How much value does a soul have to you? If you are in church leadership, how do you demonstrate the worth of another human being?
Clearly Jesus valued the souls of people highly. He knew that men and women were made in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Jesus said gaining the whole world was not enough profit if it meant losing one's soul in the process (Matt. 16:26). Ultimately, Christ shed His blood to save our souls as well as our bodies from death. Souls are inestimable in their price. With the soul we believe, experience, and commune with God.
Recently I have been pondering the value of a soul, and how we should be ever so protective of them, as I have listened to Rachael Denhollander read her book What Is a Girl Worth? on Audible. (See Kyle Borg's commendation here and Tim Challies' review here.) Hearing her tell her own story of how a college student abused her in church as a seven year old, and then how Dr. Larry Nassar insidiously sexually assaulted her as an innocent teenager in an examination room (all the while talking to her mother who was there in the room with his body shielding the abuse), is horrific enough. But then listening to her continue to tell the story of how the abuse impacted her thinking every day and through every important event in her life, such as getting married or having children, is humbling and heart wrenching.
Yet the story grows even darker. Right before the time she went public with Nassar's abuse, her congregation's leaders began to shut her and her husband down because she was advocating against authoritative abuse. The way the Denhollander's elders went about trying to protect others in church leadership is sickening. Her account makes me not only see but feel how damaging the sin of others, particularly authority figures, can be on the human soul, the psyche. As Rachael's book title suggests, a little girl is inestimable in value and should be treated accordingly. Likewise, every soul that crosses our path in church leadership should be viewed with great dignity.
In the works of the church father John Chrysostom known as the Six Books of the Priesthood, he urges pastors to think upon how the devil wages war on the human soul. The immediate and eternal impact of the harm of the evil one on the soul is incalculable, making national wars pale in comparison.
If it were possible by putting off this body, or still keeping it, to see clearly and fearlessly with the naked eye the whole of his battle array, and his warfare against us, you would see no torrents of blood, nor dead bodies, but so many fallen souls, and such disastrous wounds that the whole of that description of warfare which I just now detailed you would think to be mere child’s sport and pastime rather than war…For when the soul receives a wound, and falls, it does not lie as a lifeless body, but it is thenceforth tormented, being gnawed by an evil conscience; and after its removal hence, at the time of judgment, it is delivered over to eternal punishment; and if anyone be without grief in regard to the wounds given by the devil, his danger becomes the greater for his insensibility. (4.13)
Comprehending the value of the soul is what makes the work of the church so important. Unlike what Rachael and too many others find, the church is to be the place where souls are valued, protected, and shaped by the gospel into Christ's image for His glory. Those in authority should remember the sobering words of Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." Often a verse used by church leadership to keep people in line, those shepherding the flock of God do well to remember that someday they will give an account for how they have kept watch over the souls of those entrusted to their care. One can only imagine on Judgment Day the wrath of God stored up for those church leaders who harmed those souls placed under their care.
The Apostle Paul understood the value of a soul. He wished he could give up his own, if possible, in order to see his own people in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 9:1-5). That's what the church needs today. Not milquetoast, spineless leaders afraid to offend souls desperately needing Christ and correction. Neither does it need men acting all machismo with the sheep of Christ. Rather, the church needs strong leaders willing to protect the flock from wolves, warn the sheep of danger, and lovingly sacrificing their own livelihood for the people of God.