Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Shepherd of God

The pastoral scene of 2008 is a dismal reflection of the days in which we live. The bottom line is simple: no one wants to take responsibility. To what am I referring, you may ask. Do we not have excellent churches today that are great examples of success? We have more mega-churches in the US than ever before – is that not a sign of success? Oh, I believe it is a sign of success alright, but it is the wrong kind of success.

Too often is the term “successful church” equated with what could pass for a smooth running business model straight from an MBA course. There is little dissimilarity between the average church today and a secular business model: you have your boards and your committees, your functions and activities – a great deal of form with very little substance. Where did the 21st century church go wrong? I am persuaded that the cause of the secular shift in the ecclesiastical domain lies in the pulpit.

There is a dangerous shift in emphasis from the proclamation of the Word of God to the entertainment of the people in pew. This has led to a growing mentality, among attendees, that reflect more of an observatory attitude, than a participatory spirit. Too often is the case that a Pastor stands before an audience waiting to be entertained, rather than a congregation of believers waiting to be fed. And I believe that brings us to the crux of the matter: how and what is the flock (the people) of God being fed in today’s churches?

The proclamation of the Word of God is being replaced by a demand for more media in worship? Over the last quarter century there has been a great influx of drama, the singing of mantra-like choruses, and the increased use of “the big screen.” The preaching hour has been relegated to a fifteen or twenty minute monologue filled with anecdotes, one-liners and jokes. It is a rare thing to find any holy unction in the pulpit today; in fact, most people don’t even know what that is anymore – they have never heard it! Instead of hearing God’s Word preached by God’s man, the church is served up a multi-media presentation aimed at the titillation of the human senses. Consequently, the methodology of worship is focused upon the sensory sentimentality of man, rather than the promotion of the work of the Holy Spirit of God upon the heart of the worshipper. In the emerging church of today faith is tied to feeling, rather than to fact. The axiom “the Bible says it, that settles it” has been replaced with “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” In addressing “how” people are fed today, human subjectivism is encouraged at the cost of biblical absolutism. It is no longer “Thus saith the Lord,” but “How do you feel” that counts.

The Pastor of God’s people is not to be an entertainer or a promoter. He is to feed God’s people with the Word of God. God emphasizes this by the repetitive use of the word “shepherd” over against the word “pastor.” Only one time in the New Testament, do you have the Greek word “poimae” translated “Pastor” (Ephesians 4:11); the word “poimae” is more correctly translated “shepherd” in all other instances. A true shepherd of God’s flock will declare the oracles of God – nothing more, nothing less. When you study the language of the New Testament you will discover that the terms “shepherd” and “flock” have the same common root. To put it simply, a true shepherd will connect with the flock of God. Herein, lies one of the problems found in today’s churches; in too many cases, the man behind the pulpit is not a true shepherd of God. And if the man is not called of God to fulfill the two-fold call of the ministry: “prayer and ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4), then the man will naturally default to human conventions and sensory productions.

The shepherd of God is commissioned by God to feed His flock His Word. It is noteworthy to point out the three-fold emphasis of “feeding the flock” that Jesus demands of Peter in John 21:15-17. Why is there such an emphasis? “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). This focus on the Holy Scriptures is underlined in Paul’s letter to the young pastor, Timothy:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
“that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work”
(II Timothy 3:16-17).

In the forty-two years I have been in the Lord’s ministry, I have seen His faithfulness to His Word; God’s shepherds need to display the same kind of faithfulness. The Scriptural mandate to shepherds is clear:

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

The concern of the pastor should be the approval of God, not the approval of man. Strong churches are grown by the faithful preaching of the Word of God. Media productions of man will not sustain God’s people in hard times; feeding on the Word of God will develop strong believers – Christians who will be able to withstand the difficult times ahead. Pastors must be willing to pay the price of prayer and study in the Holy Scriptures for the sake of God’s people. Let us never forget that God will hold us accountable for the souls He has entrusted to us (Hebrews 13:17).

Let us renew our commitment to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). God demands it, His people need it, and we must provide it. It is hard work, but a most satisfying one. Hear the words of a man who had a shepherd’s heart:

The closet is the best study.” – Charles H. Spurgeon

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