Loving the Flock as a Shepherd/Teacher

This week I received some admonishment from a minister concerning how a pastor should love his flock. I was told it is more important to love the flock than it is to give them long sermons.  By “loving the flock” he meant that consists of going to the hospital and being in homes. I’ve been thinking about this admonishment for the past few days since I received it.

I absolutely agree it is an act of love and super critical for a pastor to spend time with his sheep. I’ve found that in ministry this is a big part of being a pastor, and this ministry often extends to folks that are beyond your flock to family members and friends. I’ll also be the first to admit that as a young pastor I still have a lot to learn about visiting my church members in their homes and in hospital beds. I fall short in this area and so I take the admonishment seriously. I’m not sure I’ll ever spend as much time as I’d like and perhaps as I need to spend among my folks at church. (PSA: They’re a fantastic group of people to pastor and spend time with.)

Being in the hospitals, nursing homes, and homes is part of being a pastor. I’m not sure how a man call can himself a pastor without spending time with his sheep. The very word for pastor in the New Testament is the word for shepherd. You cannot be a shepherd without spending significant time with sheep. It means spending time with them when they’re born, when they’re sick, when they’re feeding, and when dying. Being a pastor means being a shepherd. As important as it is to be a shepherd, it isn’t mutually exclusive from being a preacher.

I take my admonishment to love my people and my community by spending time with them, but I reject the idea that our churches don’t need pastors who can preach “long sermons.” I think the Apostle Paul would reject it also. When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 about the people and ministry that Christ has given to the church he says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Paul says God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, then he lists another office: pastors and teachers. He links the two together because as far as the New Testament is concerned the role of a pastor/elder is always that of a pastor/teacher. Christ has given the church pastors and teachers. Pastor, our role is to be a shepherd and a teacher, not one or the other.

It is absolutely essential that pastors shepherd and teach because souls are in danger, Paul continues:

to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:12-16 ESV

I think what our churches need are pastors who will spend time with them and spend time in their study. We need pastors who spend time with their nose in their Bibles and their books and pastors who spend time in hospital waiting room chairs and 1970’s green couches. It isn’t mutually exclusive that pastors need to be “visiting pastors” or “preaching pastors,” God calls us to be both and if we neglect one or the other we will not love our flocks well. May God give us grace to shepherd well in the home, in the study, in the prayer closet, and in the pulpit.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

 

 

Don’t Skip the Text: A Word on Commentaries and Sermon Preparation

I’m a preacher and in a very real sense being a preacher is a vocation and most vocations have tools. One of the most important tools that a preacher has are his books, in particular his commentaries. I own a lot of books and the majority of my books are Bible commentaries. I love them, I cannot seem to get enough of them. I love them because they are books about the Bible. I’ve made it a habit in my nearly 5 years in pastoral ministry to preach through books of the Bible expositionally.

That being said, I have lots of books on the books that I’ve preached through or I’m currently preaching through. Week after week I’ll pick up commentary after commentary on the book I’m currently preaching through. If it is reading through Logos on my Kindle or a good old fashioned printed book I’ll pick up at least half a dozen commentaries on any given week for my Sunday morning sermon. Every time I prepare I am faced with a temptation. That temptation is to jump into the text of the commentary and skip over the text of the Bible it is commentating on. I almost always have my Bible with me when I’m doing this exercise, it has its own tab on Logos or the Bible I preach from will be laid open on the front porch swing, desk, or kitchen table wherever I’m doing my sermon prep. It’s certainly sufficient in and of itself. I’ve read my passage several times through before I even begin to read Bible commentaries, so it seems natural and okay to skip over the presentation of the text in the commentaries, but don’t do it!

Anytime you have the opportunity to read over the text again as you prepare to peach it is a good thing. I’ve made connections by reading through the passage I’m preaching in a commentary that I’m not sure I would have made otherwise. When you read the Bible in a commentary you are using you have the opportunity to do several things. You will often get a different translation that you preach from. I preach from the ESV but the commentaries I read regularly expose me to the NASB, KJV, NIV, an authors own translation, and of course others that aren’t quite so common. I find exposure to those other translations is often helpful. You also get to see the Bible in a different format. This might sound silly, but sometimes just seeing the Bible laid out differently allows you to see things in the text you might miss where there is a page or paragraph break. And again, you get exposure to the text again. If the point of expository preaching is to proclaim the point of the passage, the more exposure the better. I do not know of anyone who really can say they have read their Bible too often. Read the text and read it often!

