What do I mean by a "Wolf in Shepherd's Clothing?" Simply those who have been placed (or placed themselves) in a position of religious authority over others who do not have those other's best interests in mind. This could be anything from a Bible study leader to the senior pastor of a mega-church.
I'm not talking about leaders who make mistakes and move on. I'm talking about those who are in it for what they can get out of it. It takes a special kind of perversity to use God to manipulate people into doing what you want.
They usually operate through presenting themselves as a spiritual/Biblical authority or being 'hooked up' with someone who is. Make no mistake. The majority of people who do this are very clever, subtle (like their true father), and can go for years - even decades - without being unmasked. The following passage is a very good description of what they do.
"Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.'" Matthew 23:4-7 (The Message)
The subtly - the smoke and mirrors - lies in appearing to help people - appearing to be concerned about the welfare of the people that come to them. Don't be pulled in by their self-promotion or the promotion from those who are under their spell. Step back and look at the actual fruit of their labor. If they are good at what they do, they will actually help a few people, but it will be incidental, not intentional. Apply logic to what they say. Check what they say against the Bible - they are experts at twisting. Don't just check to see if the passage is in there, though. Check the context to make sure it is actually saying what they claim.
These are some BIG ones.
- Pay attention to the turnover rate in their membership. Pay attention to how they treat those who leave. Pay attention to how they deal with real dissent - how they handle someone who disagrees with them.
- Pay attention to the way they treat those who have REAL problems - emotional problems, drug problems, street-level problems that are not pretty to look at.
- If you go to them for advice and leave feeling insignificant, confused or discounted, THIS IS A BIG RED FLAG!
- If they are preaching on marriage, check the divorce rate, not just of those who are still there, but those who have left. How many of them got divorced as they left?
- If you feel like you never quite measure up to their expectations - where they claim you should be if you are 'doing this right' - you're always just not quite enough, this is a red flag.
In other words, objectively check the fruit of their ministry.
Another big red flag is if they are focused on how they appear - how the church appears - how the members appear. If they are more concerned with how you look than how you feel or what you are going through, RUN!
"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds." Matthew 23:27-28 (The Message)
I will talk about some specific experiences in later blogs. Peace.