Have you ever seen a flock of sheep out in a pasture? Or, better yet, have you ever met a shepherd whose job is to lead a flock of sheep?
9 times out of 10, you probably haven’t. Which is normal, since we live in a very urbanized society where shepherding isn’t really a prominent part of the economy.
The job of a shepherd is quite literally to herd their sheep, keeping them from danger and leading them to food, water, and shelter as the occasion arises.
Sheep are stupid animals. Honestly. If they aren’t led in the right direction or kept in check, they wouldn’t survive. They’re natural followers and have no clue how to make the most of their existence on their own. Without a shepherd leading them, there’s no way they’d make it another day.
The term “shepherd” doesn’t just apply to literal sheep-herders. For those who are leaders in Christian ministry, whether as pastors, directors, or lay-people given authority, we are considered shepherds as well.
Check out 1 Peter 5:2. Peter, as in THE Peter who was Jesus’ disciple, is writing to a group of Christians who were scattered throughout different regions of Western Asia.
[S]hepherd 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;
Those who are divinely appointed by God to lead His people have a charge to shepherd them with joy and excitement, doing what will keep them safe and pursuing God more deeply and more fervently.
Being a shepherd isn’t an easy job, though. It’s not glamorous. It’s normally thankless and, especially in ancient times, it was frowned upon by society.
So it’s quite interesting that we as pastors are called “shepherds”. I use “we” because I have served as a pastor, and I have been in the trenches and the mess leading the flock of God.
Why are pastors called shepherds? Because, like shepherding, the pastorate calls us to do uncomfortable things.
The uncomfortable thing I want to discuss specifically is leading the flock into righteousness and into holiness.
Pastors, this one is for you. This post is solely for you. Church members, I want you to hear what I have to say too. You need to encourage your pastor. You need to lift him up and build him up so that he can continue to serve you. You need to support your pastor and help him walk in the biblically mandated position without hesitation.
I’m just going to shoot you straight, pastors. I have to a bone to pick with you. I’m calling some of you out for your preaching.
Your preaching may be funny, witty, memorable, hard-hitting, etc., but you’re lacking the Gospel altogether.
The Gospel makes things uncomfortable. Paul even says that “the word of the cross [the Gospel] is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). It’s supposed to make things uncomfortable. And it’s necessary in leading your flock.
If your sermon lacks a clear Gospel call, then your sermon is no more than a motivational speech on how to live morally.
What do I mean by Gospel call? Here’s what I mean:
- We are dead in our sins and trespasses, and as a result are not in relationship with God
- To repair the broken relationship, God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, take the punishment we deserve through death on the cross, and raising three days later to conquer death for us
- This sacrifice has satisfied the wrath that we deserve and therefore has enabled us to be in a relationship with God once more
- A relationship with God is open to us if we confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior, believe that Jesus is that Savior, and surrender our lives to Him
The fact of the matter is, the only way that people can live out what you’ve preached on should hinge on whether or not they’ve responded to the Gospel through receiving salvation. If your sermon can be applied independent to the Gospel, then your sermon is lukewarm and ineffective.
I know I’m being harsh. But you have been given charge over people’s spiritual development. Yes, at the end of the day, it all depends on God, but He has entrusted you to lead and shepherd His people to godliness and righteousness. By leaving out the explicit presentation of Gospel, you are minimizing the importance of and the primacy of this good news within your church, and ultimately your personal life.
Some of you might say, “But we are living the Gospel out with our lives.” You cite the St. Francis of Assisi quote, Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.
Let me stop you right there.
First of all, St. Francis of Assisi never actually said that, according to research and biographical information. His life was actually focused heavily on explicit declaration through preaching. (For more reading on him, check out this article from Christianity Today)
Second, mere moral living (which we often call “living the Gospel”) never actually results in salvation. Here’s what Paul says on the matter:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17)
Paul doesn’t say, “For everyone who sees someone living the Gospel and being impacted by that will be saved.” He cites that faith comes as a result of the Gospel being explicitly proclaimed.
Pastors, I want you to see people repenting of their sins and following after Jesus. I want you to live above reproach and live according to the biblical mandate. I want you to be able to hear Jesus tell you face-to-face in glory, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
None of this is ever achieved divorced from the explicit proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your sermons will be no more than pithy sayings and wasted breath without the Gospel.
I leave you with 1 Timothy 4:16, which says:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Rewrite your sermons to include the doctrine of God’s glorious, miraculous, mysterious salvation, and extend the invitation for your hearers to partake during your next sermon.