Resources on James

I love preaching through books of the Bible verse by verse on Sunday mornings. Taking the time to preach expositionally takes quite a bit of time and one often uses resources to aid in their exposition of the Biblical text. I always consult blogs and websites as I decide what books to buy. I also consult friends who have spent time preaching through the same book(s) in the past. Having spent several months preaching through James in this past year, I’d like to share some of the resources I found the most beneficial in preaching through the book of James.

Daniel Doriani’s Reformed Expository Commentary: James – This is one volume I never skipped the pages of when preaching through James. Preaching as a pastor I found this volume to come from very pastoral perspective. It was true to the text and provided great insight that wasn’t just for good preaching but for gospel-centered living. If I were restricted to only buying one volume on James, this would be the one I’d buy. (P&R Books)

Thomas Manton’s James – This was by far the most detailed exposition of James that I used. I distinctly remember hearing a popular evangelical skip over James 1:18 in his preaching of the text on the radio while at the same time preparing to preach the text. Reading Manton’s 11 pages on the one verse made me chuckle a bit to see how James 1:18 didn’t fit into the Arminian preaching of this popular evangelical pastor, but it certainly didn’t stop Manton from giving great detail to the text. That being said, 11 pages on one verse of the text can get quite heavy at times. This is an incredibly beneficial volume, but you can easily get bogged down in it’s reading. I would still commend it’s reading if you have the time. (Banner of Truth)

John MacArthur’s MacArthur New Testament Commentary: James – If you are preaching a book of the New Testament other than Mark’s gospel (because those volumes aren’t published yet) you should invest in MacArthur’s commentaries. This volume on James is no exception. Much like Doriani you see the heart of a pastor and a careful expositor of the text. MacArthur’s use of the language in word study is not word study for the sake of fluff, but is called to attention for the exegesis of the text. (Grace to You)

R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word: James – I’m sure it isn’t proper to have a list of commentaries and the entirety of the list be homiletical commentaries. But, good theology, is pastoral theology. R. Kent Hughes like the other listed writes with decades of pastoral experience and the heart of one who desires to stay close to the text. I’ve come to grow to love the Preaching the Word series. The point of preaching is to provide careful exposition of the text and the application of the text. This volume is quite helpful in doing both. (Crossway)

David Platt’s Christ-centered Exposition: James – If you are looking for a volume with brevity, this is the volume for you. This short little volume on James is packed with theology. As with the other volumes in the series it does a great job of outlining the book in a way that is very helpful for preaching. The price on this volume is also very hard to beat. The only downfall to this little volume is just that, it is a little volume.There were times in which I wish Platt had given more time and space to the text. That being said, it is still a worthwhile volume and would be especially helpful for someone teaching Sunday School on James. (B&H)

I hope these recommendations/reviews might prove helpful for anyone working through James. The letter called practical is one that is cutting to the heart in it’s practicality. James makes much of the Christian life and these volumes resound with James’ pastoral heart. I’d also like to note, it took me much longer than I expected to work through the short little letter of James. (These books will help you layout your planning in preaching).

Using the “H” Word

I’m not sure how many times I’ve been called a heretic directly or indirectly by people I would consider believers. I do however know that calling someone a heretic is a serious accusation. I’ve been deemed heretical because I didn’t hold to the same millennial position as another brother. I believe in the second bodily coming of Christ just not the same time scale as others. I could go on with many other examples and I’m sure you can too. I’ve not always taken the accusation of heresy so seriously. I’ve been prone to label folks heretics who most certainly don’t fit the bill. Why? Because they didn’t dot all their ‘i’s’ and cross all their ‘t’s’ as I did. As I read Thomas Manton’s commentary on James last week he had a word to say about quickly assigning the title of heretic without serious consideration. 

