The Difference Between Dangerous Wolves and Misguided Sheep

Churches ought to be characterized by a loving unity that permeates all relationships within the congregation. Sometimes, certain leaders or members can turn divisive to the detriment of the whole flock.

Jesus taught about three different types of people that you might find within a church by three different animal characterizations:

  1. Sheep – A sheep is a member of the flock and protected by the Shepherd. While these animals are not the fastest and the brightest, they endure because of who cares for them and who is around them (Ps. 100:3; Luke 15:4; Matt. 9:36; John 10:14; Isa. 53:6).
  2. Goat – A goat displays common characteristics with a sheep but is of a different essence. The Shepherd will eventually separate them from the flock being able to differentiate those who truly belong there (Matt. 25:32).
  3. Wolf – A wolf is someone who comes into a flock disguised as a sheep with dangerous motives. While appearing to be a part of the flock, the wolf actually comes to destroy the flock one at a time (Matt. 7:15; John 10:12; Acts 20:29).

It appears that a wolf can be a leader or a member. Often categorized as a false prophet, it is someone who is leading others astray, but it doesn’t mean that it has to come from a leadership position necessarily.

What makes the difference between a dangerous wolf and a misguided sheep?

This question concerns me. When can I know that someone in the church needs to be corrected, and when is someone dangerous for the whole flock and must be dealt with more seriously?

Look at the verses where the New Testament speaks of these wolves.

#1. Sheep’s Clothing

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 7:15

They come with the appearance of a sheep. You think they belong. They appear harmless. They fit in very well, but through their words, they have evil motives sharing false ideas to gobble others up. They are dangerous for the safety of the flock.

#2. Scattered Flock

He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

John 10:12

The wolf is intimidating. When he shows his colors, most people are going to flee. A true shepherd will stay strong, but the wolf is enough of a formidable opponent to send many running. While the wolf can’t grab all the sheep, just the catching of one leads to the scattering of many. The wolf seeks to disperse the flock. The endgame is to get them all isolated.

#3. Selective Timing

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.

Acts 20:29

When Paul left the church at Ephesus, he warned them that wolves would rise in his absence. Apparently, some of these wolves wouldn’t mess with that flock while that shepherd was around. But once he was gone, they were bold enough to attack. It appears that for all the cunning ways of wolves, they are intimidated in the presence of strong, steady leadership. They will wait till there’s an opening to attack.

Which One Is It?

When I think about local churches, I know the need to be able to identify real threats. If someone is being divisive, are they a sheep, goat, or wolf?

In this post, I want to focus on how you know that someone in your church (leader or member) needs to be corrected or needs to be challenged. Do they need correction or confrontation?

Here’s how I have come to help think through the issue.

How to Spot a Sheep

A sheep is someone who may be slow and cause issues for the shepherd, but that person rarely endangers others. The harm they risk is only to themselves. The Shepherd hunts them down, brings them to safety, and establishes them with the flock. These people need correction.

How to Spot a Wolf

A wolf is someone whose words and actions reveal a real danger to others. Unlike the sheep, whose mistakes cause pain for themselves, wolves are out to destroy others. These people need confrontation.

  • These false prophets are leading others to believe in ideas that are not Scriptural.
  • They come across as those that would fit in, but they have dangerous motives.
  • They isolate people in a flock to make them scared or scattered.
  • They cower in the presence of real authority and would rather wait for sneaky, opportune times to attack.

The Good Shepherd gathers the sheep, separates the goats, and chases off the wolves.

Which one are you? Who is in your church right now? Within the leadership and membership, what do actions reveal about identities?

How can you determine the difference between what Jesus would call a sheep and a wolf in a church? One hurts themselves; the other intends to endanger others.

I’m learning that misguided sheep need correction. Like myself, we can get off into beliefs and behaviors that could endanger us, and we often need someone to help bring us back.

But I’m also learning that dangerous wolves need confrontation. They need to be run off for the health of the flock. These people aren’t trying to hurt themselves; they are out to devour others.

These two groups of people are doing two different things and require two different ways to address them.

Correct the sheep. Confront the wolf.