I must confess (and I’m not alone in my confession) that as I get older, I seem to get dumber! I can still remember how very much more I knew as a youth. It seemed then that any question anyone asked me on any subject—I had an answer. Today, more often than not, I seem to hesitate, if not downright stumble. Back then, even if the question was on a topic which I had previously never entertained, I seemed miraculously to have a latent genius enabling me to concoct an answer instantly and with enough prowess to impress even myself—almost certainly myself.
I’m not at all sure where all that innate genius has gone, but gone it has. Maybe this is not really such a tragedy. After all, it was James’ admonition for men to be “...swift to hear, slow to speak…” (1:19). One thing I’ve observed in these past 62 years is that those two traits almost never reside together inside a youthful skull! They certainly did not in mine. And it is just exactly because I was so “swift to speak” that I was so “slow to hear.” But, praise be to the grace of our God, not everything passed unheard. One experience bears recalling.
When I was only 18 years old, I was away at Bible college when I met the prettiest girl my eyes had ever seen. She was everything I had ever dreamed of. We had begun to “date,” and I accompanied her to her home in Virginia to visit and meet her parents for the first time. When the Lord’s Day came, we went to church in the little Baptist church where she had been converted only a few months earlier. I was a young “preacher boy,” as we were called in those days, with a head FULL of “knowledge” (falsely-so-called) and, frankly, wasn’t much interested in anything else that day beyond this beautiful creature whom Providence had cast in my path. Whatever little “senses” I may have possessed, even these were numbed by this overwhelming preoccupation with HER. Notwithstanding my pitiable plight, GOD spoke clearly to me that day from His Word which has lingered all these 43 years since we’ve been married.
Some old, godly, saintly man stood to say a word that morning as the Sunday school was discussing the text from John 21:15. He struck me at first as being a poor, common mill-worker; and I was sure he had no “college” experience like me. To say that I was uninterested would be to put it kindly. But as he started to speak, our great and gracious Heavenly Father seized my heart. To this day I cannot escape what he said.
I must first remind you that we were in the “age of church growth,” and the “mega-church” concept reigned as the paradigm for all churches to copy. That was certainly what my college was drilling in me. And so, in the midst of that concept, this simple, plain, godly, old man stood, read Christ’s words THREE times: “Feed my sheep,” “Feed my sheep,” “Feed my sheep”: and then looked us square in the eyes and said:
“If you’ll just feed the sheep, lambs will be born.”
He couldn’t have stunned me more if he had hit me in the face with a boat paddle! For one brief moment, a moment that has echoed now for 43 years, TRUTH had rung out! The trumpet of God had sounded. In a very real sense, that old man was responsible for my ultimate (and inevitable) demise in the denomination I was then attending.
There it was! A simple, but undeniable truth. The focus of my ministry, of any ministry, must not be an obsession with “birthings” but with “feeding”. It’s simply unavoidable:
Healthy sheep will “lamb.” “Sick” sheep will languish and die.
We have experienced now for more than 60 years an almost universal obsession in Evangelicalism with “making lambs” and an appalling neglect of “sheep feeding.” The slogan, - “Won to Win One” - has characterized the modern church all the way from Charles G. Finney to Billy Graham; and the fruit of it is painfully clear. Never in American history has “the church” been more worldly, never less relevant, never less powerful. Oh, may God be pleased to bring us back again to the “feeding” business which our wise Shepherd pressed upon Peter three times.
Maybe I haven’t forgotten everything. In fact, I’ve actually gained one or two pieces of wisdom in the path to old age. Every time my mind goes back to that simple, old man in that Sunday School room that day, I remember the words of our God through Moses to his generation,
“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God..”
I’ve never seen that old man again, but I’m hopeful that we shall meet on the other shore and “feed” forever on our Shepherd together. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve become that old man.
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