The Conviction to Care in the Church
What does Scripture say about shepherding care?
First, the word “pastor” comes from the Latin word pastor, meaning shepherd. A pastor is a “shepherd” or “one who cares for a flock or herd.” That’s why “pastor” sounds like the word “pasture.” The two words are connected. “The concept of the leader as a shepherd is a theme with deep roots in God’s written revelation with its foundation in the Old Testament and fulfillment in the New.” We are going to briefly consider some of the passages about God’s call to leaders to provide shepherding care.
Care in the Old Testament
God has always shepherded His people (Gen. 48:15; Ps. 23:1; Ps. 71:17-18; 77:20; 78:52, 72; 80:1; 95:6-7; Is. 40:11; Mic. 5:4). Further, He has provided under-shepherds to lead and care for His people. He has told people that serve as leaders to shepherd His people (2 Sam. 7:7). Ironically, before Moses and David shepherded God’s people, they shepherded a literal flock of sheep (cf. Ps. 78:70-71).
God, for example, knows that unexperienced challenges come with age (2 Sam. 19:35; Eccl. 12:2-5) and He cares that His people are helped with those challenges. Scripture even says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). God deeply cares for His people and wants to see them cared for.
When God’s people are not rightly cared for, He is upset. God says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture” (see Jer. 23:1-4)! And Ezekiel 34 shows that God takes the failure of His under-shepherds very seriously. He pronounces judgment on them (Ezek. 34:1-10). He promises He Himself will care for them (Ezek. 34:11-22). And He promises that the Perfect Shepherd will come and care for them (Ezek. 34:23-31). This brings us to the New Testament and pastors serving as Jesus’ under-shepherds.
Care in the New Testament
First, is Paul’s powerful exhortation to pastor/elders to “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). What a high, precious, and important calling! Pastors are to care for what Jesus bought with His very blood. If it is that important to Jesus, how can it not be important to us?
Paul himself provides a powerful example of pastoral care. Paul visited people to “see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36). And his letters showed his shepherding care. His letters were part of his care. So, Paul sought to make disciples and care for disciples. These are complementary callings of church leaders.
Paul shared pastoral concern for God’s people. He wrote “I have you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7) as well as “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). But Paul didn’t just write letters, he also visited people(Acts 15:36). So, Scripture would have us see the importance of ministry both “publicly” and “house to house” (Acts 20:20).
Second, Peter passed on what he heard from Jesus: “shepherd the flock” (John 21:15-17). Peter relayed the command that we are to shepherd the flock of God that is among us (1 Peter 5:1) yet Peter also reminds us of our motivation: that the chief Shepherd when He appears, will give us the unfading crown of glory (v. 4).
Third, Acts 6:1-7 shows us we must make plans, delegate, and ensure the practical needs of people in the church are taken care of. And Ephesians 4:7-16 shows us that it is not just pastors that are to do ministry, but a big part of pastoral ministry is equipping the saints to do ministry. The church is the body, and each member is to do their part if the body is to function as it is supposed to (1 Cor. 12:4-31). Each member is equipped with gifts from the Spirit (Rom. 12:3-8) and is supposed to employ them for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Sadly, a Gallup survey found that only 10% of church members in America are active in any kind of personal ministry.
Fourth, Jesus has compassion and cares for people when they helpless like a sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Jesus holds church leaders responsible to care for His precious sheep. The leaders of the church are to keep watch on Jesus’ sheep knowing that they “will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). In fact, Jesus sees the care of those who are “down in out” as though it was done for Him. So, as we visit people, Jesus sees it as though we were visiting Him (see Matthew 25:35–36).
King David, before he was king, risked his life for mere sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-36). King Jesus gave His life for His sinful people. He’s the Good Shepherd that lays down His life of the sheep (John 10:11). And His under-shepherds are to lovingly and practically care for those for whom He gave His life (Acts 20:28).
Thus, in summary, we have seen King Jesus, the Great and Sovereign Shepherd, laid down His life for the sheep and calls the church to care for His sheep. So, we must do so.
Biblical Delegation of Care
As Acts 6:1-7 and Ephesians 4:7-16 show us, the delegation of care within the church is not only wise, practical, and necessary, it is also biblical. Exodus 18 also shows us the important of shifting care to the congregation. If the church is going to care well as God would have it, care cannot just be left to one pastor or even a team of pastors.
