From personal experience, I have found that many church members aren’t discriminate about the preaching to which they listen or the books they read. With so many indiscriminate readers and listeners, we are bound to see many of our fellow members following false teachers, most of which are doing so unknowingly. Not only is this dangerous for their spiritual lives, but for our churches as well. We, however, aren’t to allow those who are indiscriminate to continue to be indiscriminate, nor are we to allow those who we know are digesting false teaching to continue. As pastors and church members, we have a responsibility to lovingly guide them away from error.
How do we lovingly guide our members away from false teaching?
(1) Teach the gospel
If we want our members to discriminate on the teaching to which they subscribe, whether that be a popular radio preacher, best-selling author, or blogger, we have to make sure they know the gospel like the back of their hand. As well as they must know how it applies to all of life. The only way this will happen is if you have a thoroughly gospel-centered ministry. Without rewriting what I have already written, let me just say that one element of a thoroughly gospel-centered ministry is gospel-centered teaching.
Preaching the gospel is no less than telling someone how they are saved, but it is much more than that as well. The gospel has many dimensions, much like a diamond has many facets. It is our job to expose those facets as we teach. As well as it is our job to make sure the gospel informs our application, not works, shame, or guilt.
As we teach the gospel week in and week out, our people should not only come to understand the basic idea that Jesus died for our sin but also how it applies to all of life. Members who have a deep understanding of the gospel should have red flags going up all over the place when they hear or read something that is remotely contrary to what they know to be the gospel.
So one way we can guide our people away from false teaching is through a consistent diet of gospel-centered teaching. Apart from consistently teaching the gospel, there are other things we can do to lovingly guide members away from false teaching.
(2) Provide access and knowledge of biblical resources
If we want our people listening to and reading thoroughly biblical resources, we have to provide them with those resources. One thing I have done on my church’s website and my personal blog is to provide a list of trusted books and authors. On my personal blog, I have also placed links to other blogs/authors I trust. We don’t currently have the resources at my current church to do the following, but other churches I have attended in the past ran a church bookstore, as well as they recommended books each month in the church bulletin. Still another way to expose your people to good resources is to give them away. Set a stack of free books out for the congregation to take. If you do that, you may want to do what one of my former pastors did and make it known that if you take a free book, you are agreeing to be asked about it.
Those are just a few ideas for getting good resources in the hands of your congregation. Hopefully, if you can get them reading your recommendations, they will grow in their ability to discern false teaching. As well as if you can fill their reading list with your recommendations, the time they have to read other things will be limited or non-existent.
(3) Listen and correct
One practice I have found helpful in confronting ideas garnered from false teaching is to listen and correct. As pastors and teachers, it is easy for us to do all the talking, but one thing we must learn to do is listen to what others are actually saying. If we listen, we can then correct them.
When we correct, we shouldn’t do it in a condescending or negative way, but rather with love and patience. When I am in conversation with someone and they say something questionable, I usually say something like, “I am not so sure about that, or I don’t really agree with that idea. Here is what I believe the Bible says about that…” Or if someone brings up a known false teacher, I am sure to let them know my concern with that person. In order to do that, however, we have to be clued into the popular false teachers and know why we disagree with them.
(4) Provide a book review
Providing a book review is another helpful way to address false teaching. I have found Tim Challies (challies.com) to be an excellent source for book reviews, especially on popular level books currently influencing Christian culture. Don’t be afraid to share these reviews with members. After sharing, don’t forget to follow up. A review alone isn’t enough. We also need to gather their thoughts and discuss the main difficulties with the book.
(5) Use social media
Almost everyone I know has a social media account. Social media can be an effective tool for communication and teaching if used properly. In an effort to do just that, I make it a point to post on my church’s Facebook feed weekly. My posts generally cover three broad categories. Some I use to teach and challenge, others are for encouragement, while others are used to inform. I find that to be a good mixture. As well as I try to spread those posts out over the week, which you can easily do by scheduling posts right from your church’s Facebook feed.
As fellow Christians, it’s important we confront those affected by false teaching with the truth of God’s Word. When we do this, we must go with our Bible’s open, ready to share God’s teaching on the matter. What we think doesn’t matter, as much as what God thinks, so we must confront with God’s Word open in love with much patience.
Along with providing a steady diet of gospel-centered teaching, a list of resources, correction, book reviews, articles posted on social media, and loving confrontation we must pray and trust the Holy Spirit to work. I say that because it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who draws people away from false teaching and to the true gospel, not us. We can help, but the Holy Spirit must convict and cause a person to repent.
The above has assumed the person being addressed has indiscriminately subscribed to false teaching. But what about those who haven’t? What about those who are actively spreading false teaching in your congregation? I believe the only option we have when it comes to false teachers, whether they are doing the teaching, or knowingly and actively spreading another’s teaching, is to remove them from any sort of leadership role while making the congregation aware of the false teaching they have shared and its corrective.
If they are not a teacher but are still actively and knowingly spreading false teaching in the congregation, we need to first approach them and ask them to stop. We also need to approach those members with whom they have shared that teaching and provide a corrective. If after approaching them, they refuse to repent and stop spreading false teaching, we must remove them from the congregation by means of church discipline. This may seem harsh, but it is our responsibility to protect the sheep from roaming wolves, which seek to devour.
Casey Lewis currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Sycamore Baptist Church in Decatur, TX. He is a husband, father, and a follower of Jesus Christ, who is passionate about growing healthy churches and reaching the lost. He is a regular contributor to For The Church and blogs regularly at Christianity Matters. Follow him on twitter: @caseylewis33