On a regular basis, search teams meet with prospective pastors for their local church and they ask that important question: “How do you envision growing our church if you come as pastor?” After a bit of discussion, the focus often centers upon the prospect’s preaching methodology and philosophy of ministry. Far too often the search team is looking for a man who will come and preach to the goats on Sunday—leaving the sheep perpetually hungry at the end of the day. What you need to know is that this is a recipe for disaster rather than a recipe for growth.
After the early church exploded from 120 in an upper room to more than 20,000 in just a matter of days (Peter’s sermon at Pentcost and Solomon’s Portico) through the preaching of the gospel, we find the picture of the early church in Acts 2 where the people were gathered under the preaching of the apostles—who were acting like the elders of the early church. As they gathered, the apostles preached to the sheep rather than the goats.
While there are always times and seasons where tares will be spread among the wheat in our culture, the church should be approached on a weekly basis as those who are sheep rather than goats. Imagine for a moment what would happen if the announcers of the Atlanta Braves were invited as guests to the new Falcon’s dome to announce a football game. Do you think the fans would be confused if the announcers were talking about baseball the entire time while sitting in a booth at the dome during a football game? Sure, they would be greatly confused. Yet, that same thing happens weekly as many pastors stand and preach to unbelievers while sheep sit there in the congregation and starve to death spiritually.
Notice how Paul began his letter to the church at Rome. He writes, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7). Paul addresses those who are loved by God and called to be saints. He is not addressing the goats and rebellious members of society. As we continue to flip the pages of the New Testament, we find a similar pattern at the beginning of the New Testament letters. Paul addressed the church of God at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1), the churches of Galatia (Gal 1:2), to the saints who are in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1), to the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi (Phil. 1:1), to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae (Col 1:2), to the church of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1), and to the elect exiles (1 Pet. 1:1).
If the New Testament is written and addressed to believers (sheep) and if the early church was led by apostles and elders who preached the Word to the church—why would we organize our ministries today to be centered on reaching unbelievers on the Lord’s Day? Doesn’t that seem like a backwards approach? When sheep starve it compromises the health and vitality of the church. It is possible for a church to be an inch deep and a mile wide—always busy doing stuff with a perpetual “seeker” driven approach to worship. Before going down that road, one simple question must be answered: “Why did the apostles approach the ministry of the local church in a very different manner?”
On the Lord’s day, the pastor should approach the pulpit with a sermon that is text-driven with a goal to feed God’s children from God’s Word. We gather for the worship of God through His Word on the Lord’s Day and we scatter throughout the week for missions. Paul explained the purpose of pastoral ministry clearly in Ephesians 4:11-12 as he pointed to the task of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Certainly pastors are called to “do the work of an evangelist” as Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5, but his main platform for evangelism is not the pulpit on the Lord’s Day at 11:00am. Sheep need to be faithfully fed and well prepared text-driven sermons from passionate pastors is vitally important and necessary for the growth of the church.
J.I. Packer described how the Puritans believed in “the supreme importance of preaching. To the Puritans, the sermon was the liturgical climax of public worship. Nothing, they said, honours God more than the faithful declaration and obedient hearing of His truth. Preaching, under any circumstances, is an act of worship, and must be performed as such. Moreover, preaching is the prime means of grace to the church.” 
Starving sheep form weak churches who make little to no impact on their community in the long run. Don’t starve God’s sheep. When Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John10:27)—the sheep are looking to pastors to feed them. Sheep don’t need to be entertained, they’re not looking for a long list of jokes or psychological chats. They’re looking for food. Dear pastor—preach to the sheep. Feed God’s sheep.
- J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan View of the Christian Life, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 281.