Big Dogs, Little Dogs, and Cats

Rev. Clint Poppe gave a justifiably famous presentation in 2012 on the need for pastors to be barking dogs. I would – without his permission, knowledge, acquiesce, or acknowledgement – modify some of his thoughts based on church history and empirical data.

First, Augustine in Sermon 229m.1 refers to heretics as “barking” (ACC, ivb, 380), so being a barking dog isn’t necessarily a faithful thing. Second, there is a difference between even faithful barking dogs.

I walk 30 or more miles every week through my neighborhood and others. Big dogs usually only bark at you from the beginning of their property line to the end. Little dogs begin yapping when you’re a yard before their yard, and they yap, yap, yap at you long after you have left their property line. The big dog is doing his duty; the little dog is annoying.

Rev. Poppe from all accounts has always been a big dog. Sons of my congregation have been associated with him over the years and they have only had good things to say about him. He has barked his low, guttural, menacing bark when the lines of confessional theology have been clearly crossed, and he stops when the trespass has stopped.

I, on the other hand, have been a little dog. I have yapped, yapped, yapped at what haven’t been trespasses or trespassers. I could defend myself by saying, “True, but they were going to trespass.” However, you know and I know I have just self-identified as a Pharisee or Baptist who believes fences should be built around the law to prevent it from being trespassed. Yes, I have been here, there, and sometimes everywhere a yappy little dog, but at least, I haven’t been a pussy.

I hasten to add here, like the defenders of Donald Trump did when he referred to another candidate as a “pussy,” I mean this as short for pusillanimous whose root sense is “‘having the soul of a mere boy not that of a man'” (A Browser’s Dictionary, 319).

I also mean this in the sense of pussycat. On my walks, I’ve noticed that cats never bark, never warn; they usually run, but sometimes they hide hoping I won’t see them. So while I haven’t been the big dog that rightly should be praised and emulated, while I have been the annoying little yappy dog barking at wrong things and occasionally at the right, at least I haven’t been a pussy.

A yappy little dog might be trained to behave like the big dog, but a pussy is a pussy for life. He can only repent and die in Christ to be reborn a big dog.

I wrote this a month ago, and I now have more empirical data. The big dog does his job, but if all a big dog ever does is bark – if he never bites – he will eventually be ignored. I say this not over against Pastor Poppe or any individual, but as a matter of fact. A yappy dog bites too soon and too much; a big, barking dog that never bites is only a living alarm, but that’s still better than being a pussy.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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