From “Feed My Sheep” to “Self-Feeders”

Recommended reading on the need to feed your sheep the gospel.Hungry sheep looking for nourishmentHungry sheep looking for nourishmentThe following is an excerpt of the concluding remarks of the White Horse Inn from yesterday’s program, “What Would Moses Do?” dated, Sunday, February 17, 2008 (see sidebar for link to program). About the modern evangelical tendency to do anything and everything but the one simple thing Jesus asked the church to do–feed his sheep the Word of God, which Peter would go on to write, “the Word of God is the Gospel which we preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25b)

Horton:  Now, the Bible is God’s instruction book. And that’s how a lot of people talk about it. Or it’s the owner’s manual. Well, what is an owner’s manual? An owner’s manual is a guide you go to that tells you how to fix your car.  Folks, that’s the wrong category. The Bible is not primarily God’s instruction book. It has instructions, and they need to be preached, but it is not primarily that. In fact, the Bible is silent about half of the things that preachers want to talk about on Sunday morning when it comes to the practical. I can get a lot more help from Susie Armand about my finances than Bill Hybels.  

Jones: Or diets, or things of that nature.  

Horton: Yeah! I don’t need a Christian diet—I need a Christian gospel if you’ve got that. Tell me something I can’t get from Oprah or Dr. Phil.  

Jones:  Preaching is feeding time for the whole family. 

Horton:  Boy, isn’t that the case? 

Riddlebarger:  It should be! 

Horton:  But according to the latest study by Willow Creek Community Church, they concluded because their most active members said they were dissatisfied with their church—they concluded, “We gotta wean people off of the church. What this tells us is, as you mature, you need the church less.” They didn’t take away from that, they actually were not providing the nutrients that those people needed, even though they actually said in their surveys, “Not deep enough Bible teaching or worship.” Willow Creek concluded from that, “Yep. We’ve gotta make people ‘self-feeders.’” We’ve got to make it where they don’t have to depend on the church, whereas, Jesus said, “Peter, before I go—I know it’s you—I know you can’t handle a lot—I’m asking you to do one thing and do it well. Feed my sheep.” 

The one thing Jesus asked the church to do. And Willow Creek says we need to teach people to become self-feeders. That is, at the end of the day, what moralistic therapeutic deism does. When you preach the law as gospel, people can find their own good advice on the internet.


3 responses

  1. Feeding the sheep is vital. Vital, I tell you. But that is not all there is. We’ve got a lot of things to do and accomplish – power by the Spirit, of course.


  2. Christian, to advocate one thing is not to deny another. Of course there are works to be done empowered by the Spirit. The question being asked is, what is supposed to be being done behind the lectern on Sunday mornings?

    Hybels is the sort who thinks it’s not his responsibility to “feed the sheep the gospel.” Even though the results of his survey said the dissatisfaction lay in lack of depth from behind the pulpit, he turned the tables on the results and implies that the fault is not with what he’s doing behind the pulpit, but with what they’re not doing on their own. It reminds me of faith healers who say that the reason the people they’ve prayed for didn’t get healed is because the people they prayed for didn’t have enough faith.

    In other words, the pastor is not accepting the responsibility for the lack of satisfaction in his church. It’s not like they’re asking for more commercialism and more relevance. They’re hungry sheep asking to be fed the gospel. They’ll go and “do” and “accomplish” the “lot of” other “things” when their spiritual bellies are full of Christ, received through the ordinary means of grace on Sunday morning, which are the Word (centered explicitly on the gospel) preached (exposited AND APPLIED in the immediate context of the text selected as well as within the context of the heart of the Bible, the redemptive work of Christ), accompanied by the Lord’s Supper.

    I know that you are aware that ministers such as Hybels tell their people that if they want in-depth study, they’re going to have to rely on their small groups to get it. Ministers such as Hybels are salesmen, they’re motivators and pop-psychologists who are giving no more to their people than they can get on Oprah, the comedy club or a concert hall. They’ve gotten so distracted by the desire to draw people with their contemporary relevance that they’ve forgotten that their responsibility is to placard Christ crucified before their people every Sunday.

    Others who pride themselves on their traditionalism, and their efforts to “preach the Word” or “teach the Truth” and show their people how to live the “victorious Christian life” likewise get distracted from their primary responsibility to preach the gospel to Christians, not just transition to an evangelistic appeal at the end of their message, directed only toward unbelievers. The preached gospel and the Lord’s Supper (“the visible Word”), directed toward and applied to the experience of Christians, is what sanctifies believers that they may live in the victory won for them by Christ, just as the preached gospel, directed toward and applied to the experience of unbelievers is what brings them to Christ for their justification.

    Ministers get so distracted by the other things that ought to be done that they lose their sense that the center of all is the preaching of the Gospel. They get so distracted by those other things that they forget that the power needed to accomplish those other things comes from nothing other than a life centered on the life, death and resurrection of Christ. And the lives of the sheep generally will not be centered on the gospel if they are not being fed it every Sunday by their pastors.

    Some do learn that they can and should “preach the gospel to themselves” daily, and study the Word in-depth regularly between Sundays, but they are the minority, and always will be. Even though they’re successfully doing those things, the fact remains that they, too, are being neglected by their undershepherds if those preachers spend most of their energy dictating the “victorious Christian life” to their people at the expense of expositing the Word thoroughly with a view of its place within the context of the redemptive work of Christ, applying it to them that they may do that which the Word directs them to do out of gratitude for the redemptive work of Christ which was preached to them in the prior exposition.

    So, once again, no one is saying don’t apply the imperatives to the congregation. We are saying, don’t spend so much time obsessing about applying the imperatives of Scripture to the congregation that you forget that the people are empowered to perform the imperatives of Scripture by the preaching and applying of the gospel to those believers, not excluding the instruction of the imperatives of Scripture, but inclusively basing the applied imperatives of Scripture on the explicitly preached indicatives of the gospel which is nothing more than expositing the selected text in its fullest context.

    Put simply, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

  3. John,
    Thanks for the exposition.
    In the words of my favorite author – “I Wish I’d Said That.”


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