When God calls a man to serve as a pastor in a local church, there are countless tasks he needs to complete. The primary tasks can be divided into several main categories including feeding, leading, and protecting. There are many ways in which a pastor accomplishes these tasks, but a major avenue is through his preaching of the Word. Pastoral ministry is certainly much more than the preaching assignment, but the foundations of pastoral care are established in our week-to-week preaching of the Word.
Here at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary we passionately teach to let the text “drive” the message. Such an approach requires diligent exegetical work, handling the text accurately. We absolutely should walk in this labor, but while doing so make certain we do not neglect the goal of providing deep and meaningful pastoral care through our consistent preaching assignments.
Information without explanation, illustration, and application may just lead to frustration. In fulfilling the needs of day-to-day pastoral care, the pastor should be intentional to use his preaching to consistently accomplish the tasks of feeding, leading, and protecting.
In the encounter of restoration between Jesus and Peter found in John 21:15ff, we often get so caught up over which Greek word for “love” is used we miss the important commands Jesus gives to Peter. Jesus tells Peter to feed and tend His sheep and to follow Him. Five imperatives in the text, three pertaining to feeding/tending the sheep, and the other two commands to follow Jesus. Later, Peter gives similar instruction to his fellow elders. He uses one of the exact imperatives when he exhorts them, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.” (1 Pet 5:2)
As we stand to preach, we understand our task is not just to convey facts and details. Certainly, we want to handle the text with accuracy and conviction, but we preach for response and change. Beyond the exegetical work, we are providing the Word of God to our people as a balm for what ails, a warning for that which desires to devour, and even a remedy for what may already ensnare them. The proper handling and delivery of the Word of God among the people of God is the very essence of healthy pastoral care.
In the task of preaching we are feeding the people by providing the essential elements of spiritual nourishment. We are leading the people of God understanding the responsibility we have to be faithful to the Word we preach and knowing they are commanded to follow the faith of those “who have spoken the word of God” to them. (Heb 13:7) Peter explains as we shepherd the flock we are to be examples to them. (1 Pet 5:3) Finally, we offer protection to the flock by proclaiming right instruction for righteous living and the tools necessary to recognize false doctrine. In his instruction to the Ephesian elders Paul reminds them of his example to proclaim the whole counsel of the word of God. He echoes the message of Jesus and Peter in urging them to shepherd the flock, and he warns of savage wolves who desire to harm the flock. (Acts 20:26–30) We shepherd the flock well when we intently feed, lead, and protect through our preaching.
The pastor is more than a preacher, but in his role as preacher he does not lay down the mantle of pastoral care. Quite the opposite, it is in the act of preaching the pastor has great opportunity to bless the flock entrusted to him with the most genuine of pastoral care. Such a great responsibility requires the seriousness of the qualification found in Titus 1:9 concerning the pastor. He must be found “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”
As we preach the glorious riches of the Gospel may the Holy Spirit of God develop in our hearts a care for the listeners similar to Paul’s as found in his letter to the church at Thessalonica:
But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. (1 Thess 2:4–9)
Tommy Kiker is an Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, the James T. Draper, Jr. Chair of Pastoral Ministry, and the Chair of the Pastoral Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.