The New Testament teaches that God equips believers. It teaches the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Pet. 2:4-5). That is, those who are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21) not only have access to God through Christ but they are also equipped to do ministry by the Spirit of God. Therefore, the care of the church is to be done not just by a pastor or pastors, but by the church itself. The pastor is to be the “lead carer” and to equip other “carers” but he is not to do it on his own. Nor can he. So, one of the many things Christian leaders must do, is equip the church to do the ministry of the church.
The church is described in various ways, but the main image of the church is body. And each part of the body is vital. It won’t work as it is supposed to without each part functioning. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). We are people in need of care, helping people in need of care.
The biblical and effective church will be the church that mobilizes, equips, empowers, and supports Christians in ministry. Many people can do most of what pastors do, pastors must do what most people can’t do. One of the main tasks of pastors is to equip people to do what they can do.
One Christian leader has said, “Caring for 30 people personally is possible. Caring for 230 is not.” So, we must structure bigger to go bigger. That’s essentially what Jethro’s advice was in Exodus 18. “The pastoral care model of church leadership simply doesn’t scale.” So, to care for the church well, as God has told pastors to do, we must do something biblical. We must “equip the saints for the wok of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12).
So, once again, the conviction to care in the church, must come before care in the church. I hope this has helped you towards the conviction part. In a future post, I hope to lay out the specifics of implementing that care.
 “Upon leaving seminary, many a young man discovers that his love for the Chief Shepherd does not extend to a love for God’s sheep. Without dispute, difficulties in dealing with people is the number one cause for ministry dropouts (85 percent according to one denomination)” (David C. Deuel, “The Pastor’s Comoassion for People, ”176 in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Bibically.
 Albert Mohler, The Conviction To Lead: 25 Principles For Leadership That Matters (Bethany House, 2012), 53
 Mohler, The Conviction To Lead, 26.
 The LORD says “I will…” twenty four times in Ezekiel 34. He will shepherd His sheep. The chapter also says “LORD” sixteen times and “Sovereign LORD” eight times.
 And remember, John longed to see his people “face to face.” He was not satisfied with letters. He wanted to visit.
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 365-66.
 The church is a family (Eph. 2:19; 3:15), temple (Eph. 2:20-22), army (Eph. 6:11-18; 2 Tim. 2:3-4), and bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 19:2-8).
 Taken from the subtitle of Paul David Tripp’s book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People In Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change.
 Robert E. Slocum, Maximize Your Ministry (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1990), 9.
 Carey Neiuwhof, “How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches.”
 Neiuwhof, “How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches.”
*Photo by Antonello Falcone
“Expository preaching is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true… A careful expository sermon makes it easier for the hearers to recognize that the authority rest not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation through the text itself… Expository preaching enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community… Expository preaching lets the text set the agenda for the preacher as well… Exposition can prevent us from riding our personal hobbyhorses and pet issues… A steady diet of expository sermons also teaches your audience how to read their own Bibles” (Timothy Keller, Preaching, 32-38).
“Expository sermons help us let God set the agenda for our lives…. Secondly, expository preaching treats the Bible as God treated it, respecting particular contexts, history and style of the human authors” (Peter Adams, Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching, 128).
“An expository sermon may be defined as a message whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text, that covers the scope of the text, and that explains the features and context of the text in order to disclose the enduring principle for faithful thinking, living, and worship intended by the Spirit, who inspired the text” (Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 31).
I really enjoyed Zach Eswine’s book, Preaching to a Post-Everything World, here are some highlights:
On the importance of illustration…
Eswine quotes Calvin Miller and says: “Jesus himself told lots of stories, and his sermons were full of images…. When asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus in effect does not say, ‘Let me give you three Hebrew roots on the word neighbor.’ What he does say is, ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho….’ In other words he follows the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ with an immediate ‘Once upon a time’ and then launches into a story” (p. 61).
“Those who are precision oriented must learn to tell the stories of the text. Those who are poetic must learn to surrender to the precision of the text” (p. 108).
On the importance of modeling how to think about reality…
“When we preach we publicly model for a community how a human being is meant by God to relate to reality” (p. 85).
