Worship Pastors, Beware of the Modern Wolf
As a kid, my interpretation of a wolf in sheep’s clothing was so elementary. I always envisioned someone like the Grinch when he was roaming around Whoville in his (obviously) fake mask and sketchy hooded cloak. He wasn’t as interested in fitting in as much as he was in disrupting the town. I think many of us still believe “wolves'' might stand out more like the Grinch than the Bible would show us.
In the middle of His sermon on the mount, Jesus offered a haunting warning to the attentive crowd. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits…” (Matthew 7:15-16a). In Acts 20, Paul offered a similar, chilling warning to the elders of the church of Ephesus before his departure.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)
Paul doesn’t say “might” or “could”. Paul says fierce wolves “will” come in among you. The same warning applies to us today. Ravenous wolves still exist and we as shepherds must pay careful attention to beware and take care of our flock.
For a wolf to be seen or mistaken as a sheep, the wolf has to take on the form of a sheep and many of its characteristics. It has to, in many ways, become one with the fold. The wolf will not immediately devour. For mass impact, it will learn habits, partake in the activities, and even temporarily compromise wolf-like behavior in order to sell the act. If a wolf is cunning enough, it will even convince a shepherd of the fold into accepting and caring for this very dangerous threat to his sheep. This is the analogy Jesus was describing and Paul warned would become a reality.
The false prophets (or teachers) of today are no less wolf-like in their approach. They still exist and they still very much devour. These teachers reel you in with just enough familiar truth to seduce you into trusting them. They learn your habits, and they learn what sells. They partake in the activities that matter to you. They may even fudge on some of their own overall beliefs by skirting pointed questions. They produce resources that grip you, challenge you, and shape you into a disciple. They’re often charismatic leaders, flattering the flock and appealing to pride. And once they have you, they feast.
We most often think about wolves in the context of teachers. But one extremely overlooked wolf in sheep’s clothes today is worship music.
Have you ever asked the question “How did that church with the theology they have write something like this?” I know I have. It blows my mind how theologically sound some songs have been that have come from such compromised theological foundations.
Here’s what can happen as these songs are produced: A member of a congregation hears a song and is moved to tears; maybe even comforted by the truth in the song. This member wants more, so they search it out. They convince their pastor to add a song to the Sunday morning worship setlist. Their pastor loves it as well and validates the song, and, by default, the church that the song came from as a resource to his flock. More people taste it and become desirous of this resource. Before you know it, a large number of sheep have not only become partakers, but disciples and ambassadors for said song / resource.
This leads to curiosity on what it would be like to attend the church of this band, so the member either looks up the church online, or stops in for an in-person gathering while in the town of that particular church. It is at this moment when the wolf starts to show himself, but many times it's too late. The sheep is reeled in past the gateway of common Truth, rich theology (in some songs), beautiful melodies, and an emotional experience, and they’re now sitting under 45+ minutes of what this resource is ACTUALLY preaching. At this point, so much trust has been built unbeknownst to the consumer sheep, that it’s hard to discern the modified language of the wolf’s pack leader. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s inclusive. It’s empowering. It’s “freeing”. Little does the sheep know it’s killing them.
Until the past two years, my standard for selecting songs, generally, has been “If this song is a clear picture of the gospel and accurately represents Christ, we will sing it.” I wouldn’t put as much weight on the church the songs came from as I would on the song being truthful and clear. While this may seem like a good enough standard, we must consider a more holistic vetting process. The internet is a black hole. Social media has its perks, but along with the perks come many landmines. If we aren’t making decisions with this in mind, we are playing into the hand of the wolf. As hard as drawing lines can be, there are unfortunately more reasons to draw lines today than there are not to.
To be completely transparent, I didn’t believe in this “black hole” pattern until I actually started seeing it with our Journey Worship Co. music. We have now encountered many folks on the road who have said they initially began listening to our music but have since started following our pastor online. The more I encountered this, the more my eyes were opened…it matters. To be naive at this point is negligence.
Now, while we have generated quite the pool of songs from within our walls through our writing as Journey Worship Co., we do still pull from other resources from time to time. When we do, we’ve raised our standard when selecting songs. The same standard (above) still applies but we’ve added to it. If the song is clear and truthful, it’s a candidate. The next question is “Where did this come from and what are they teaching?” It must be a question you consider now.
As shepherds, it’s important to be aware of the threats to our sheep. Music is a powerful tool. Do your due diligence and research on behalf of your people. Don’t just pick great songs, choose from great camps of rich, God glorifying theology. Create your own resources and write your own songs that speak the same language of your people and lift high the name of Jesus in clear and beautiful ways. Ask the Spirit to guide you and guard you as you guide and guard your flock.
Beware of the modern wolf.
Brett is the Worship Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and the founder of Journey Worship Co. He is married to Megan and has three boys, Keaten, Griffey, and Lou.
- Learning: Moving From The Shallow End To The Deep Waters Of Theology, Persevering: Moving From Cultural Conformity To Being Rooted In The Timeless Truth Of Scripture