The Shepherd-Preacher: Understanding the Audience as Sheep

 |  January 8, 2020

Sheep in biblical times were essential to the culture for religious sacrifices, food, and clothing. They were commonplace to many of the authors of scripture.[1]Henry Chichester Hart, The Animals Mentioned in the Bible (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1888), 194. Scripture often compares the attributes and behavior of sheep to human behavior. Ironically, in our fallen condition, we are more like sheep than we care to recognize. Sheep are by nature helpless and constantly need attention and guidance. The shepherd tending his flock in biblical times faced constant challenges in order to provide for the animals’ basic needs and keep them from danger. These lowly creatures, if left unsupervised without a shepherd were often incapable of staying alive because they lacked the basic instincts that other animals inherently utilized for their daily survival.

David in the 23rd Psalm conveys perfectly the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. As shepherd-preachers, it is essential that we view our audiences as helpless sheep in need of constant attention. If we are shepherding and ministering to our congregations and fulfilling our calling as pastors, then we will know their struggles and needs, and our sermons will meet those needs as we pray in the power of the spirit and prepare weekly.[2]Harold T. Bryson & James C. Taylor, Building Sermons To Meet People’s Needs (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980), 43–45. Jesus felt compassion for the people he ministered to during his short three-year ministry. In Matthew 9:36 he described those following him as helpless sheep without a shepherd. God desires us as leaders to see people the way Jesus sees them.

The title “shepherd-preacher” carries with it a twofold responsibility. First, as expected, it requires the preacher to remain true to the text in his exegesis and delivery of sermons.[3]Michael Fabarez, “Preaching that Changes Lives” (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002), 39. Second, it requires the pastor to preach to the needs of those placed under his care for the purpose of ministering to and feeding them spiritually.[4]Bryson & Taylor, 50. The desired result is that the lost will be saved and lives will be changed.[5]Fabarez, 37–38. During the process of understanding and meeting the needs of the people God has placed under our care, God gives us the privilege of experiencing and reflecting some of his communicable attributes, the greatest of which is love.

In their book On Being A Pastor, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg perfectly describe the relationship between shepherding and teaching (preaching),

“Shepherding and teaching should not be separated. Preaching and pastoral work help each other. Visiting enhances our preaching in that it helps us to appreciate how our fellow believers think, their problems, and their temptations. When we preach to those we know well, and whose situations we understand, we apply God’s truth more relevantly, almost unconsciously-and probably the less consciously the better. Our visits and counseling have greater relevance too because the members of the flock associate us with the Word, they have heard taught and preached, and in one-to-one conversations, we are able to apply that same Word more personally and in greater depth.”[6]Derek J. Prime & Alistair Begg, On Being A Pastor (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 142–44.

When we understand our audience as sheep, we are able to love them tenderly and compassionately, without a critical spirit, in the midst of their circumstances and sins. Predominately, when we prepare and preach to the flock, God reveals areas in our own lives that need correction. The role of shepherd-preacher is rewarding and humbling.

Grady Booth is the Associate Pastor for Discipleship & Outreach and Student Pastor at First Baptist Church in Lynn Haven, Florida.


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