust and follow our spiritual guidance, we influence them in ways that will ripple into eternity.
If I lead you poorly, you should discern my bad leadership and judge me more harshly. But here’s the danger: a good manipulator can mask his or her true colors long enough to gain the trust of people who are seeking God honestly. Unlike an honest leader who may do a bad job and be judged quickly by his or her followers, by the time a manipulator is identified as a false leader, they have already left a trail of destruction and distrust in their wake.
Jesus has a word for this kind of people. He calls them wolves.
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
The sad thing about a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that they are rarely recognized until after they attack. They look as innocent as everyone else until it’s too late. Once they shed their false skin and show themselves for what they are, they have already preyed upon the sheep around them.
The obvious question here is “how do we spot a false spiritual leader? How do I know if I’m following a wolf who has disguised himself as a sheep?” I’ll get to that extensively in the next post, because the Bible has a lot to say about it. The simplest test is the one Jesus gives. You read the first half above:
Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify the by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. (Matthew 7:15-16a)
At the end of the day, the wolf will always betray him or herself. Their actions give them away, because they can’t deny their nature. If you suspect you may be following a wolf in sheep’s clothing, be on your guard. They probably won’t tear the mask off all at once, but they will drop hints. Just like Lucy, that cute little puppy that wasn’t what we were told, there will be clues that a false leader isn’t what he or she appears.
I knew Lucy was on her way out when Lauren said “I’m not sure what breed she is, but Lucy definitely isn’t Husky.” If you start getting that feeling about your spiritual leader, be on guard. It may be that your sweet mutt from Walmart is actually a wolf in disguise.