Some Sundays, when I’m not out preaching, I can join with my church family and worship with them. It’s good, at times, not to be leading and caught up in making sure everything is flowing on Sunday morning. Instead, I join my wife, Rhonda, and engage in the opportunity to sing, pray, praise, and sit under the authority of God’s Word as it is preached by my pastor.
Not long ago when I was sitting in worship listening to the Word preached, my pastor made the statement when referring to pastors as they preach, “We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God.”
That’s a powerful statement, “We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God.” It’s simple, yet profound. Pastor Matt’s words were a powerful reminder of what a pastor does through preaching—lead the people of God.
I reflected on this assertion that pastors lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God and established that this is the case because pastors are shepherds of the flock. Next, pastors feed the sheep by the Word of God. Additionally, these words are simple yet profound. Finally, the statement gives us as pastor-preachers confidence in the call to preach.
Pastors are Shepherds of the Flock
“We lead the people of God,” is the first phrase of my pastor’s statement. The people of God are led by someone who is described in the Bible as a shepherd. The image of the shepherd leading sheep is woven throughout the fabric of Scripture.
Jesus reminds us that he’s the ultimate shepherd, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). The writer of Hebrews acknowledges Jesus’ role as shepherd, noting that he is the celebrated provider of everything good. The closing benediction gives us this reminder, “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back form the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).
Peter encourages pastor-leaders of the churches in this way, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God want you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
Notice the example of Jesus and the image he gives us as we lead like shepherds, providing an example of what it means to love and lead, all the while recognizing that the sheep we serve are ultimately God’s sheep.
Being a shepherd is a tall order. I felt that “pastoral weight” (that’s what I called it) when I served as a pastor. The weight was 24/7. But it was a weight worth carrying.
Pastors Feed the Sheep by the Word of God
Jesus told Peter—the fisherman whom he was turning into a shepherd—“Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). This same Peter gave the impressive instructions to other shepherds to care for God’s sheep (1 Pet. 5:2). Peter encouraged the sheep with these words, “Like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3). Shepherds are to begin with milk and end with meat, the tougher more nourishing food.
The writer of Hebrews underscores this in regard to maturing from milk to meat, he warns, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. He continues, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:11-14).
Jesus—that Great Shepherd of the sheep—reminds us, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
When a pastor, I scan the congregation before me, I see the different people seated in the sanctuary. Some are spiritually malnourished; others are healthy and strong in their faith—and there are many others in between. It is my responsibility to set the menu in preaching that they might move toward maturity. I knew that then and I know it now. God’s Word is the sustenance of the saints. Christians are fed by Word of God. This is how sheep are led and fed.
It’s a Simple Yet Profound Statement
“We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God” is a simple statement. It’s short, sweet, clear. The sentence can be considered a mission statement, a rallying cry for pastors. I can imagine it embroidered onto a piece of fabric, framed behind a pastor’s desk. Perhaps “We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God” can be silk screen printed onto shirts or sweatshirts, or even marketed by a Christian inspiration company. It’s that simple.
But the statement is also profound. “We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God” speaks of the mystery of preaching, the way the preached Word has an impact on a person’s life, their soul, and their maturity in Christ. This profundity is reflected in the immense responsibility that preachers have for the souls they tend. The enormity of the weight that this statement brings upon the pastor is vast.
God chooses to use cracked pots—you and me—in this process of nurturing his people through preaching. Paul is struck by this burden. He writes to the Corinthian church, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (1 Cor. 4:7). It’s all about God. God is the one who works through us—“for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
Have you not been taken aback when you observed the coming to faith and growth of persons in your congregation? I think of Mike from my first church. He came to faith under the ministry the Lord gave me at First Baptist Church, and I baptized him. He grew in his faith while I was his pastor. Years later he moved out of the area and married a former student of mine—and matured deeply in his faith. The sermons he heard from me were only part of his growth in Christ, but the key is that Mike moved from milk to meat under other pastors who nurtured him in his faith.
“We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God” is simple and profound.
We Can Be Confident of this Call to Preach
Pastor Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). As preachers, we can be confident that God is doing his work through us. This God will bring everything into its finishing point when Christ returns. But until then, we have a job to do: Lead the people of God through faithfully preaching the Word of God.
We want to have the same confidence that Paul had as described by Luke at the end of his second book, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31).
Sometimes I have wondered over the years if the preaching that I’ve done has made any difference. Spiritual results take a long time to detect growth. In this, we want to avoid discouragement. I can be sure of this, we can have confidence because of the gospel we preach. We have the call of God and we have the commission of God: We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God.
Pastors are shepherds of the flock. And as pastors, we feed the sheep by the Word of God. My pastor’s statement, “We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God” are simple yet profound words, which gives us as pastor-preachers confidence in the call to preach. I’m glad to be reminded of these words from the pulpit of my Waco church, “We lead the people of God through preaching the Word of God.”
Scott M. Gibson is the Professor of Preaching and holder of the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Baylor University/Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He also served as the Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he was on faculty for twenty-seven years.