Discernment, False Teachers

Throwback Thursday ~ The Perilous Parable of Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Tickle

Originally published January 27, 2013


Once upon a time, there was a college student who was majoring in engineering. Let’s call her Brie. (Why? No particular reason except that I’m hungry and I happen to like cheese. But back to our story.)

One of the pre-requisite classes Brie had to take for her major was calculus. Brie had heard about the various calculus professors at her university. Some were tough. Some were boring. A few had a reputation for being easy.


Brie knew she did not want to take calculus from Dr. Shepherd. Although she had some friends who had taken his class and really seemed to know their stuff, calculaically speaking, they had told her that he demanded excellence of his students, had a no qualms about flunking students who weren’t trying and didn’t know the material, and gave regular—and challenging— homework and tests.


Brie was leaning more towards Dr. Tickle. Everybody said she was really nice and cared warmly for her students. She wasn’t a stickler about deadlines for assignments, taught in a funny and entertaining way, and –most importantly for Brie—didn’t believe in tests. Brie hated tests.

All of the sections of Dr. Tickle’s classes usually filled up quickly, so Brie wasted no time registering, and, happily, secured a spot. She knew she’d made the right choice when, on the first day of class, Dr. Tickle started the lesson off with a one woman skit. She filled the rest of the class period with jokes and inspiring personal stories about her own days as an engineering major. No formulas. No notes. They didn’t even crack the spines on their new text books. Brie felt completely at home and comfortable in Dr. Tickle’s class.

About half way through the semester, Brie was regaling her friend, Tess, with a joke Dr. Tickle had told in class that day. Tess giggled at the punch line, but then her brow furrowed.

“Wow, you’re really taking Dr. Tickle for calculus?” Tess asked.


“Sure,” replied Brie, “I love her class. Why?”

“Well, I took her calculus class for a few weeks. Dr. Tickle didn’t really teach much actual math. And even when she did teach us a little bit about how to work some of the problems, I checked my notes against the book, and she had completely botched it. She had left out parts of the formulas, and some of the other things she taught us were the exact opposite of what the book said. If I had stayed in her class, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what’s going on in the upper level classes I’m taking now. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even be graduating. I’d really recommend that you drop Dr. Tickle’s class and take calculus from a good professor who knows what he’s doing. I took Dr. Shepherd’s class. He’s tough, but he’s a great teacher.”

“What?!?! How can you say that about Dr. Tickle? I leave her class every day feeling great about calculus! Not once has she ever made me feel uncomfortable or stressed about my calculations. She’s so understanding and kind, and I love the fun way she teaches. I thought you were my friend, Tess, and I thought you were a nice person, too. How could you say such mean things about Dr. Tickle?

“I am your friend, Brie! I want you to be able to understand calculus properly so you’ll do well in the tougher classes that come later. I want to see you graduate with high marks and become a great engineer. I’m trying to help you!”

“Well, I think Dr. Tickle is a great teacher, and I really enjoy her class,” Brie responded coolly, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

There are Dr. Shepherds and Dr. Tickles on church campuses, too. God has not called pastors to stand in the pulpit and tickle your ears with jokes and stories. Nor has He called them to make the Bible and his sermons all about you and your self esteem, your dreams, your health, or your lust for material things. God has called pastors to:

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:2-5

If you have a Tess in your life who is warning you that a pastor, teacher, or author you’re following is a false teacher, don’t react like Brie did. What if your friend is right? Do you really want to follow a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, or do you want to follow a Dr. Shepherd who will give you the truth of God’s word even if it’s difficult? Check him out. Where? Here are some resources:

Clinging to the Golden Calf: 7 Godly Responses When Someone Says You’re Following a False Teacher

Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends

Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own


The Mailbag: When is it OK to leave a church that’s begun embracing false doctrine?

Originally published September 12, 2016

The elders and pastor of my church have made it clear that they aren’t interested in my husband’s and my concerns about, among other problems, a new women’s study (by a false teacher) starting this month. He told me he would read the articles I sent him but that I was wrong. Is it OK to leave this church, and, if so, when? How long do we wait and not see change?

That’s a great question, and I’m afraid there’s no “one size fits all” answer. When a church begins slipping, biblically, and there’s a Christian in that church who’s wise and discerning enough to see it, God has put that Christian in that church to help biblically solve that problem, or at least to serve as a prophetic warning as to what God’s Word says about the issue and what will happen if the church does not correct its course.