“The synagogue was under the management of “elders” (Luke 7:1–5) who seem to have had disciplinary and administrative authority as well as religious…Because of their heritage, New Testament leaders likely knew and used the synagogue models for the organization of the church… This might explain the fact that the New Testament gives no historical record of the institution of the eldership as it does with the Seven (Acts 6). Much of the church’s organization is assumed in the New Testament rather than argued… However, development in the church’s organization is found in the New Testament.Christian elders are first mentioned in Acts 11:30 as an existing institution. It is possible that some of the first Christians were already (Jewish) elders and continued in a similar capacity in the early church… Throughout the Book of Acts the elders are seen to be leaders of the church (Acts 14:23, 15:2, 20:17, 21:18).”
We see through James P. Boyce’s and Charles Spurgeon’s life that they were entrusted with great gifts but we also see through a survey of their biographies that they also suffered great grief. We have much to glean from them. We will see that we are all called to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Though it will be difficult to various degrees we can endure what God has called us to by the grace that He grants us.
Hear Spurgeon’s words:
I know you will tell me that the gold must be thrust into the fire, that believers must pass through much tribulation. I answer, Truly it must be so, but when the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire, when it understands who placed it there, who watches it while amid the coals, who is sworn to bring it out unhurt, and in what matchless purity it will soon appear, the gold, if it be gold indeed, will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames.
Thus, even as we face difficulties we must entrust ourselves to God, as Spurgeon did. Even in the midst of Spurgeon’s great suffering he “never doubted that his exquisite pain, frequent sicknesses, and even despondency were given him by God for his sanctification in a wise and holy purpose.”
A Great Work At A Great Cost
Spurgeon and Boyce both had great life works but they both suffered great loss in their lives as a result. Boyce, who founded the seminary I went to, said that the seminary may die but that he would die first. He would worked rain or shine for the prosperity of the school. He said that he did not own the seminary but rather it owned him. Boyce kept the seminary alive and fed it with almost his own heart’s blood. Thus we see that Boyce clearly realized that he would have to imitate his Lord’s long-suffering. There was “mammoth energy and sacrifice involved” for Boyce “in setting the seminary securely during the trials of decades.” “Boyce endured the press of ‘anxieties, trials, and labors” during days when the seminary’s future appeared bleak and exerted ‘herculean toils’ to surmount these seemingly invincible difficulties.”
Similarly, Spurgeon was not a martyr, but he chose to die every day. He suffered with gout; he gave his money, his time, and himself completely to the Lord. God used Spurgeon greatly. He wrote over 140 books, penned around 500 letters a week, spoke to thousands of people each week, started an orphanage, started a pastor’s college, and led countless people to Christ, among other things. That was all possible because he gave himself entirely to the Lord. One of Spurgeon’s biographers, Arnold Dallimore, said, “Early in life he had lost all consideration of his own self, and his prayer that he might be hidden behind the cross, that Christ alone might be seen, had expressed his heart’s chief purpose.”
Spurgeon said, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus.” Boyce, similarly, had an “entire devotion.” Likewise, Paul was greatly used by God because he gave himself unreservedly to Him; even to the point of much affliction. If we are going to be used by God, for His glory, we must unreservedly sacrifice all and He must get all, Christianity is all-encompassing. May our chief boast be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Gal. 6:14).
Jesus held the weight of the world on His shoulders, even the sin of the whole world. Yet, Spurgeon and Boyce surely often felt as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. However, they also felt that their burden was easy (cf. Matt. 11:30), and they knew that through Jesus Christ their reward would be great (2 Cor. 4:17). Both Spurgeon and Boyce knew that the cross came before the crown, trials before the triumphant Kingdom. So, Spurgeon said, for instance, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.”
I would do well to remember the price that godly men and women have paid throughout the centuries when I become discouraged in my work. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about various faithful men and women to encourage the recipients of the letter to endure in the face of persecution (see Heb. 11). I need to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), including Spurgeon and Boyce, and run on with endurance (cf. v. 1).
