One of the responsibilities of a shepherd is to provide good pasture for the sheep. The beautiful description of the Lord as a shepherd in Psalm 23 speaks of the one who makes me lie down in green pastures (Ps 23:2a). A similar image is provided in that of a mother providing meals for her family. It is part of the duty of fulfilling her ministry towards her family to provide them with good nourishing meals.
A church shepherd can be likened to a mother seeking to provide nourishing food for her children. The elder, just like the caring mother, wants the flock under his care to be fed with nourishing meals so that they will grow in Christ. Every true elder has the desire that the people under his care will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18a). In order to facilitate that he labours to provide them with good food. This food comes in the form of the Word of God. Growth comes through the consuming and digesting of this food.
There are two ways that the pastor seeks to provide good food for the people:
- He labours himself. Accordingly, we read in 1 Tim 5:17: The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. There are those who are labouring to get good food to the people through preaching and teaching.
- He arranges the affairs of the church so that in different formats, wholesome food is presented before the people. Like a mother providing for her children, he seeks to get the best resources together so that good wholesome food can be set before the people.
So what is the experience of the mother who provides all this good food and presents it before her children only to find that her children don’t want it? They decide they do not want to come to her table to eat her food. Such a woman experiences great sadness. There is an element of experiencing personal rejection, but the overwhelming sense is that of sadness as she fears that her children are not going to get the food they require and as a result their development will be stunted.
It is a sobering experience in pastoral ministry to seek to be labouring to provide good food for the people and find that they do not want to be there to consume that food? To relentlessly labour to get food “on the table” for the people and have them not show at meal time is a saddening experience. So what are we to do:
- Press on for we know that the people need the best food. If we lose this focus in our ministry we have lost the plot. To fail in our duty to seek to provide the best food for the people is gross dereliction.
- Pray that the people will have good healthy appetites for good wholesome food.
- Seek to make sure that the meal times, which means primarily the services, are appropriately arranged in terms of timing and content so that the maximum number of the sheep can be there to feed together.
- Continually review our church and its preaching and teaching ministry so that we make sure we are providing suitable food.
- Make sure that we are not swayed by those who just want to eat sweets. A mother knows that a diet of sweets and chocolates, although loved by her children, will in the end do them no good. Similarly the elder must not bow to any campaigning against “solid food” teaching because he knows in the end it is what is best for the people’s nourishment.