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Home » All Resources » Articles on Preaching » James MacDonald, 3 Things Every Pastor Must Do
In my experience, if a pastor does these three things faithfully he will have the support of the vast majority of his people in almost any church anywhere.

Well, another former colleague, a pastor I have known for 20 years, was fired recently. I wish I could tell a tale of harsh elders or demanding congregants, but based upon first-hand accounts, he hung himself. Not literally, but literally figuratively.  As I often say, the crises of life are a way of revealing something that has been happening for a long time. The details are not important, and I don’t want to betray his identity to him or those in the pulpit/church he has now left without a Senior Pastor. Let’s focus on the principles. In my experience, if a pastor does these three things faithfully, he will have the support of the vast majority of his people in almost any church anywhere.

1) Feed the People:

Jesus was fairly explicit about this in the closing sentences of John’s gospel. Feed my sheep, feed my sheep, feed my sheep. If he only said it twice, we might have wiggle room, but the three-peat kind of negates any plans to say “we didn’t know it mattered.” What are you feeding the sheep? Of course the entire circus of felt-need, therapeutic preaching is like pita bread at a Super Bowl party, but beyond the obvious, what really does feed sheep? Scripture, and only Scripture, feeds the sheep, but even among those who claim biblical fidelity and "preach the Word" as appropriate descriptors of their pulpit ministry—are your sheep really fed? Reading a text and then waxing eloquent about its theme does not feed sheep. Raising a contemporary subject of interest to the masses and unfolding it with biblical "post it notes" at every turn does not feed sheep. Simply explaining the meaning of a text in a formulaic, classroom kind of "what it says, what it means" detachment definitely does not feed sheep. In my experience, the best feeding which produces the most satisfied sheep comes from a message formed in, saturated with, and continually connected to an extended portion of a single passage of God’s Word. Where the main point comes from a paragraph and the supporting points come from its verses, and the content of those points is the content of the individual verses. Like this: Audio / Video

2) Love the People:

The guy who got canned was actually pretty strong in this category. The Bible says that love covers, and that certainly applies to the way a congregation views the faults of their pastor. If he loves them and takes the time and energy to make that affection obvious, it goes a long way in motivating them to love and look beyond his shortcomings. I am amazed at the number of well-known ministers today who give no obvious signs that they truly love the people they serve. They don’t comfort in a crisis; others do that. They don’t meet personally even with leaders in the church; "we have staff to handle that." They don’t express love from the pulpit or exhibit love in the lobby. If the your sheep had to prove that their shepherd loved them, would they have experience with you to produce as evidence? In a larger church, the pastoral care they experience from you may not be actual, but perceived pastoral care matters, too. What do your people believe would be their personal experience with you based upon their observation of your conduct? Bottom line: this is something you can’t fake. Regardless of the size of your congregation, if you are there for people in "prime time" and do what you can to express love and support for those you lead, they will know that you love them, and that will cover a multitude of sins.

3) Admit When You Are Wrong:

This is where most pastors go down, and this was the demise of the man whose firing prompted this writing. Pastors can believe grace, exegete grace, and preach grace with little sense of their own need for it. Pastors are frequently wrong. Our opinion is flawed, our conduct is imperfect, our leadership is lacking, and even our best intentions can come up short. Where a pastor believes that admission of error is a diminishment of his capacity to lead, the clock is winding down upon his demise. In a board meeting, at the front of the church, in correspondence, and in personal interaction, the pastor must continuously reach for the mea culpa. Failure to do so elevates self, undermines credibility, and isolates dissenters. Simply admit it when you are wrong. If you can’t see it, accept it by faith, and you will lengthen your tenure with any even mildly mature gathering of God’s people.

Just those three things—do them consistently, and you will do better as a pastor and last longer in any church for the glory of God’s great Son.


James MacDonald

James MacDonald (D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, leads the church planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship, teaches the practical application of God's Word on the Walk in the Word radio broadcast, and is a gifted author and speaker.

Jason Cardwell of Eastern Heights Baptist Church
May 27, 2011
Todd Stevens, that is an excellent point, and it gives me pause about my assumptions concerning preaching. The place I end up is, when I look at the information we have on how the Apostles preached to the church on a regular basis, we end up closer to James MacDonald's model than Jesus'. Jesus wasn't mostly explaining the written word; He was mostly revealing Himself. None of the rest of us are in that position. We know the Apostles spent a lot of time in study in order to lead the church. Paul instructing Timothy connected preaching and teaching with the public reading of Scripture, which certainly evokes the synagogues and their reading of Scripture followed by expounding on the passage read. Certainly we can learn from what Jesus did, but that is not the end of the story in determining what He wants us to do. [delete comment]
I'll never forget the moment I asked forgiveness for an error in communication. It turned a potential future of turbulence into a gentler glide with easier turning points! I'm working on the rest! [delete comment]
Todd Stevens
May 25, 2011
My issue with this definition of "feed my sheep" is that none of Jesus's sermons (or Peter's or Paul's or any of the others in the New Testament) fit this definition. Since Jesus is the one who said "feed my sheep", perhaps we should look to the model of how he fed them instead of imposing our own preferences about the best way to preach. [delete comment]
Good stuff, James! Each point is 'spot on' and within the grasp of each man in the pulpit ministry. I especially liked his simple explanation of expositional preaching! [delete comment]

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