Martin Luther talked about the theology of the cross. I think both Spurgeon and Boyce had a clear understanding of this theology. In fact, I think Spurgeon could have written his own tome on it. Both Spurgeon and Boyce lived a life of strenuous endeavor, to borrow Theodore Roosevelt’s words. Yet, they did not box as one beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Rather, they knew for what they labored, they labored for the Lord, and thus knew their labor was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Spurgeon, as he loved Bunyan’s great work and read it around one hundred times, certainly would have agreed with Lloyd-Jones’s observation: “The great truth in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not that Christian endured great hardships on his way to the eternal city, but that Christian thought it to be worth his while to endure those hardships.”
Spurgeon and Boyce ironically suffered with some of the same physical bodily afflictions. They both suffered with bouts of gout, for instance. Gout is typically the worst when body temperature is lower. Gout very often targets the big toe but can also cause joint pain in wrists and fingers as well as fatigue. Symptoms from gout can actually be so intense that the weight of a sheet can be unbearable. However, the physical pain was multiplied for these great men when you consider all that they were incapable of doing when they were laid up because of their pain. Though they sought to make the best of this time, surely they often felt anxiety and perhaps guilt over what they were unable to accomplish during these bouts.
Yet, their great enemy, to borrow the words of Spurgeon, was also a great teacher. We see in Spurgeon’s biography that his great suffering enabled him to better relate to people (cf. 2 Cor. 1:4). Suffering taught both Spurgeon and Boyce humble reliance on the Lord. This brings to mind Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). Even as Boyce and Spurgeon were writhing in pain I am sure they thought (1) that God was sufficient to use frail jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), (2) that God is sovereign and when they weep He still reigns and cares for His Church, and (3) that though they were indeed experiencing great suffering it was nothing compared to the eternal wrath that the suffering of the Son of God had averted for them. Thus, though these great men knew great suffering, they both grew instead of grumbling. Their gout was a rod that dished out sanctification.
I would do well to look at these men’s example and hear again, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.” I may or may not deal with the physical pain that they dealt with but I can certainly learn from their patience in the midst of it. I must also remember “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24). If Jesus my Master suffered then I can expect nothing less.
During one of Spurgeon’s bouts with depression he said, “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Not only did Spurgeon have a natural disposition to depression but the weight of his position and responsibilities also was heavy upon him. He said,
Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment… The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep… How often, on Lord’s-day evening, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us!
Thus we see that Spurgeon, “the prince of preacher,” was sometimes even depressed about his sermon on Monday or even as he walked down from the pulpit on Sunday. He said these words to a group of ministers, “We come out of the pulpit, at times, feeling that we are less fit than ever for the holy work. Our last sermon we judge to be our worst.” “We experience dreary intervals of fruitless toil, and then it is no wonder that a man’s spirit faints within him.”
This is a checklist that I put together to look over as I prepare to preach. There are, of course, other things that I could have put on this list. But these are the specific things that I need to be sure to check at this point in ministry…
- Am I preaching the good news of Jesus?
- Am I praying and pleading with God to bless my sermon?
- Am I working with a team in preparation to preach?
- Am I getting and listening to Leah’s feedback?
- Am I preparing far enough in advance?
- Am I preparing my sermon with specific people in mind?
- Am I going to bring people on the journey with me? (Am I going to peak people’s interests? Am I taking baby steps when necessary or am I making huge leaps in my logical reasoning?)
- Am I using the 6 Journalistic Questions (What?, Who?, When?, Why?, Where?, and How?) and answering what will be most helpful for the audience?
- Am I illustrating my point like Jesus would have? And am I getting the full impact from my illustrations?
- Is the sermon going to be “G rated”? (Is the sermon for a general audience or is it restricted to those with special training? Did I break it down like I need a mechanic to break it down for me?)
- Is the sermon going to create and relieve tension?
- Is my sermon focused, making one sustained point? (Am I considering what the one thing is that I want people to take away from the message?)
- Can I pass the 3am test? (If I was awakened at 3am and asked about the main point and structure of the sermon could I answer in a helpful way?)
- Will unbelievers understand and find the sermon appealing? (Not that we ever want to compromise the truth but we do want to intrigue unbelievers with the view of reality that the Bible gives)
In the future I’d like to write a blog post for each of the above points to further convince myself of their importance.
I really appreciated Jeffrey D. Arthurs’s book, Preaching as Reminding. Here are thirty things I especially want to remember…
“The Scriptures themselves are the invitation to remember: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; remember the Exodus; make a pile of stones; remember the Sabbath. Come again to the table, break the bread, drink the cup. Remember” (Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Reminding, p. ix).
