The work of a pastor and of a shepherd is referred to in the Bible as being analogous. Their work is fourfold in nature—to feed, guide, defend, and increase the number of the flock.
The Great Shepherd is Christ. His ministers are the undershepherds. His life of purity, love, service, and tender solicitude for erring and depraved humanity is a perfect example for every pastor and evangelist to study and emulate.
In the last recorded conversation Christ had with Peter, we are impressed with the need of feeding the flock. Three times He instructed His apostle to feed the flock. The first time He told him to feed His lambs, or the children and youth of the congregation. Twice He told Peter to feed His sheep—the older members and those more matured in their Christian experience.
In a spiritual sense, this means that the undershepherd is to impart to his congregation a message which will satisfy their hunger. This calls for a more careful preparation of the Sabbath morning sermon. The pulpit is to be looked upon, not as a place in which so much time is to be consumed in talking to the people but rather as a place where the people are to be spiritually fed and nourished. In other words, the pulpit is no place for an exhibition of oratory. The rhetorical sermon is to be looked upon with disfavor. The Sabbath morning message must be geared to the needs of the people rather than to the making of an impression upon them by eloquence and learning.
I called on a delinquent church member one time who had not been attending church for several years. She dropped the remark that there seemed to be no use attending church because she did not know what the preacher was talking about. I immediately began to examine my method of preaching and wondered whether people of my congregation were saying the same thing about my sermons. What a tragedy for men and women who are grappling with problems to be forced to sit through a service and be turned away without being fed!
A good shepherd who feeds his flock should earnestly endeavor to preach clearly and simply. He should adhere to the old-fashioned method of preaching the Word. The people want an authoritative message which calls for a sermon that has more than one Bible text to be read at the introduction. We need to preach more about Christ, conversion, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, the atonement, and other subjects which will show men and women how to live the victorious life. I am convinced that we preach too many doctrinal and analytical sermons. Our people know the implications of the atomic bomb ; they can see the storm-clouds; they realize the sensuality and depravity of our age. What they want to hear and know is how to overcome the weaknesses of the flesh.
If they are to be fed, we must give more time and place in our sermons to the remedy and cure for the ills of the flesh. Preach a message of repentance, call the congregation down to the altar, and let them weep between the porch and the altar, for when a church becomes so staid and smug that there is no deep yearning after a broader experience in Christ, it is but a step from its spiritual grave.
If the sheep are to be fed, the sermon must be clear and practical. Though it comes from a stammering tongue, it should be as a barbed arrow which finds its mark. But preaching is not the only work of the spiritual shepherd. It would be a travesty of self-deception for a minister to feel that sermonizing is the most important part of his work. "When a minister has presented the gospel message from the pulpit, his work is only begun."—Gospel Workers, p. 187. In fact, we are told that "in the work of many ministers there is too much sermonizing and too little real heart-to-heart work."
If we are to keep our flock in the fold, we must be willing to put forth personal effort. This calls for a strong program of visitation. Only as we visit the homes of the people and mingle with them shall we learn of their needs and win their confidence.
Christ, the Good Shepherd, said, "I know My sheep." Christ's method alone will bring success in shepherding the flock. He entered the homes of the people, rich and poor alike, and in so doing, won their affection. Then He bade them follow Him.
"It is highly important that a pastor mingle much with his people, and thus become acquainted with the different phases of human nature. He should study the workings of the mind, that he may adapt his teachings to the intellect of his hearers. He will thus learn that grand charity which is possessed only by those who study closely the nature and needs of men. —Ibid., p. 191.
A word should be said about the social life of the flock. It must be recognized that although Christians are not to be of the world, nevertheless, they continue to be social creatures. Christ did not frown upon social‘gatherings, but frequented them Himself. I have tried in my ministry to give cognizance to this fact, and have encouraged a positive social program. The lambs and the sheep must be given an opportunity to frolic. The social gatherings should be planned with as much care and regularity as the spiritual services. In one church of which I was the pastor we had one Saturday night each month set aside for the entire membership of the church to come together and enjoy themselves in a social way. I think it is the responsibility of the leadership of the church to plan this, especially for the sake of the youth and children.
If the sheep are not to wander from the fold, the shepherd will have to keep them busy. He should organize the church for work. A strong missionary program should be put in motion. Literature campaigns, Bible studies, Bible schools, and lay evangelism should be promoted in a vigorous way. I believe that we should also have a strong evangelistic program in every church. Our churches should not remain dark and empty on Sunday nights. Even if we do not have a Bible instructor or song leader, this should not dampen our spirits or cool our ardor for evangelism. Some of my most successful and inexpensive efforts have been held in the church building. In these efforts I led my own music, or had a layman assist, and did my own Bible work.
There is nothing like a well-organized layman's program or an evangelistic campaign to unite the church and keep the flock in the fold. There is more truth than poetry in the saying, "Idleness is the devil's workshop." Many sheep drift from the fold because the church has gone to sleep. But an active church will be a growing and prosperous church, for activity stimulates circulation, and good circulation presages good health.
The shepherd should encourage his sheep to attend Sabbath school and subscribe to the Review and Herald. This can be done by the personal work of the pastor. In my visits with my members I encourage them to take the Review and attend Sabbath school. Promotion can and should be given along these lines from the desk as well.
The work of a spiritual shepherd involves great responsibility. It is a sacred trust. We dare not be faithless, but should put forth every effort possible to feed, protect, and guide the sheep and lambs placed under our charge. An accountability of how well we have discharged our duties will have to be given some day to the Great Shepherd. The prophet has given us this solemn warning concerning those who fail to guide and protect the flock: "Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened." Zech. 11:17.