Shepherding God’s Flock (18)
… to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 1 Corinthians 9.20-22
The work of preaching or teaching is sometimes referred to as an art, and I believe that’s a fair comparison. Each shepherd will develop an approach to preaching and teaching that best suits their skills, interests, and personality. Their approaches will have much in common, but there will be differences which distinguish their use of these disciplines from many other shepherds.
But it’s not enough for us to think about what works best for us when it comes to the ministry of the Word. We must also think about what works best for the people to whom we’re speaking. Calvin reminded us that one of the marks of a true church is the faithful preaching and hearing of the Word of God. And, while the primary burden for hearing falls on those who, well, hear our preaching or teaching, we also have a part to play in helping them to hear.
Gregory the Great wrote, “Since, then, we have shewn what manner of man the pastor ought to be, let us now set forth what manner he should teach. For as long before us Gregory Nazianzen of reverend memory has taught, one and the same exhortation does not suit all, inasmuch as neither are all bound together by similarity of character…Therefore according to the quality of the hearers ought the discourse of teachers be fashioned, so as to suit all and each for their several needs, and yet never deviate from the art of common edification” (The Book of Pastoral Rule).
This quote introduces a lengthy section in which Gregory, with great wisdom, explains how to apply the Word of God to various types of people. His focus here is on application, on working to make sure people actually hear our preaching and teaching so that we may lead them to a fuller experience of eternal life.
Gregory assumes that pastors will know their flock well and be able to apply the Word to their situations and needs with great care and effect. Being effective in the application sections of a sermon requires that we “preach through to the ground,” to where our people live and serve day by day. We must know something about the lives of those we teach and the callings God has appointed for them. Jesus explained that the first discipline shepherds must exercise in caring for their flocks is to know them and be known by them.
We can’t be all things to all people if we don’t know the people we are called to shepherd. The better we know the people we serve, the better able we will be to help them hear the Word of God.
Resources for Shepherds
Our readings from Gregory the Great suggest that the shepherds of God’s flock should take Paul’s advice to keep a close watch on themselves and their ministries. Our book, Fan into Flame, is designed to help shepherds assess the overall state of their walk with and work for the Lord. Brief essays on the work of a shepherd are accompanied by self-evaluation tools to help you discover strengths and weakness. Learn more about this book and order a free copy by clicking here.
From the Celtic Revival
In our twice-weekly teaching letter, Crosfigell, we have begun a new series on Colum Cille, founder of the Iona community and one of the great leaders of the Celtic Revival.
We began our study with this simple notice from the Venerable Bede:
“In the year of our Lord 565, when Justin the Younger succeeded Justinian and ruled as Emperor of Rome, a priest named Columba [Colum Cille], distinguished by his monastic habit and life, came from Ireland to Britain to preach the word of God in the provinces of the northern Picts…and built a monastery on the island of Iona.”
- Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People
Colum is one of the most interesting characters from this period. He was a scholar, a missionary, a disciple-maker, a poet, a prophet, and a builder of communities. We have much to learn from looking at his life and work, and I hope some of you will join us for the journey.
Oh, and our recent Crosfigell study of Columbanus is now available in our bookstore in PDF, so you can download it to your reader by clicking here.
Crosfigell is mailed every Tuesday and Thursday and offers insights and meditations on writings from the period of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800). You can add Crosfigell to your subscriptions by clicking here.
Visit our Resources for Shepherds page to read reviews and insights and to discover websites and journals, that can encourage you in your walk with and work for the Lord.
T. M. Moore.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People and Cuthbert’s Letter on the Death of Bede, Leo Sherley-Price, tr., R. E. Latham, rev. (London and New York: Penguin, 1990), pp. 148, 326.