I’ve noticed an unsettling trend in the church that needs to be addressed. I’m sure I’m not the first to notice nor address it, but this is my best shot at doing the latter.
Here is the trend in question: A pastor stands at the pulpit and says something like this…”If you aren’t being fed here, don’t blame me, it’s not my job to feed you, because you should be feeding yourself.”
Then usually a guilt trip follows about how Christians who aren’t “being fed” are weak, consumerist babies and its no fault of the pastor but solely the fault of the baby Christian who is sitting in front of him, starving. I’m happy to say these words have never been uttered by my current pastor, and I’m blessed to be apart of a church that feeds me. Yet I’m burdened for the churches who I know are under this kind of leadership.
Now if your reading this and think I’m overreacting or even agree with these statements, here are 7 reasons (in no particular order) on why I believe this rhetoric is damaging:
1. Pastors Who Don’t Feed, Must Not Be Given To Study: The majority of pastors who duck the feeding call, are often not preaching deep biblical messages, mainly because they no longer think they have to. Which means there’s a good chance they aren’t spending much time in the Word themselves. Why spend your work-time studying, if you aren’t going to pass it on?
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25).
Paul is saying something important to Timothy here. He’s admonishing him to be a worker of the Word. A pastors very occupation is to rightly handle Scripture by studying it and then passing it on to the flock in which they minister. And if a pastor is not doing this, he’s very plainly not doing his job. And this ought to make the pastor feel ashamed.
2. Pastors Who Don’t Feed, Don’t Teach Their Flock How To Eat: Christians should be feeding themselves. This is a true statement. Yet, they also need to be taught how. When my children where 6 months old and we began introducing solid food, I didn’t just hand them a fork and say “figure it out”! It was a slow process that involved a lot of spoon-feeding, followed by finger foods, followed by utensil training – my floors taking the biggest brunt of this journey to self-feeding. But this is how training works.
And in one of the most biblically illiterate ages, we cannot expect new Christians to just pick up the Bible and figure it out. And one of the best ways a Christian learns how to read and study the Word is by observing how their pastor, with whom they trust, handles the Word on Sunday mornings. Does he take Scripture out of context and quickly apply it to felt needs? Is he methodical, giving background and context? These things train us how to read our Bibles, whether the pastor intends to teach or not. Which means the pulpit should be an example for Scripture-reading instruction to a generation whose good at throwing a lot of food on the floor.
3. Pastors Who Don’t Feed, Don’t Protect: It’s virtually impossible to protect the body of Christ without feeding them enough to make them strong for the fight.
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:2-5).
The reality is that wolves and “strangers” enter the fold regularly. There are wolves in the church and on TV and in the book store. And it’s the job of the pastor to protect their flock from them. But how do they do this? It’s not like our pastor’s can be with us wherever we go telling us who we should or shouldn’t listen to. A pastor does this by teaching sound doctrine to the flock (Titus 2:1), in order for the flock to know the difference when they encounter bad doctrine. When they are properly instructed they become able to distinguish the good shepherds voice from a wolves howl. Protection is one of the shepherds most crucial responsibilities and they can’t protect without feeding.
4. Pastors Who Don’t Feed, Don’t Motivate Following: A pastor who ducks his duty of feeding thwarts the call on the congregation to follow. Its like saying “Hey it’s not my job to feed you, but you must obey me as your leader.” There is a firm command from God that we obey our church leaders. And I believe this is very significant, because God’s Word is weighty here.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17).
However what we see in this verse is a dual command. The writer of Hebrews is saying obey your leader but with the assumption that the leader is keeping watch over souls. He’s assuming the leader isn’t neglecting this soul-watching responsibility by saying, its your job to protect your own soul…feed yourself. We should definitely respect and submit to our leaders, but sometimes that looks like approaching them in love and reminding them of their role to be soul-protectors not CEO’s. And non-feeding pastors shouldn’t be surprised if their flock is unwilling to follow their lead, because its hard to follow when your dying of hunger.
5. Pastor’s Who Don’t Feed, Will Have To Give An Account For It: This is where it all gets real. The Hebrews verse above should alarm every person in pastoral ministry. Souls hang in the balance with this work. Real souls – who will live forever either with God or without God. This is no small task nor empty duty. And all who fulfill this role will have to stand in front of the Almighty and give an account for how they shepherded the flock. Will the reasoning for not feeding hold up on that day?
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” (1 Peter 5:2)
Oversight, unlike popular western-churchy thought, does not mean being the most dynamic and charismatic leader who knows how to inspire people with scripture-light messages. Oversight in this text is Old Testament language harkening back to how priests in the temple taught the Torah and interceded for the people. This is soul work that requires a pastor to be a minister of the Word and prayer. Which is no small thing. Feeding the flock should not be done under compulsion, but willingly. Not for shameful, church-growth strategy gain…but eagerly, how God would have them. Because its God who we all stand before in the end.
6. Pastor’s Who don’t Feed, Are Lazy: Is this too harsh? I don’t think so. In Ezekiel 34, a Word from the Lord is revealed to Ezekiel about the Shepherds of Israel. And it’s not good. The reason being? These Shepherds were lazy by not feeding the flock.
Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:2-4)
Feeding is the most basic need to meet. And yet when this need gets explained away, so much more ends up being lost as well. The health of the sheep is at risk…and if the shepherd is unwilling or too lazy to bind up and help heal, that sheep will not survive. Same goes for the church of God. If we aren’t fed and taught to feed, you better believe we will suffer for it.
It’s also just really convenient for pastors to relieve themselves from this responsibility as it side-steps any criticism that might come their way. It’s lazy.
7. Congregations Who Aren’t Fed…Starve: They stay babies, they remain malnourished, and they become comfortable in their infancy and weakness. Meanwhile the pastor becomes more irritated with the congregations immaturity. I’ve seen it happen. Pastor’s who don’t feed, shoot themselves in the foot. This is not a duty to abandon. If anything, it’s the most important job of the pastor. And pastors should do it, because it’s the loving thing to do. This is why when Jesus badgered Peter about whether or not Peter loved Him…He did so with great purpose.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
If you love Jesus…you feed His sheep. Because they are His. And because you love Him and you love them. It’s as simple as that.
Dear pastors, the sheep are hungry and fickle and in need of your guidance. We know the job is a challenging one. You often have to call us back into the fold, warn us and bind up our wounds. But when you feed us from the deep well of His Word you give us the bread of life.
You give us Jesus, and that’s the most important and pressing need we have.