It is not good to brand things with the name of error till we have proved them to be so. After he had disputed the matter with them, he saith, `Err not., (1.) Loose slings will do no good. To play about us with terms of heresy and error doth but prejudice men’s minds, and exulcerate them against our testimony. None but fools will be afraid of hot words. Discoveries do far better than invectives. Usually that is a peevish zeal that stayeth in generals. It is observable, Mat. xxiii., from ver. 13 to 33, our Saviour denounceth never a woe but he presently rendereth a reason for it. `Woe unto you, for ye shut the kingdom of heaven; and again, `Woe unto you, for ye devour widows, houses. You never knew a man gained by loose slings. The business is to make good the charge, to discover what is heresy and what is antichristianism, &c. (2.) This is an easy way to blemish the holy truths of God. How often do the Papists spread that livery upon us, heretics and schismatics. They `speak evil of things they do not know, Jude 10. When men are loath to descend to the trial of a way, they blemish it: Acts xxiv. 14, `After the way which they call heresy we worship the God of our fathers., Men condemn things suddenly and rashly, and so often truth is miscalled. If matters were dispatched by arguments rather than censures, we should have less differences. The most innocent truths may suffer under an odious imputation. The spouse had her veil taken from her, and represented to the world as a prostitute, Cant. iii. The Christians were called Genus hominum superstitionis malificae a wicked sort of men, and Christianity a witchery and superstition.

To call someone a heretic out of laziness is a horrible thing. Manton in his commentary admonishes his readers to take doctrine seriously that they won’t err in doctrine. Manton and myself would certainly want our readers to hold to good theology. But, if we are lazy we’ll be quick to dismiss good doctrine. I used to think that anyone who didn’t hold to dispensational theology was ravenously heretical. I’ve since moved away from dispensationalism, but find myself reading, sharing fellowship, and recommending many dispensational brothers. It was laziness and presumption that merited my accusation. As Manton said, “It is not good to brand things with the name of error till we have proved them to be so. After he had disputed the matter with them, he saith, `Err not.,  Loose slings will do no good.” 

We would be wise and loving to seriously consider our brothers and sisters as brothers and sisters when we accuse them of heresy. If we truly find them in heresy we would be loving and wise to bring correction. Giving a brother a damnable title shouldn’t be unwarranted. Manton and myself do recognize however that there is a time for pointing out heresy. Doing so isn’t easy work for the lazy:

Oh! then, that in this age we would practise this: Be less in passion and more in argument. That we would condemn things by reasoning rather than miscalling. That we were less in generals, and would deal more particularly. This is the way to `stablish men in the present truth., In morals, the word seldom doth good but when it is brought home to the very case. Thunder at a distance doth not move us so much as a clap in our own zenith; that maketh us startle. General invectives make but superficial impressions; show what is an error, and then call it so. Truly that was the way in ancient times. At first, indeed, for peace, sake, some have observed that the fathers declaimed generally against errors about the power of nature, not meddling with the persons or particular tenets of Pelagius and his disciples; but afterward they saw cause for being more particular. Loose discourses lose their profit. Blunt iron, that toucheth many points at once, doth not enter, but make a bruise; but a needle, that toucheth but one point, entereth to the quick. When we come to deal particularly with every man’s work, then the fire trieth it, 1 Cor. iii. 13. I do the rather urge this because usually ungrounded zeal stayeth in generals, and those that know least are most loose and invective in their discourses.

As Manton argues, ” Be less in passion and more in argument,” we would be wise to take heed. How often to loose and malicious words come form our mouths and fingertips at the brother with whom we disagree. When we seek to correct and expose it should be done through the lenses of scripture and a loving heart. When we deal with heresy it should be done unwavering upon the testimony of Scripture. An impassioned scripture-less fit filled with malice is no good medicine for the brother in error, and it proves no avail for correcting genuine heresy. 

I think we would be wise to remember the words of the Apostle Paul, And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV) Let us correct with gentleness. Let us not throw brothers under the bus. Let us contend for truth in the midst of heresy. Let us us reserve the “h” word for the heretics, and prayerfully contend with our brothers for the truth.