Yesterday, I sought to address The Myth of the Self-Feeder, dealing with the problem of pastors shirking their responsibilities to “feed the flock.” But the issue is not quite settled with regards to how a Christian believer truly grows. From what I can gather, there are really four primary contributors to a believer’s feeding and growth. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Pastoral Preaching
I made this case yesterday, building mostly on Christ’s charge to Peter in John 21 to “Shepherd My sheep.” He reaffirms this call in 1 Peter 5, exhorting the church elders to “shepherd the flock of God.”
Ephesians 4:12 tells us that the job of pastors and teachers is “to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.” This is to be a teaching pastor’s primary role, and the consistent force to help the nourishing and growing of believers.
Over the last few decades in America, there has been a resurgence in the focus on discipleship. Jesus’ commission to the church was to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), which means, literally, to create learners.
The book of Titus lays out a simple yet dynamic approach for a high functioning church. In Titus 1, Paul gives a list of required characteristics for leaders, which includes teaching and defending the Scriptures. In Titus 2, the church is exhorted to further teach one another, older men to younger men, and older women to younger women. The true spirit of discipleship is to reproduce Christlikeness in others. Paul gives this exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”
This four-person relay illustrates the nature of discipleship and the need to pass the torch to others.
3. Personal Study
This is the part of the process which has generated the term “self-feeder”, a term I dislike, as any attribute in the Christian life with the word “self” is generally a bad thing. Nonetheless, the idea is that the believer is cultivating the spiritual discipline of reading, studying, memorizing, meditating and praying through the Scriptures. In Romans 12:2 we are exhorted to offer up our worship by submitting ourselves to God (v. 1) and to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.” Being transformed implies growth; renewing the mind implies thinking and learning.
Colossians 3:2 tells us to “set your mind on the things above” while we are told four times in Romans 8:5-7 that the battle for Christian life is that which takes place on the mind of the believer. Steve Farrar has said that “Christianity is a thinking man’s game.” While there is much that is experienced, the true thrust of the Christian life consists of studying and learning. (cf. Matt. 11:28-30)
4. The Holy Spirit
If you attempt to engage with the first three components of this list without The Holy Spirit, it will be in vain. The Holy Spirit is the wild card here, in that, you could listen to the best preaching, be discipled by the most able believer and spend hours in the Bible, but if you are not regenerated and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, everything is useless.
Jesus tells the disciples in John 16:13 that the Holy Spirit will come and “guide you into all truth.” Certainly, this pertains much to their teaching ministries, but He continues to work in the church still. We are told in Ephesians 1 that when believers hear the gospel, it is the Spirit who seals us (v. 13), meaning that He stamps us with God’s mark of ownership. Once we are adopted by God, the Spirit works in us, developing a desire for God and His Word. Theologically, we call this the Doctrine of Illumination, where the lights get turned on and believers begin to seek God with an insatiable hunger.
This phenomenon is one of the main reasons that I don’t believe in “teaching down” all the time. Certainly a pastor can’t hang out so high in the clouds, where the air is thin, that his congregation passes out! However, we are to be trusting the Holy Spirit to do His work in believers, and we trust the means by which He works: through His Word.
There is no magical formula or method to produce mature Christians. This becomes challenging in larger churches who are trying to move thousands of people through the Christian life. But it’s not an assembly line; it is a garden. Jesus Christ is the vine; we are the branches. If we devote ourselves to abiding in Him, we’ll do great things.
If we wander away from His precepts, His method, His Word, we will accomplish nothing.