To see my last two posts on the “Church Growth Movement” click here for the first post on defining the movement, and here for the second post describing the first “Forgotten Verse of the Church Growth Movement.”
Have you ever thought about what the purpose of the pastor of a church is to be? There are some churches that do not have job descriptions for the pastor, and that can sometimes be a little precarious since that basically means that the pastor, in their minds, can and should do everything and anything he’s asked to do. The “typical” jobs that people expect their pastor to do includes the following: preaching, teaching, counseling, doing weddings and funerals, leading meetings, doing hospital visits, leading prospect visitation, writing articles, attending conferences, leading staff, working on the church budget, organizing events, and writing a worship service order. All of those things are more than enough to occupy the pastor. Not having a specific job description can mean that the pastor does, in addition to those many things above, whatever anyone and everyone expects of him which might mean that he’s also the janitor, the roofer, the refrigerator repairman, the painter, the carpenter, the secretary, the grass cutter, the pipe installer, the bus/van repairman, the IT guy, the light bulb changer, the plumber, the electrician, etc. Now, no man is above any of those jobs listed in that last sentence. I have one friend that once said, “I wouldn’t serve under a pastor that wouldn’t put up chairs and tables,” and I think he’s right. Pastoring is primarily a serving position since Jesus Himself was a servant as well. Yet with all of these spoken, and often times unspoken expectations, what does the Bible actually say is the job of the pastor? And how does the Biblical description of the job of a pastor tie into the errant philosophy of the Church Growth Movement (CGM)?
JOHN 21:15-18: “FEED MY SHEEP!”
The first passage I discussed in a previous post that the CGM had forgotten was 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 which talked about the minister’s job (and any child of God’s job) as sowers of the Word of God and waterers of the Word of God. We learned that only God can make His Word grow in a human soul. The next verse that I’d like to discuss that the CGM has forgotten is John 21:15-18:
15 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.” 16 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.” 17 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.'”
The point that Jesus is trying to make here is that the pastor’s job is to “Feed” Jesus’ sheep and also to “Tend” to His sheep. These are two greek words that mean two different but related ideas (you can see the Greek broken down here). One word leans towards overseeing the sheep in a broader scope, and the other is a little more specific as in actually feeding or nourishing the sheep. The shepherd is tending to the sheep in once sense by feeding the sheep. We must make sure that the sheep are getting proper nourishment and that they are growing.
FEED THE SHEEP or FEED THE GOATS?
Have you noticed what’s missing from this the John 21 passage of Scripture? There’s nothing here about lost people. Jesus’ sheep are the ones that are His children (see John 10), and Jesus is telling Peter, one of his pastors, to feed His sheep. Now, certainly, Jesus had much to say about lost people in the Bible with His parables (Lost Coin, sheep, and son) and He even said that He came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus told us to “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).
We cannot, and should not, underplay the role of evangelism in the church. In many churches, evangelism is not taught and emphasized enough, and that is sin, but it seems to me that in the CGM, feeding the sheep of God has been underemphasized to the detriment of the spiritual health of the church, which is sin as well. I think that it’s possible to get imbalanced in fulfilling the primary purposes of a church. A church that only does discipleship and never emphasizes evangelism is a disobedient church, but a church that overemphasizes evangelism, yet neglects discipleship and feeding the sheep, will starve the sheep, and is being disobedient as well. Charles Spurgeon is reported to have said the following statement: “A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats” (I cannot find Spurgeon’s precise source, but it’s a good enough quote to use to make my point even if Spurgeon didn’t say it). When we are so focused on “Getting people into the church at any cost!” then what you do is turn the church into, as one friend of mine has called it, “a goat show.” “Goat” was a phrase that Jesus used to designate those that were not His sheep (Matthew 25:31-46). This is not a derogatory term, but simply what shepherds did, namely, they separated sheep from the goats. Jesus does the same thing. What my friend is saying is that many churches have turned into a “goat show” and are merely catering to the lost instead of feeding God’s sheep. In fact, some churches are hesitant to preach the full Word of God since they might “scare” the goats off, but this is gravely mistaken. The only way the goats will become sheep is to preach and teach the Word of God, therefore, we must preach it more, not less. We send goats to hell and we starve God’s sheep if we do not preach the Word of God. Has God called us to ignore His sheep or to feed His sheep?
FAITHFUL, BIBLICAL, EXPOSITORY PREACHING ENDS THE GOAT SHOW
So how do we end the “goat show”? We give out”sheep food” instead of “goat food.” We, as ministers of the gospel, cannot neglect God’s sheep. We must feed His sheep, and we must feed them the Word of God. 1 Peter 2:2-3 says: “2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. ” The Word of God is milk (and meat!) to God’s lambs, and we must feed them His Word. We must not only feed the sheep, but we must feed them the entire Word of God, not just the parts that we like to preach or the parts with which we are most familiar. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture…” is inspired by God, not just “Some” of the Scripture. All of the Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” God gave us the entire Word for His entire church so that the church may grow and be edified by it, therefore, we should preach the entire Word.
OVEREMPHASIZING CHURCH GROWTH IS ACTUALLY COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
Ironically, the “Church Growth Movement,” while emphasizing numerical growth, has actually shrunk the church spiritually. If you aim at solely growing a church numerically, then you will shrink in spiritually, even if you grow it numerically. But If you aim at growing a church spiritually, then it May grow numerically, but it will be spiritually stronger and more pleasing to God in the end. One could actually make a case that an anemic church, an unhealthy church, is a horrible witness to the world. Neglecting discipleship and the preaching of the Word in full actually detracts from evangelism. You dim the light of your church when you don’t feed God’s sheep. The sheep are left discouraged, beaten down, hopeless, just like those in the world. Why would the world want to come to a dark place where all the sheep are depressed and discouraged, just like they are? When you don’t feed God’s sheep, this is what happens. I believe that the CGM has been, unaware by many, a cause of much spiritual “un-health” in the church as a whole. May God give His ministers strength to “…preach the word…in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). All that you’ve read is why I believe the CGM has forgotten John 21 and Jesus’ admonition to His ministers to “Feed My Sheep!”
I’d love to hear any feedback you may have regarding this article in the “Comment” section below!
- What has God been teaching you lately through the preaching and teaching in your church?