Last week we attempted to provide practical examples of the spiritual leader whose heart is not after God’s heart. This is the heart that has drifted from an undivided loyalty to God and has multiplied idols. This is evinced by predatory shepherding practices like manipulating property from unsuspecting widows, using charitable status for personal gain, fostering uncritical fellowship and a penchant for consumer goods, and religion of convenience.
As we have seen in Jeremiah 3;15 God promises that when the people forsake their idolatrous ways God will supply them with shepherds after his own heart, who will feed them with knowledge and understanding. As we delve deeper into the state of church address for this series let us give some attention to the state of the church as far as the diet that is being served up to the people of God by some of their shepherds. Notice that the shepherds after God’s heart are distinguished by the diet which they provide. The diet of knowledge and understanding. It is clear that God desires a very high standard of his people, and even more so from church leaders.
Notice also the attention to details which God demonstrates. The people belong to God. The church as an institution has a founder. It has an owner, and the owner has not rented it, leased it nor sold it to anyone. It has a foundation, the church’s one foundation is Jesus, Christ her Lord. I wish we, church leaders would allow that to sink in and settle into our deepest consciousness. It matters to the owner of the church what we do with it, and how we treat its members. It matters to God whether we are tending the flock genuinely or we are hirelings. It matters to God whether we take care and diligence in our preparation to preach and teach or we merely knock something together hurriedly to fling on the table for consumption. Our audience may not notice the lack of preparation and attention to sound doctrine, our hurry come up servings may even be receive a standing ovation but we know when we have not done justice to the ministry of the word and God knows. Just in case you have carried this on so long that you have forgotten this fact let me repeat myself… God knows when we feed the flock with half-cooked meals.
The kinds of shepherds in view here are the ones whose ministry is characterized by attention to the purity of the message. Their ministry over the flock of God is to be characterized by a clear sense of the “what and the how” that will get God’s nod of approval. This text is forcing us to measure ourselves and our church ministry.
A closer look at what will characterize the shepherds after God’s heart reveals a double nuance. There is the “manner” of ministry and there is the “matter” of ministry. Taking the matter of ministry ‘with knowledge and understanding’ has in mind that these leaders are feeding the flock of God with things worthy to be known and understood; with the solid and substantial truths of the Gospel, and in all directing to Christ the bread of life. Here these is no space for fluff, foam, or froth. Here, there is a passion for declaring the whole counsel of God. Here, there is no watering down of the message. Here, there is a consistent and insistent pointing to Christ and not to self as the source of spiritual sustenance. This is the shepherd who diligently follows these words of advice of Paul to Pastor Timothy:
The public reading of Scripture which is well attested across the Old and new Testaments is rapidly disappearing and has vanished totally in some churches. It doesn’t fit in with the postmodern pleasure focused styles of worship you see. It takes up too much time which needs to be spent in ‘titivatory’ ‘praise and worship’ is the argument raised. It has become one of the victims when the liturgical order of worship was replaced by the so called more spirit filled free flowing style of worship. So it now common place to have a three hour worship service without the Bible being read once.
In terms of the manner of the shepherds after God’s heart leading with knowledge and understanding carries the idea of pastoral ministry which derives its cues from the unswerving laws of Christ and not from the fickle laws of the human heart. This method is best described as wise and prudent shepherding according to the Arabic translation. We feed wisely and prudently when we rightly divide the word of truth, and give to everyone their portion of meat at the appropriate time; and feed them in proportion to their age and capacity, give milk to babes, and meat to strong men: and we rule with wisdom and prudence when we govern according to the laws of Christ, and take care that they are put in execution. In doing so we shepherd like David, as described in Psalm 78: 72 – “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
There is a view which seems to be strongly held and widespread that seems to put theological training, pastoral mentoring, ministerial formation, professional formation and the general use and application of our minds at odds with God’s Holy Spirit as far as pastoral ministry is concerned. This is unbiblical, illogical, and dangerous and borders on demonic in origin even. Far be it from me to suggest that it is only those who have studied qualify for Pastoral ministry but there needs to be a frontal confrontation of this kind of thinking. One cannot read the Bible properly and assume that God is not interested in Pastoral ministry that is grounded in scholarship, the rigors of thinking and analysis and the application of knowledge and understanding. When people’s eternal destiny and people’s lived realities are at stake we cannot trifle with truth nor jump off into whims and fancies. Fellow shepherds and members at large let us give ourselves to study, to knowledge and understanding from God. Let us love the Lord or God with all our mind.
This is part 4 of a current sermon series which will later be published as a book. For my previous book which started in like manner visit: Let’s Major In the Minors.