The primary aim in shepherding the people of God is clear in Scripture. The risen Lord of the church thrice commanded Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:16). Peter, in turn, told his fellow elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2). Likewise, Paul instructed the Ephesian elders to “care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28).
In each instance, these directives use the word poimain. When used of Christ, this word is translated “rule.” The elders of the church feed the sheep by teaching them Christ’s rule as described in the Word of God. Paul’s description of his work in feeding God’s sheep at Ephesus to follow Christ reveals its qualities.
Doctrinal, not innovative. Paul warned against wolves who twist the Scriptures by leaving sections of it out while emphasizing other parts to their own advantage (Acts 20:30). In contrast, Paul told the elders that he taught the church “the whole counsel of God” (v. 27). With this expression, Paul meant that he taught both the scope of Genesis to Revelation and also all the theology the Bible includes. The true teaching of God’s Word harmonizes biblical and systematic theology.
Elders need to make sure that their congregants are getting a true and balanced diet of God’s Word. Preaching should take a church through books of the Bible. Classes and studies should ensure that they are learning the doctrines contained in the church’s confession.
Declarative, not compromising. Paul said that “I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom” to the Ephesians (v. 25). Like the ambassador of a king, Paul preached the gospel as a royal decree. He said that “I did not shrink from declaring to you” the gospel (v. 27). Paul did not merely share the gospel. He declared it!
The word “declare” comes from the word for “angels.” Paul spoke like an angel. When angels show up in the Bible, dramatic acts happened. Lot fled Sodom. Peter left a prison cell. Similarly, when Paul preached in Ephesus, the whole city was impacted, leaving idolatry for Christ. Elders should pray and labor for God’s Word to be declared in their midst.
Personal, not coldhearted. As a homiletics professor, I see many young men come to seminary with a narrow view of preaching. They think sermons take place only on Sunday at church and lose the personal touch. Certainly, gathering for worship is the ultimate place for preaching. Paul said that he preached publicly to the Ephesian church (v. 20). But he did not stop there.
He also says that he preached “from house to house” (v. 20). Paul “put wheels” on his pulpit. He gave up personal comforts to tell others of God’s grace (v. 24), worked hard not to burden the growing church in Ephesus (vv. 33–35), and says twice that he admonished the Ephesians with tears (vv. 19, 31). He personally pursued people in his ministry of the Word.
A local church’s elders must never neglect this singular focus to feed Christ’s sheep.