Let’s take a closer look at the first responsibility of an elder: feeding God’s flock. After his resurrection, the Lord Jesus instructed His apostles to teach new disciples obedience to his commands (Matt. 28:20). The earliest record of church history shows how carefully this was observed as the believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching….” (Acts 2:42). When the gospel reached the Gentile world, this foundational aspect of the Christian faith was reinforced. Paul constantly affirmed the primacy of God’s word to young churches. We may take his parting words to the elders at Ephesus in Acts 20 as representative. Looking back, he reminds them: “I Have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (vs. 27), then exhorts them to follow his example; “Take heed . . .to feed the church of God” (vs. 28), and finally, after warning of dangers that will arise, commends them to God ” and to the word of his grace” (vs. 32). As then, so now, false teachers and false doctrine threaten the church.
It is the nature of the new life within, that babes need the milk of the word (I Pet. 2:2), so that they can grow and teach others (Heb. 5:12) having received the bread of life consistently and faithfully. Therefore, a healthy assembly will provide plenty of good spiritual food to build up God’s people, and to teach them how to read and study the Word in private.
Who Does the Feeding?
When we think of the feeding of the flock, it’s automatic to think of the message or preaching on Sunday morning. But what else constitutes the feeding of God’s people? The list is broad, and whatever we name; something will be left out. Yet think of all the personal and small group interactions in which elders participate regularly. According to I Tim. 5:17, not all elders devote the same amount of effort to the study of the Scripture, and nothing requires every elder to be a “platform speaker.” In fact, the assembly will be better off if there is honesty about ones gifts or lack thereof (Rom. 12:3). But every elder must be apt or able to share God’s truth in his own sphere of involvement (I Tim. 3:2). If you listen in on a one‑on‑one conversation between an elder and someone in the assembly, you’ll likely hear godly principles ‑ if not quoted Bible verses ‑ sprinkled into the conversation. This is part of feeding the flock. Whether they preach and teach personally, or invite those who are gifted and able to do so, the elders are ultimately responsible for the spiritual diet of the assembly. They must be sure that assembly needs and problems do not hinder them from devoting quality time to the Scriptures, a principle laid down in Acts 6:1‑7, where assistants [deacons] were chosen to keep priorities right.
A Word about Content
How broad is this work? As wide as the needs of people! Opportunities for visiting, counseling, comforting, equipping, defending are limitless. Only a book that is “living,” “powerful,” “sharp,” and “able,” (Heb. 4:12) can accomplish all this. Elders must spend time in prayer to discern what is needed. Messages should be prepared carefully and delivered with sincerity. The task is to be both faithful and relevant. The teacher must build a bridge from Bible days to the present so his hearers can learn to live what is preached. Many have found the benefit of a consecutive, systematic, expository ministry which exposes the believer to the whole counsel of God, not just certain “favorite themes.” Feeding is giving out what one has received from the Head. We do not preach our own words or ideas; we must be convinced that only the word of God brings life and spiritual vitality to the saints. And here is one point of real difference with Roman Catholicism; the church never teaches, but as the bride, receives instruction from the Head through the gifted men He supplies.
Reaping the Benefits
When through the labors of godly elders, believers are equipped for service, strengthened against sin in spiritual warfare, and blessed in Spirit empowered worship that is based on truth, they will be encouraged to witness for Christ in their world. This provides a supply of new converts coming into the assembly. Thus, the Word of God builds the church (Acts 6:7; 9:30) It is a principle that many church leaders seem to forget, but the old saying is true: “If you want more sheep, feed the ones you have.”