Don’t Starve the Sheep

One of the great tragedies of the influx of extrabiblcal leadership models into the church is that it’s easy for pastors to lose sight of the work the Lord originally called them to do: feed His sheep.

Think about it: Say you’re a pastor who has modeled his ministry after successful CEOs. Your priorities could vary significantly—from growing the size and reach of your church, to dreaming up new ministry innovations, to developing a vision for the next season in the life of the church. And while none of those grand pursuits are necessarily wrong, should they be the things that occupy the majority of a pastor’s time?

To put it another way, What should be the primary focus of the godly shepherd?

We recently raised that question with John MacArthur. Here’s what he said:

The pastor’s job, first and foremost, is to feed his sheep. That’s why Christ repeatedly charged Peter to do just that in John 21:15-17. Here’s how John MacArthur explains the depth of Christ’s exhortation:

Twice Jesus used the word “tend” (boskō), which could be better translated “to feed.” “Shepherd” (poimainō) embodies all the aspects of shepherding. The shepherd’s task is not to tell people only what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4), but to edify and strengthen them with the deep truths of solid spiritual food that produces discernment, conviction, consistency, power, and effective testimony to the greatness of the saving work of Christ. No matter what New Testament terminology identifies the shepherd and his task, underneath it all is the primacy of biblical truth. He is to feed the sheep. [1]

The godly shepherd’s ability to faithfully feed his sheep is a function of his own devotion to Scripture. Paul made that very point in his letter to Titus, when he described one of the necessary characteristics of godly pastors as “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). In his commentary on that passage, John MacArthur explains what such devotion looks like in practice.

Pastors, therefore, are to love “the faithful word” of God, respect it, study it, believe it, and obey it. It is their spiritual nourishment. They are to be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6). That involves more than mere commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, essential as that is. It is commitment to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word as the only source of moral and spiritual truth. . . .

It is failure in the area of “holding fast the faithful word” that is largely responsible for the superficial, self-elevating preaching and teaching in many evangelical churches. Here is the real culprit in the weak, shallow, insipid, “sermonettes for Christianettes” that are such common church fare today. Here is the real villain that has led so many to be converted to what they consider relevancy and therefore to preach a pampering psychology or become stand-up comics, storytellers, clever speech-makers or entertainers who turn church into what John Piper in his most excellent book The Supremacy of God in Preaching has called “the slapstick of evangelical worship” ([Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990], p.21). [2]

The shallow faith and biblical illiteracy that pervades the church today is a direct result of too many pastors failing to faithfully perform their primary task. Starving sheep have been left to find spiritual sustenance for themselves, and most of them can’t discern what should be eaten and what should be spat out. Without a faithful shepherd, they fall into all sorts of peril.

Not only must the pastor faithfully feed his flock, he must also protect them—as Paul put it, he must “be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). In addition to the pastors who fail to even feed their flocks, there are many more that refuse to engage with the various threats to their sheep. They have no interest in condemning false teachers, exposing heresy, or wading into controversial issues. They’re content to ignore any issues that don’t directly relate to life within their churches, in spite of how that leaves their people uneducated and unprepared.

John MacArthur explains why pastors must not surrender this vital duty in deference to society’s distaste for conflict.

The dual role of the godly preacher and teacher is to proclaim and to defend God’s Word. In the eyes of the world and, tragically, in the eyes of many genuine but untaught believers, to denounce false doctrine, especially if that doctrine is given under the guise of evangelicalism, is to be unloving, judgmental, and divisive. But compromising Scripture in order to make it more palatable and acceptable—whether to believers or to unbelievers—is not “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). It is speaking falsehood and is the farthest thing from godly love. It is a subtle, deceptive, and dangerous way to contradict God’s own Word. The faithful pastor must have no part in it. He himself tolerates, and he teaches his people to tolerate, only sound doctrine. [3]

The godly shepherd doesn’t cover his eyes and ears to threats on the horizon, and he doesn’t delude his sheep into believing all is well when wolves are at the door. Out of his love and commitment to God’s Word, he’s compelled to take false teaching seriously, and to identify those who would perpetuate it among his people.

The faithful shepherd knows it’s not enough to simply give his flock anything to eat. He loves them, protects them from danger, and brings them only the best nourishment he can provide.

Source: Grace To You | Jeremiah Johnson