Preachers “remind the faithful of what they already know when knowledge has faded and conviction cooled. We fan the flames. That’s what we see when we look at the work of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles” (p. 3). “Preachers are remembrancers” (p. ix). We see this for example through what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12-13 (“…to stir you up by way of reminder…”). And so, “Ministers must learn to stir memory, not simply repeat threadbare platitudes” (p. 5).
“It matters that we preach. It matters that we call people to remember their God and their deepest values and their truest selves and the story that has maybe shaped their lives and for sure has shaped their world. It matters that we preach with all the fidelity and urgency and learning and purity and creativity that God allows us to muster” (p. ix-x).
“If we have no memory we are adrift, because memory is the mooring to which we are tied. Memory of the past interprets the present and charts a course for the future” (p. 1). “Without memory, we are lost souls. That is why the Bible is replete with statements, stories, sermons, and ceremonies designed to stir memory. Even nature—the rainbow after the flood—serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Gen 9:13-17)” (p. 3).
We will worship so we must worship wisely. Intentional liturgy is vital. As the gathered church we purport to worship the Lord, we must do so in an intentionally biblical and wise way.
By my calculations, most Christians probably spend around half a year of their life participating in the gathered worship of the church. It’s important that we make the best use of that time! Especially when it’s time that’s intentionally set aside to worship the LORD. Further, the Sunday gathering is one of the primary ways that the church gathered can be equipped to be the church scattered.
It is of utmost importance that the liturgy of the gathered church be very deliberate. Even simple, seemingly insignificant, things in worship communicate doctrine and teach people. This is true of terminology (e.g. “priest” or “pastor”), architecture (simple or elaborate; God’s people are the temple or the building is the temple), positioning (where the person stands when doing the Lord’s Supper or the prominence of the pulpit), and furniture (altar or table). These are all important things to consider and have implications because they communicate certain things even if not explicitly.
The Meaning of Liturgy
Liturgies have been in use in Christian worship from the earliest of times so it’s important that we consider what liturgy means and its place in the life of the church. Allen P. Ross says “liturgy is a perfectly good biblical word and need not be avoided as something foreign to historic Christianity. The noun is leitourgia, literally ‘the work of the people’; it means a service or a ministry.” The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms says, “Liturgy came to designate the church’s official (or unofficial) public and corporate ritual of worship, including the Eucharist (or Communion), baptism and other sacred acts. Certain ecclesiastical traditions (such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican) follow a set pattern of worship (the liturgy), whereas many Protestant churches prefer a less structured style. This gives rise to the distinction sometimes made between ‘liturgical’ and ‘nonliturgical’ churches.”
Spectrum of Liturgy
All churches have a liturgy but some churches seem to be less intentional about their liturgy. It seems some churches operate on a default liturgy. A pastor may inherit a liturgy from the previous pastor and it remains essentially unchanged for a few generations. That, however, is problematic for a few reasons. As Timothy C.J. Quill has said, “Worship practice reflects and communicates the beliefs of the church. Liturgy articulates doctrine.”
Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking.
Isaiah was a gifted preacher. He went around graciously telling the people of Judah to repent. We see an example of the way he called the people to repent in Isaiah 5.
Isaiah announces six woes upon the people of Judah (cf. 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22). Isaiah says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (v. 20). “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes” (v. 21). “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine” (v. 22).
After seeing the sixth “woe” we look for the climatic seventh woe. However, that seventh woe doesn’t come in chapter 5. Where is that seventh woe?
The seventh woe comes in the next chapter. Isaiah says, “Woe is me!” (6:5). Isaiah saw that the LORD is “holy, holy, holy” (v. 3) and so he saw his own dire need. He said, “I am lost.” When we see the LORD in His glory we see that we are all in need of grace. We must all be humbled before God.
Ultimately we see the ground is level at the foot of the cross. The problem isn’t just out there within someone else, the problem—sin—is within all of us. We all deeply need Jesus.
We must remember that we were separated from Christ, outsiders to the promises of God, and we had no hope. But now, in Christ Jesus, we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:12-18). There is nothing inherently better or good about us more than anyone else. It is Christ Jesus that gives us hope and brings us near to God.
Woe to the wretched, me included!