Shepherd the flock of God

I was recently attending a gathering of pastors when I heard the now tired phrase, “For so many years I preached to the already convinced.” This, we are intended to infer, is a bad thing. After all, what could be worse than preaching God’s truth to God’s people? Why would a pastor ever want to preach for the purpose of the increasing Christ-likeness of God’s people? Once we get ‘em saved they ought to be on their own. Okay, enough sarcasm. I hope I’m making my point. That phrase, “preaching to the already convinced,” has become a way to pronounce anathema on the idea of feeding God’s flock.

At the heart of the confusion is misunderstanding of the role of the pastor and the purpose of the church’s corporate gatherings. Pastors, we are told, should not think of themselves as shepherds but as ranchers or, even better, CEOs. Andy Stanley has gone so far as to say that pastors today have to stop thinking of themselves as shepherds. Stanley reasons that shepherd was simply a metaphor that had some usefulness for Jesus’ day but now needs to be replaced with newer, better metaphors. He suggests the corporate CEO.

What is often behind the cry to stop preaching to the “already convinced” is a concern for evangelism. Fair enough. In fact, pastors need to be intensely interested in evangelism. It is part of their calling. But it is not their only calling. In fact the Bible makes it plain that the weight of the pastor’s work is to be given over to care for the people of God.

God gives evangelists to the church. True, we are all to do be involved in evangelism. We are all to be about the work of making the gospel known. But Ephesians helps us understand that God has called some to an exclusive focus on getting the gospel to those who are lost. This is NOT the work of the pastor. A pastor is a shepherd. He shepherds God’s flock. And the imagery is important. It is imagery given us in both testaments and I am pretty sure that young mega-church pastors should not so easily dismiss it as a useless metaphor.

If shepherd were merely a metaphor for the work of the pastor then succeeding metaphors would need to communicate the same purpose. The image of a corporate CEO is in no way an adequate successor to that of shepherd. They are two completely different things. The fact is, being a shepherd is hard. It is extremely costly emotionally and spiritually. So, I understand the desire to do away with shepherd in favor of a role that will make it easier to draw boundaries and be less involved in messy situations. The only thing that gets in the way is the Bible.

Please understand. I am not suggesting we spend our time entertaining goats. I am talking about feeding God’s people the Word of God. I think the reason why so many pastors tire of “feeding sheep” is because they were not doing a very good job of it to begin with. As I look at the things being preached in many church I must confess that I would tire of that sort of thing quickly. So what happens is that one form of man-centered “preaching” is jettisoned in favor of another form of the same thing.

The apostle Peter writes, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:1-3).

It’s no wonder why Peter had such interest in pastors being shepherds for the people of God. When Jesus reinstituted Peter following the apostles’ miserable denials, the Lord called him to do three things: “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” (John 21:15ff). Jesus connects Peter’s willingness to do these things with the genuineness of his love for his Lord.

I believe the same call goes out today. If a man is called to be a pastor he is necessarily called to be a shepherd. His primary calling is not to be a manager, sociologist, or even an evangelist. He will certainly want to develop skills to become a better manager. He will want to understand his times and the culture in which he lives. He must also be an evangelist. But these are all a piece of his primary call to shepherd the flock of God.