Our very first priority in this situation is prayer. We must pray fervently for God to change the hearts of the pastors and other leaders, for wisdom to know how to best approach the problem scripturally, and for God to give us wisdom about how long to stay and when to leave. (For us married ladies, that decision ultimately falls to our husbands, so we need to be praying for them, too.)

When you’ve done what you can to help biblically solve the problem(s) and have consistently been rebuffed (and it sounds like that’s about where you and your husband are with this church), it may be time to leave. It is perfectly biblical to leave a church that is embracing false doctrine despite scriptural warnings (Titus 3:10-11, Romans 16:17-18, 2 John 9-11, 2 Corinthians 11:12-15, Mark 6:11, Matthew 7:6).

Sometimes, God will make it exceedingly clear as to when you should leave because the church will ask you to leave or, in some way, make it impossible for you to stay.

It sounds like you and your husband have tried to help this church. Just continue to pray for your church and its leadership, and for wisdom (especially for your husband) about staying or leaving. Then trust God to direct you (Proverbs 3:5-6).

If you do end up having to leave, make sure you immediately begin your search for a doctrinally sound church to attend. No church is perfect, but we need to obey God’s mandate to be faithful members of a local body of believers.

Additional Resources:

The Mailbag: How should I approach my church leaders about a false teacher they’re introducing?

The Mailbag: How to Leave a Church

Searching for a new church?

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.


The Mailbag: Potpourri (Confessing past sin… Too much Calvinism?… “Fake it til you make it”)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question.

I like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

Or maybe I answered your question already? Check out my article The Mailbag: Top 10 FAQs to see if your question has been answered and to get some helpful resources.

I confessed and repented of a certain sin after I got saved, but my husband doesn’t know about it. Do I need to confess that sin to my husband in order to receive God’s blessings or be considered a Proverbs 31 wife? And should he also confess his past sins to me? By the way, my husband is a pastor.

What a beautiful heart you have – wanting to be clean before the Lord and wanting to please Him!

There might be a few very specific scenarios in which it would not be wise to bring up a past sin to your husband, but, generally speaking, in a Christian marriage yes, you should be able to talk to your husband about your past sins (and he should also be able to discuss his past sins with you). But not to get God’s blessings or to be a Proverbs 31 wife.

Marriage is about trust. In the same way that Christian husbands and wives should trust each other enough to feel comfortable being physically naked around one another, we should also trust each other enough to feel comfortable “baring it all” when it comes to our past sins.

It sounds like this is a sin you simply haven’t told him about, but it should go without saying that you should not be lying to him about it or trying to cover it up. Those are direct sins against him, and if you’re doing that, you definitely need to confess and repent to him.

All of that being said, there can be more helpful / wise ways and times to talk to your husband about your past sin and less helpful / wise ways and times to talk to him about it, and you may want to get some help figuring that out from someone who can be more objective about it than you can.

Normally, I would suggest setting up an appointment with your pastor to get some pastoral counsel about it, but since your husband is your pastor, I would suggest locating an ACBC certified Biblical Counselor (not the same thing as a “Christian counselor/therapist”) who is not a member of your church (you don’t want your husband to be embarrassed or make it difficult for the counselor to sit under her pastor’s leadership) and set up an appointment.

Some denominations offer counseling services to pastors and their families, so you may want to contact your denominational leadership to find out about that. (I’m not sure what to tell you about other denominations, but if you’re Southern Baptist, contact your local SBC association or state convention.)

Hello! I found your website while trying to see if a Christian singer was a false teacher. I started reading over your beliefs to make sure that you weren’t a false teacher (I don’t mean that in a rude way, it’s just that I have to be really careful especially since I am only a teenager). I agree with everything except Calvinism. I was just wondering if our beliefs would still align enough to where your positions on whether or not people are false teachers would align with my beliefs. I can always ask my parents afterwards, but I just wanted to know basically if you talk about or reference Calvinist beliefs a lot. Thank you!

Wow. Just, WOW. Honey, your parents must be so proud of you. I know I would be if you were my daughter. I am thrilled – hear me: THRILLED – that you checked me out to make sure I’m not a false teacher before reading my stuff. Do you know how many adults don’t do that before following people? Most of them. I wish I had been as discerning as you are when I was your age.

