WATCHING THE FENCE?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Perhaps many of us are familiar with the parable of the city fathers who were concerned about the large number of persons who kept falling over a cliff to the rocks below. So they had a meeting and voted to spend several thousand dollars to provide ambulance service to carry the injured to the hospital. After several years of wailing and spending money for ambulance and hospital services, a young lad suggested to the aged fathers that they build a fence at the edge of the cliff to keep people from falling, rather than being so concerned with keeping the ambulances ready to pick them up after they had fallen.
The story appealed to me. I think I have seen elders who seemed more concerned with providing help for those who have fallen than doing the things necessary to prevent them from falling in the first place. I Cor.10:12says, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” It is also true that after one is fallen, Gal. 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness.”
As I was meditating on that, another thought occurred to me that might be worth our consideration. Although it is good to be concerned with the welfare of those who are fallen, perhaps better to be concerned with the means which we can use to keep persons from falling, it is possible that in focusing on the means of helping those who are fallen, or the means of preventing some from falling, we may still fail to focus on the most important thing — the total welfare of the persons who may or may not fall! It is very interesting to read what Jesus said to Peter in John 21:15-17. He first says “Boske ta arnia mou,” which means, “Feed my lambs.” Then he says, “Poimaine ta probatia mou” which means, “Shepherd my little sheep.” Shepherding involves feeding, delousing, protecting from wolves, keeping them from falling into the ravine, and anything else they need for their security — their total welfare!
Let me illustrate what I mean. Is it not possible that elders start thinking about a building program with the purpose of advancing the cause of Christ and winning more persons to follow him, but so concentrate and focus on the building and the program that they neglect the people who need to be saved and strengthened? Is it not possible that elders and educational directors begin an ambitious program of Bible school promotion and may get so involved in how the program operates that they forget to minister personally to the people involved? Is it not possible that “Family Life Centers” have been built on the assumption that the “Center” would provide for the needs of the members when it actually does not? Is it not even possible that elders and preachers can be so concerned with keeping their doctrinal fences sound and repaired that they allow many sheep to die before they even get to the fence? For example, are there not congregations where the preacher and elders are “sound” on the issue of marriage, divorce and re-marriage, but may have dozens of teen-agers practicing fornication because not enough personal attention was given to their lives? Maybe we can get so busy attending to the fence that the lambs starve to death!
So, while it is true that the ambulance needs to be ready for caring for those who fall and get hurt (Gal. 6:1), and while it is true that the fence needs to be built and kept repaired to keep people from falling, it is even more important to know that with the proper attention and training, it is possible that many of the people who might otherwise fall, would not even get near the edge, and would need neither the fence nor ambulance.
Have we ever seen a person buy a pretty lawn mower, get the blade sharpened, the oil changed, the gas in, and the grass catcher applied, and then perhaps be so tired he goes over to the hammock and sleeps while the grass and weeds still grow? Anytime we allow the means to become the ends we have done that sort of thing.
Of course we knew that all along, but it is still true that we may get so involved in getting the pretty ambulance and keeping it shined, and in building fences and repairing them that we do not pay too much attention to the REAL job of training and teaching so those things will not be needed. In all our teaching of personal evangelism over the past 40 years, we have taught “How to” do everything from change the light bulb in a projector to “Setting up the study” and “Closing the sale.” Seldom have we actually taught in a practical way, “How to develop the mind of Christ” in those classes. To use a phrase of Jesus, “These things ought ye to have done and not to have left the other undone” (Mt.23:24). If we changed the figure of speech and thought of them as sheep, we could say that many of the sheep need feeding, de-lousing and shepherding while many shepherds are nailing barbed wire to a post, or putting air in the ambulance tire. Are you watching the fence or the sheep?