Shepherding Scattered Sheep

Shepherding God’s People Series:

  1. Shepherding God’s People – Overview
  2. Shepherding Weak Sheep
  3. Shepherding Sick Sheep
  4. Shepherding Broken Sheep
  5. Shepherding Lost Sheep
  6. Shepherding Scattered Sheep
  7. Shepherding Young Sheep
  8. Shepherding Standing Sheep

Ezekiel 34:4-6, 8, 16; Matthew 9:36-38 – Scattered sheep are exactly what it sounds like. These sheep have wandered away from the fold for one reason or another. The truth is, the longer you wait to retrieve scattered sheep, the less likely are to return. Some have strayed on their own for a variety of reasons but some have been “driven away.” It’s the shepherd’s responsibility to make a sincere and conscientious attempt to bring them back.

Shepherd’s Responsibility is to Bring Back the Scattered Sheep

1. Clear Conscience if appropriate. Evaluate your situation and dealings with your scattered sheep to see if there is some sort of relational conflict on your part, or with anyone in the group. It is so important to maintain a clear conscience as your have conversations with them.

  • Acts 24:16; In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.
  • 1 Timothy 1:19; keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.

2. Request or offer forgiveness. If you discover you have done something to offend them, do everything in your power to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Conversations are always a good place to start. We need to communicate with our people to better minister to them. If we have done something to cause them to fall away, let’s admit it, and seek reconciliation if possible. 

  • Matthew 18:15-35; – this passage is about church discipline, and then how many times we should forgive someone who errs against us (and the parable of the outrageous debt and the servant).
  • Luke 17:1-4; Jesus talks about forgiving a repentant brother.
  • Ephesians 4:31-32; Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
  • Colossians 3:13; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

3. Avoid listening to accusations. People talk, and there is always talk in the hall. Talk to people directly, don’t just listen to accusations. When someone comes to you with a concern, approach the situation is the spirit of prayer and concern.

  • 1 Timothy 5:19; Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
  • Revelation 12:10; “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.
  • Matthew 18:15-17; “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The point is that we need to talk directly to people rather than listening to the accusations of others. Talk to the people involved!

4. Remind them that love covers a multitude of sins on both sides. It really is amazing what people will put up with when they know that love is in the mix. We tolerate a lot of bad behavior when we love each other. Just think about your own family! But accepting bad behavior may not be the healthy thing to do, we often need to confront poor behavior, because we love that person. We love them too much to allow them to go down a bad path.  

  • 1 Corinthians 13:7; [love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  • 1 Peter 4:8; Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

It’s amazing what people can do and endure when love rules the relationship.

5. Discuss reasons for leaving that are healthy: Our church is not the best place for every person, as hard as it is to hear and accept that statement. Some people leave a congregation for the right reasons. Not everyone is running away from something and choosing to be scattered sheep. Here are a few positive reasons to leave the church…

· Leaving to have a genuine spiritual need met elsewhere.

  • Ephesians 4:16; from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
  • Colossians 2:19; and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

These verses tell me that our needs are met as we live together in authentic community. If we can’t sense this unity from the head [Christ] or the body [Christians] then perhaps leaving is the right thing to do for your own spiritual health.

BUT, leaving and not finding another faith community is a cop out. You must always remember that you can 1) be a part of the solution or 2) you can be a part of the problem. There is a real possibility that your leaving for another faith community brings the same spirit of discontentment and disunity that you were attempting to leave. Hey, just something to think about. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy! We think we are leaving because of a problem in the church, but could it be that we are the problem that we are bringing to another congregation? 

· Leaving to plant another church. If God calls you, you need to be obedient and leave the congregation that you love to get involved in the mission or church plant to which you are called.

  • Acts 13:1-4, While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
  • Romans 10:14-15; How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

· Leaving to serve another church. This is also a part of the calling we have as disciples of Jesus. We like where we attend, and we love these servants at our church, and we are saddened when God calls them away from us. In my small group, I challenge people that if you are still in my group after a few years, I have failed, because we are called to go out into other areas and pass on what we have experienced and learned. We are called to serve, not to sit and to soak!

  • Acts 18:27-28; And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:5-8; What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

We are not tied to God’s servant but to our Savior. We go where he leads, even if that leading takes us away from the congregation we love.

· Leaving over doctrinal error. If you can’t correct the error, you may have to leave a congregation when error has crept in. Wow, this is tough because we have to think through whether this is truly a doctrinal error or just a difference of interpretation. We may not know a lot of theology but we know people who can help us sort through what we have heard and experienced in a classroom or in the pulpit. 

  • Jude 1:3-4; Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

· Leaving because of persecution. While legitimate, I hope that I would persevere through the persecution rather than leaving because if it. But in the Bible, the dispersion was all about persecution in Jerusalem and because of it, the gospel went into all the world. God can use persecution to get his church out of their comfort zone and back on mission.

  • Acts 8:1-4; Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. 4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

· Leaving because disagreement with the direction of the church. When you have a difference of opinion regarding the direction of the local church, sometimes you conclude that leaving that congregation is the right thing to do. So many people will fight the God-called leadership of their congregation, and when people fight, the church gets a black eye from unbelievers in the community. Even faithful people in the church may choose to concede to these strong-willed members in the hopes of unity. We cannot encourage church people to create disunity over personal preferences that may differ from the pastor or other leadership in the church. Certainly, people can express their differences but when the church moves in a certain direction, we all need to be on board, rather than seeking ways to sabotage the efforts of the majority. If the direction of the church is not what you like, rather than fight, leaving to join another congregation may be just the needed remedy.

  • Acts 15:1; Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Hey, this was such a problem that the first Jerusalem Council gathered to settle the issue. By the way, while settled here, it was not settled because it seems that the Judaizers contended with the early church and the teachings of Paul for years to come. Sometimes those in the minority who dissent would rather fight than leave. When people fight, enter in the factions…

  • 1 Corinthians 11:19; For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

So, what can you do?

  • Ephesians 4:3; being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

· Leaving because they were disfellowshipped (Excommunication).

  • Matthew 18:15-17; At the end of church discipline, if they do not see the error of their ways, sending them away could be the right thing to do. But those in the majority, operating under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, are called to inflict punishment on those who are erring, to try and bring them back to sound doctrine….
  • 2 Corinthians 2:6-7; Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

Did you get that? There can be a punishment inflicted by the majority, with the hope of restoring them.

BUT what if they refuse to listen and repent?

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; Here, Paul writes some difficult words about not associating with certain so-called brothers. Certainly, read these verses for yourself!
  • Acts 5:11; And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

After the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, all such dissension regarding the authority of the anointed apostles deceased significantly!

So, what to do with scattered or driven-away sheep… bring them back. We desire to be at peace with all of the flock but there are some situations where there is good reason for certain sheep to be scattered and driven-away.

The point is for the shepherd to understand the situation and make a sincere and contentious attempt to bring them back into the fold. BUT, always remember that God’s answer for unity in the congregation may be to allow some sheep to leave on their own.


Credit for the original teaching goes to my mentor, teacher, and friend, Rick Leineweber.

Spread the Community, Faith, Love

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