October 17, 2018 • Dennis Ellingburg
Last week, I talked about how being in a small church is not a failure, how God calls us to serve where we’re planted faithfully and consistently. Success is not based on our the size of our congregations, the scope of our reach, nor the amount of our budgets. Regardless of how the world sees the success of our ministries, we are not judged by God based on these things. But that leads us to another fundamental question: If numbers is not the measure of success, then what does God define as success?
It is this question, the question of what pleases our Savior, that we should fundamentally be concerned with. So what are we to do as shepherds?
1. Feed the Flock
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. – 2 Timothy 4:2
First is the call to preach the word. This is the primary role of the pastor (Acts 6:4). Though many question the importance and role of preaching in the church today, the ministry of the Word and prayer are the first things for the pastor. This doesn’t mean that other functions like administration, caring for the sick and elderly, counseling, etc. are not important, but that they are secondary consideration to the pastor.
Nothing is more essential to the ministry of God’s church than the preaching of God’s Word. Nothing. In Ephesians 3:7-9, Paul notes that he was “made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace”… “to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ”. He encourages Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
The great reformer, Martin Luther notes:
“To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching.”
2. Lead the Flock
The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you…He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. – Titus 1:5,9
First, as a pastor your first responsibility is to faithfully and consistently lead the church into holiness and faithfulness. Primarily, we are to lead our people to love and faithfully teach God’s word (encourage others by sound doctrine) and to defend the faith (refute those who oppose it). As Pastors our calling is not to draw big crowds but to defend the truth of God’s Word.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. – Acts 20:28
We are given the duty of faithfully overseeing the body of which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers. If you’re in a small church, then be faithful in that work. You may not always get applause, but you will please God and accomplish his purposes for your life.
3. Heed the Flock
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them…eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. – 1 Peter 5:2-3
As a parent of three boys, it’s been amazing to notice how my wife and I have changed with each son. We joke that with the first child you heard each time he muttered and ran to his rescue and by the third you find yourself saying, “He’ll be alright” if he’s not bleeding. No where was this more apparent than at night. With Noah, our first-born, every night was a time of unseen horrors waiting to pull us out of our slumber. We heard every hiccup, every mutter, every cough, and each one sent us rushing into his room to make sure he was ok. We heeded every sound.
In the same way, as pastors we are to listen to and heed our church. This is not a call to felt needs but a call to love our church. As pastors, we must be aware of the hurts and pains of our people, and speak into their lives the Word of God. But most importantly, heeding means we are to protect the flock.
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:28
This primarily means protecting the church from false teachers. False teachers include legalists, seeking to add to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (think Judaizers in Galatians), libertines who encourage us to a deeper knowledge that frees us, rejecting the Lordship of God (think 1 Corinthians). Regardless of the flavor of false teaching, we as pastors are called to protect our people by preaching the Gospel faithfully and addressing false teaching.
We also must protect our people by calling them to put to death their sin. In Romans 8:13, Paul calls us to “put to death the deeds of the body”. John Owen, in his seminal work on the subject, The Mortification of the Sin, reminds us to ““be killing sin or it will be killing you.” As pastors, it is our role to call our people to kill the flesh within them.
The call to shepherd a church is incredibly humbling. If you’re like me, you often feel unequal to the task. It is a high calling, a difficult calling, a