The human body is incredibly adaptable. Through repetition, you can even develop a taste for foods you may not like at first. The same is true for our spiritual “diet.” Over time, your church will develop spiritual taste buds. What kind will they develop? This is why it’s essential that we feed the flock well. We must teach the Bible to our congregations patiently, consistently, and with Christ at the center.
A pastor’s calling is devotion to the word of God and prayer. In the book of Acts, the apostles set the trajectory for pastors. Being overwhelmed with the many needs facing them, the apostles established the diaconate to help meet those practical needs (Acts 6:1-6). Why? So that they can “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).
For pastors, it is no different. Paul repeatedly highlights the importance of teaching the truth and passing on the faith (2 Timothy 2:1-2). In fact, the ability to teach is the only skill requirement that pastors/elders need to have (1 Timothy 3:2). To shepherd God’s flock well requires a healthy, gospel-centered diet.
What are we feeding the flock?
The first question we must grapple with is: “What exactly are we feeding the flock?”
If we’re not giving Christ to the flock, we are not being faithful shepherds. Christ transforms; not rules. If we preach a message of “do this and live,” we are only giving our people law. According to the Bible, the law condemns; it is Christ who brings life (2 Corinthians 3:12-18). Every sermon, every Bible study, every discipleship lesson, every set of small group questions, must be anchored in the gospel.
So do an audit of your church. In every venue where the teaching of Scripture takes place, ask the question, “What exactly are giving the people?” If it’s not Christ, seek to make changes.
When and where are we going to feed the flock?
As you shepherd the flock, you need to keep in mind the different contexts for feeding. It seems that the Bible gives a basic pattern as to the different ways the truth can be taught: large worship gatherings, smaller groups, and training of leaders. The early church met in the temple for corporate worship and met in smaller groups of community (Acts 2:42). As Timothy Z. Witmer writes, there is a macro-context (worship services) and a micro-context (smaller groups) for feeding.
The macro-context: Feeding on Sunday mornings
The macro-context is typically Sunday morning worship. Sunday worship (or whenever your whole church gathers) is a time for the preaching of God’s word. Corporate worship is the avenue where our people can hear the truth. It is one time where pastors can push against the lies their people hear all week.
Therefore, a plan for preaching is essential. It might be helpful for some congregations to go through Romans verse-by-verse in seven years (like John Piper’s church). But for many (most?) other congregations that may not be the best way to feed them a rich, biblical diet. Some kind of modified church calendar can help you hit various topics or themes and explore them deeply. Here is my church’s calendar.
What about the Spirit? For some, emphasizing planning seems to rule out the work of the Holy Spirit. However, the Spirit isn’t opposed to planning. The Spirit is opposed to us holding onto our plans too tightly. So plan, pray, and be attentive to the Spirit’s leading, and, if necessary, scrap your plans and follow God.
The micro-level: Feeding in smaller groups
Feeding not only occurs in corporate worship but also in various smaller settings. How you will tackle this will usually occur on a church-by-church basis. Some churches continue to have a thriving Sunday school ministry where classroom teaching takes place. Other churches have utilized technology to provide a host of biblically-rich content for their church.
Your context will most likely determine your micro-level strategy. Are you a Sunday school church? A church of small groups? Will you use online media, or not? Will you make pastoral visitation a priority or not? These are all questions which must be worked out on the local level and will influence how you teach in smaller settings. What is important to realize, however, is that the micro-level must be planned out too! With no plan, you may not adequately move people along on their spiritual journey. So figure out what you will teach and when and where you will teach it!
Out of the Overflow
You cannot give what you do not have. Feast on Christ this week in your own personal study. As you do, you will find that your teaching will be an overflow of Christ’s life in you. And that, by far, is the best way to feed the flock.
The entire Shepherd God’s Flock series:
Part one: Our Job as Pastors
Part two: Leading God’s People
Part three: Feeding God’s People
Part four: Equipping God’s People
Part five: Protecting God’s People
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