“Feed My Little Sheep”
IN A Christian congregation the one who exercises authority as overseer has the responsibility like that of a shepherd. What Jesus said to Peter applies to all such overseers: “Feed my little sheep.” (John 21:17) This means that an overseer must see to it that the congregation is fed spiritually, that it worships the Creator in a Scriptural manner and that it follows a course that brings divine approval.
The sheep do not belong to the overseer. He is merely a caretaker of the flock. As such he is obligated to give the sheep loving care, doing his utmost to build up the flock’s faith and love for its heavenly owners.
But what is a congregation to do when its spiritual shepherd is not only confused and uncertain about his beliefs, but fails to teach Scriptural truths and may even lack faith? Among the religious congregations of Christendom this is not an uncommon problem. For example, the congregation of the All Souls’ Church in Washington, D.C., was confronted one Sunday with an expression from their pastor that showed him to be without Christian faith. The Washington Post and Times Herald reported him as saying that he had “rethought his position, and his ‘personal beliefs’ now ‘exclude the possibility of my being a Christian.’” The paper went on to state: “Mr. Stutzman’s reasons for breaking with Christianity were that he disagreed with some of Jesus’ teachings and no longer wished to emulate his life.” It also said: “In renouncing Christianity, Mr. Stutzman joined a movement in Unitarianism now particularly popular among [its] ministers.”
How can an overseer who has lost faith fulfill the Scriptural obligations of a spiritual shepherd? How can he build up faith in others when he lacks it himself? How can he lead them in the way of true worship of God and in the course of obedience to the supreme Sovereign? How can he give spiritual help to the congregation at this time when it is so badly needed?
We might ask the same questions about seminary students who are studying for the ministry. Many of them are uncertain about what to believe. Regarding them the New York Times stated, in an article that appeared in its Magazine section on November 30, 1958, that seminary students are “skeptical but hope to find belief through experience and a sense of purpose through service. . . . They are—paradoxically—somewhat skeptical of a call by God and the strength of their own Christian beliefs.” The article quotes one student as saying: “‘I am not really a Christian, for I really cannot commit myself to the Christian faith’ is the thought that runs through my mind. Can I desire to understand the Christian faith when I doubt whether I can commit myself to it?”
Such uncertainty did not exist among the Christians of the first century. They did not seek belief from experience but from a study of the Scriptures. No one in such a weak spiritual condition would have been given the responsible position as overseer in a Christian congregation. Yet such are the ones congregations in religious Christendom are receiving as spiritual shepherds.
From the Scriptural viewpoint it is difficult to see how skeptical and uncertain theological students, who lack strength for Christian beliefs, can be considered as good and able candidates for being spiritual shepherds. Henry P. Van Dusen, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, stated: “Many of them seem without joy, and I wonder if they really know what it means to be happy. . . . Yet taken together, they are the ablest, finest, most deeply earnest and most consecrated generation of candidates for the Christian ministry any of us has known.”
Happiness is inseparably connected with the Christian ministry. There is happiness in gaining a knowledge of God’s purposes and there is happiness in feeding the sheep by giving that knowledge out to others. In fact, gospel means good news, good news of God’s kingdom and its King. Is not good news a reason for happiness? Should it not bring joy to a person’s heart to learn that God’s kingdom is going to destroy the wicked forces that now rule earth and usher in a righteous new world of peace and life? Should not such news uplift a person and give him hope for the future, especially when he learns that this generation will live to see the change?
Why, then, should seminary students appear to be without joy? Why should any feel as some said they did—“shattered almost to the bottom,” “completely apart,” or “beat to my socks”? How can anyone feeling like that fulfill Jesus’ command to “feed my little lambs”?
But what is a congregation to do when its overseer is spiritually famished and unable to build up their faith? There is only one thing they can do and that is to look elsewhere for spiritual leadership and instruction. Thousands of persons who were affiliated with Judaism in the first century turned from the spiritual husks given them by their religious leaders to the life-giving words of Scriptural truth spoken by Christ’s followers. They found in the Christian organization shepherds who were truly feeding the flock of God.
As it was in the first century so it is today. Multitudes of spiritually famished people are turning to the New World society of Jehovah’s modern-day witnesses. By means of Bible-study aids and free home Bible studies Jehovah’s witnesses build up their faith, strengthen their Christian beliefs, clarify their view of the future and enlarge their understanding of how to serve God and their fellow man. They realize the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement: “Happy are those who are conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled.”—Matt. 5:3, 6.
It is in the New World society that a person experiences the uplift and happiness that comes when spiritual hunger is satisfied. He has hope, spiritual contentment and a desire to serve God, because the spiritual shepherds of the New World society obey Jesus’ command to “feed my little sheep.”