Shepherding with Sense and Sensibility

Most of us have been trained in seminary to pastor with good sense. As pastors, we’re called to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Sound doctrinal preaching and teaching is a mark of faithful biblical ministry (Titus 2:1). In other words, we labor to present the truth of God with clarity and soundness. But we cannot leave it at that.

While we’re called to pastor with sense, we should also pastor our people with sensibility. The more I spend time with people in the church, the more I agree with James K. A. Smith: people are as deeply moved emotionally as they are intellectually (see Desiring The Kingdom). Therefore, we need to lead the affective or emotional disposition of our people if we want to holistically shape them. I’m not advocating for emotional manipulation, but a more thorough spiritual formation.  

Lead By Disposition

There’s a real sense in which we pass on our emotional disposition to others as we lead them. Pastors, do you intentionally evoke and shape the emotions of the people you lead in response to God? As Peter Leithart has argued, when we pour our excited souls out to others, our enthusiasm often dwells in them. This is the dispositional aspect of pastoral leadership, and it has specific implications for how you lead on Sunday morning.

Here are four suggestions for how to rightly shape Sunday morning. 

Shaping Sunday Morning

First, as you plan your worship services, allow for different ranges of emotion in the songs you choose. A worship service intentionally patterned for times of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and assurance allows for a wider range of emotional response and a more well-rounded experience. The Christian life is all-inclusive, with times of both exuberant joy and troubled reflection. We should not only allow for this comprehensive range of emotions, but also appropriately shepherd people through them.

Second, as you call people to worship with a biblical passage at the beginning of the service, realize that they enter into worship in different emotions and states of mind. Regardless of their unstable disposition, we should call them to fix their eyes on the sovereign and stable God of the universe. There’s a real sense in which, regardless of the world they left behind, the worship time should be set apart as an otherworldly encounter. When you summon people to worship, intentionally and eagerly shepherd them before the Almighty’s throne.

Third, as you preach, preach with your whole person. Sermon preparation goes beyond clarifying your thoughts. As your sermon begins to take shape, so should your emotions in response to the passage that will be preached. Of course, manufactured passionate and emotional preaching can be abused (2 Cor. 4:2). But if you haven’t been moved by the glorious truths of God’s Word, you haven’t yet understood it or applied it to your own soul. In response to God’s Word, allow your disposition to adorn your exposition (Acts 20:19). As Charles Spurgeon once said, we are “not only to instruct our hearer, and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it.”

Last, when you pray, do so as one standing in the presence of a holy and loving God. I once heard someone say of Martin Lloyd-Jones: “When he prayed, you got the sense that he was standing in the very throne room of God.” As with everything else mentioned above, there’s truth in the statement that some things are more easily caught than taught. When you pray, then, pray with reverence and joy, knowing that what you say and how you say it will intuitively teach your people how to interact with the God of the universe.

Shepherd with Sense and Sensibility

How we plan and lead our worship services forms how people approach, interact, and respond to God. No, we should not desire our services to be unhindered emotional spectacles. At the same time, though, we don’t want our services to feel cold and disconnected from the wonder of the God we adore.

If we really believe in the importance of what we’re doing, we will be moved by it; it’s impossible for us not to be. So when it comes to leading people on Sunday, be aware not only of what you’re doing, but also how you’re doing it. Beg the Holy Spirit to move you. Lay your people before God and ask him to use the service to cause them to be awestruck by his glorious grace.

Pastors, shepherd your people with sense and sensibility.

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