What Pastors Owe Their People
If you are a pastor, you cannot escape the unmistakeable call of spiritual leaders, in the New Testament to “feed the flock of God”:
- Jesus commissioned Peter to do “feed my sheep”, no less than three times, in that famous scene on the shores of Galilee (John 21:15-19)
- Jesus commissioned the disciples, in the Great Commission passage to “teach them all things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16)
- Paul commissioned the Ephesian elders to “tend to the whole flock” pointing this example of his unwillingness to shrink from “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:17-28)
- Peter urges church leaders to “feed the flock of God among you.”
- Paul instructed Timothy, in his last letter, “these things you have learned from me, commit to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). He also urged him to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14; 6:20). He also reminded Timothy of the usefulness of “all Scripture” as profitable for the spiritual well-being of God’s people (1 Timothy 3:16)
- Paul, in a rebuke to the Corinthians, discusses the need for people to have both “milk” and “meat” in their spiritual diets (1 Corinthians 3:2)
- The writer of Hebrews reminds us that a good teacher is able to both handle the deep things of God, but also teach them (Hebrews 5:11-12
Preaching styles do differ, but it’s hard to argue the unmistakeable responsibility of pastors to take the whole counsel of God and preach it faithfully. To not give our people spiritual food, to not share with them the “all the things I have commanded you” is to commit spiritual malpractice. It’s to intentionally leave our people spiritually malnourished. And yet there is a temptation for pastors–I remember facing this weekly as a pastor–to sort of skip over or nuance the very hard passages. Or, more popularly, to not preach through issues that are at the tip of the cultural spear. Issues like a biblical sexual ethic, the dignity of human life, greed, materialism, and the prosperity gospel. It’s just easier to say things like, “We just want to love on people and be all about grace every Sunday.” But my question is this: if a new convert wants to know what it looks like to live out the gospel, where will he find it if he can’t find it in his church? We live in confused times, where the way of Christ cannot be assumed in popular culture anymore. So churches who tailor their preaching and services exclusively to not offend those they are trying to reach with the gospel will starve God’s people. I find it troubling when pastors sort of nuance or skip over passages that are counter-cultural.
We should talk about grace. A lot. Over and over and over again. But unless people see their need for grace. Unless they are confronted with the good law of God, they won’t see the bigness of the mercy God offers. They’ll assume that God loves them because that’s what God should do. That’s the Jesus they’ve been sold by much of the evangelical church, a sort of hipster, friendly, easy to digest Jesus who really isn’t all that concerned with morality and righteousness.
And those who have been restored and forgiven, made new by the blood of the cross, will never find the freedom of a life with Christ–if we never have the courage to tell them what that life looks like. Real love, Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6, is the courage tell them they are disobeying the call of the gospel. It’s to set a brother or sister aright.
Much of this can be done in community, in one-on-one gatherings, small group studies, phone conversations, reading of good books, car rides, late night talks, etc. But if God’s people never hear their pastor discuss these difficult things, things alien to a permissive moral culture, they won’t rise in importance. Pastors must feed their sheep the good spiritual food God intends for them.