Calvinism is not a factor when I sit down to evaluate whether or not someone is a false teacher, so that isn’t something you would need to worry about. In fact, there are some people on both my Popular False Teachers page and on my Recommended Bible Teachers page about whom I have no idea whether or not they’re Calvinists. There are even Calvinists I recommend against (such as Matt Chandler), or decline to proactively recommend (such as John Piper). I will say this, though – and, understand, this is a very general statement – having studied dozens of teachers, I find that those who adhere to Calvinism / Reformed theology are less likely, on the whole, to be false teachers than non-Calvinists.

I guess it depends on what you mean by talking about or referencing Calvinism “a lot”. From my perspective, I hardly ever mention it directly, but I’m sure it does come across indirectly in some of the terminology I use and the way I handle Scripture.

This is kind of humorous, but, probably about once a month or so, I get a message or an email from somebody saying, “Why don’t you talk about the false teaching of Calvinism?” or “I see you recommend John MacArthur. Don’t you know he’s one of those [gasp!] Calvinists?”. So I guess I’m not exactly beating people over the head with it if they didn’t know and I have to tell them straight out, “Yeah, I’m a Calvinist, too.”

I don’t know, I’m probably not the most objective person to answer this question. Let’s turn it over to my regular readers and you can see what they have to say in the comments section.

Readers – do you think I talk about
Calvinism “a lot” on the blog?

Answer in the comments, and help out this charming and discerning young lady.

Could you tell me where Scripture teaches “fake it till you make it” ?

“fake it ’til you make it”. A phrase easier said than done. But where stands it written? I would say this is not true. Michelle I trust your wisdom and knowledge, but this phrase…not so much. I asked sarcastically where I could find it in Scripture knowing it’s not written. I was hoping to have a response to my previous email, but no reply as yet. God’s word is based on truth not feelings. Trusting feelings when it comes to “fake it ’til you make it” I find is not sound wisdom. Allowing the Holy Spirit to change me is trusting in Him not myself…whether it’s fear or feelings.

These two comments (from the same commenter) were left on my article Fear Not: 9 Biblical Ways to Trade Worry for Trust regarding the phrase “fake it til you make it” in this paragraph:

Those worries may start creeping in, but you don’t have to set the table and turn down the bed for them. Push them right out of your mind, slam the door behind them, and say (out loud is helpful), “No. I’m not going to worry. I’m going to trust the Lord.” You’ll still feel worried at first, but “fake it ’til you make it.” Your feelings will eventually follow.

I’d like to address two issues regarding these comments, first the commenter’s attitude, then the content.

Attitude: First, I did not receive an email from you about this, so I can only assume “email” in your second comment actually refers to your first comment. However, if you had sent me an email, you would have to have obtained my email address here, where I clearly state (in bold type, no less):

I regret I am unable to answer most e-mails
unrelated to speaking engagements…”

So if you had emailed me, you shouldn’t have expected a reply at all, much less on your timetable.

Since you commented, you should have read – in large font directly above the comment box:

“Before commenting please see the ‘Welcome’ tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. Comments are handled manually, so there will be a delay before approved comments are posted.”

So, a) you should have expected some sort of delay, and b) if you had clicked on the Welcome tab as instructed, you would have seen this:

The “Please click here…” hyperlink goes to an article further explaining my email and comments policy and why emails and many comments usually go unanswered. I have bent over backwards to make it clear to my readers that I can’t answer most correspondence and why, even though I really wish I could.

Furthermore, you sent your first comment three weeks ago and your second comment a week later. To give you a little perspective, the first question I answered in this article was sent in almost a year ago. The second one, a month ago. Some people don’t get their questions answered for months. Others never get their questions answered, because I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to get to everyone’s questions. I hate that, but that’s just the way it has to be.

Not realizing your initial question was sarcastic, I had saved it in order to answer it in a Mailbag article, but I’ll be honest, when I got your second comment, my gut level reaction was to just delete both of them. Being impatient, demanding, and snarky when you’re asking someone else to do something for you (i.e. answer your question) is neither becoming of a Christian nor very effective.

But since I had already decided to address the content of your question, I decided to go ahead and do that and also add the part about your attitude as a teaching moment for you and anyone else to whom it might apply.

Content: I thought most people in my audience would be familiar with the phrase “fake it til you make it” (and, indeed, in the four times this article has run on my blog, you’re the only one who has commented objecting to it), but I can see where it might not be the clearest wording in the world, especially for people who aren’t familiar with the common usage of the phrase.

No one who has read the entire article could surmise that I was saying that “God’s word is based on feelings,” or that I was saying people should “[Trust] feelings when it comes to ‘fake it ’til you make it’”. (I’m not really even sure what that means since the theme of that paragraph, that section, and the entire article is that we should not trust or be controlled by our feelings.)

