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Helping the Sheep Feed Themselves

October 2, 2007

One dangerous temptation for us preachers is to want our congregation to need us in order to understand the bible. The shepherd’s goal, however, is to enable the sheep to feed on the bible for themselves. Thus the effective expositor is not so much the one with impressive oratory or biblical clarity but one who’s congregation is equipped – through years of faithful teaching – to evaluate his preaching in the Berean fashion. John Stott addresses us on such a theme today.

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We who are called to be Christian preachers today should do all we can to help the congregation to grow out of dependence on borrowed slogans and ill-considered cliches, and instead to develop their powers of intellectual and moral criticism, that is, their ability to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil.

Of course, we should encourage an attitude of humble submission to Scripture, but at the same time make it clear that we claim no infallibility for our interpretation of Scripture. We should urge our hearers to ‘test’ and ‘evaluate’ our teaching. We should welcome questions, not resent them. We should not want people to be moonstruck by our preaching, to hang spellbound on our words, and to soak them up like sponges. To desire such an uncritical dependence on us is to deserve the fierce denunciation of Jesus for wanting to be called ‘rabbi’ by men. (Matt 23:7,8) By contrast, the people of Berea are commended as ‘noble’ . . . because they combined enthusiastic receptivity with critical listening. . . . (Acts 17:11)

This kind of open but questioning mind is implicit even in the ‘pastoral’ metaphor. . . . The way in which the shepherd feeds [the sheep] is significant. In reality, he does not feed them at all (except perhaps in the case of a sick lamb which he may take up in his arms and bottlefeed); instead he leads them to good grazing pasture where they feed themselves.

(John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, Eerdmans, 1982 p. 177).

HT: Expositor’s Quote for the Week

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