“You’ll still feel worried at first, but ‘fake it ’til you make it.’ Your feelings will eventually follow,” simply means that we should obey Scripture (in this case the Scriptures that tell us to trust God) regardless of how we feel about it and trust God to eventually line our feelings up with His Word. I thought that was clear from the context, but if it was not, I sincerely apologize. I have added a footnote to the article with this explanation in case it’s unclear to any other readers.

UPDATE (9/8/21)

I received what I thought was a very gracious response from this reader. With her permission, I share it here:

Dear Michelle,

“fake it ‘til you make it”…here…

I ask your forgiveness. I had no intention of appearing impatient, nor demanding, nor snarky. Thank you for your very frank response and clarifying your answer to my question.

I am grateful for the knowledge and wisdom God has given you. My question was sincere as were my comments. And again I’m sorry if you took them as you did, as I had no intention to raise your ire in responding. I did indeed read the “welcome”, and again didn’t expect a response from your busy schedule and many emails you receive.

My heart was to speak as one sister to another. I have been told this phrase before. Words have consequences, and quite honestly for me, as I filter words and phrases through God’s Word, I am reminded to speak truth in love, not snarky, or demanding. We can all learn to be effective in our walk with the Lord by not jumping to conclusions that are incorrect, being teachable and gracious.

Blessings on you and your ministry.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Podcast Appearances

Interview with Doreen Virtue on Beth Moore

It was such a pleasure to once again appear on my friend Doreen Virtue’s videocast. We had a warm time of fellowship around the Word discussing Beth Moore, false doctrine, the sufficiency of Scripture, the role of women in the church, and more.

I encourage you to check out Doreen’s website, and follow her on social media. Doreen is most active on Instagram, but you can also catch her on Facebook. Be sure to subscribe to Doreen’s YouTube channel so you won’t miss any of her videos. I also highly recommend Doreen’s book, Deceived No More.

Articles / resources mentioned or touched on in the videocast:

Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient

Living Proof You Should Follow Beth (No) Moore

Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit

The Mailbag: Counter Arguments to Egalitarianism

Rock Your Role: Oh No She Di-int! Priscilla Didn’t Preach, Deborah Didn’t Dominate, and Esther Wasn’t an Egalitarian

Rock Your Role FAQs

A Word Fitly Spoken Podcast

The Mailbag (This isn’t a newsletter, but a weekly {Mondays} blog article.)

Popular False Teachers & Unbiblical Trends

Recommended Bible Teachers

Bible Studies

Speaking Engagements

Got a podcast of your own or have a podcasting friend who needs a guest? Need a speaker for a women’s conference or church event? Click the Speaking Engagements tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page, drop me an e-mail, and let’s chat!

Speaking Engagements

Report Back: Staying on the Path Conference

I had such a wonderful time of fellowship and teaching recently with the ladies of Providence Baptist Church in Opelika, Alabama, and their guests from the surrounding area, at the Staying on the Path in a World of Compromise women’s conference.

PBC was the staging area for disaster relief operations following the devastating tornado in the area in March of 2019. A beautiful memorial to the victims has been erected on the church grounds.

Providence’s WOVEN (Women Of the Vine Encouraging and Nurturing) women’s ministry put on a fantastic conference.

Everything was so nice and no detail was left unattended…

Here are some of the charming ladies who attended the conference…

I had the pleasure of teaching three sessions, God’s Word, Our Foundation – on the necessity, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture, Discernment 101 – an introduction to discerning false doctrine and false teachers, and a great Q&A session where these ladies asked some really smart questions! (Sorry, no audio of the conference sessions at this time.)

Hostess bags are never necessary for a speaker, but I’m always so humbled and grateful to receive a special treat like this, especially after a long, tiring day of traveling. Although the contents are appreciated, the gesture of hospitality and caring is so precious and meaningful to me. I’m not especially gifted in that area, and I so admire sisters in Christ who are.

April, WOVEN’s director, machine embroidered the bag (notice the monogram
on the bag is LSU purple and gold!) and the hand towel herself. So pretty!

Many, many thanks to the conference organizers, especially April and Lynda, for taking such good care of me and making me feel so at home. It was a pleasure fellowshipping with them and with the ladies who attended the conference.

If your church or organization is ever in need of a speaker for a women’s event, I’d love to come share with your ladies as well. Click here for more information.

Photo Credits

Photos by others credited in captions

Remaining photos by Michelle Lesley