Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 4, 1960
NUMBER 13, PAGE 3a,10-11

Feeding The Flock

Thomas F. Shropshire, Edna, Texas

In Acts 20:28 is found the charge given by Paul to the elders of the church in Ephesus. The charge was: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops (overseers A.V.), to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood". Following this charge was a warning which showed the seriousness and importance of the charge just given. The warning was: "I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:29, 30.)

There is not a more solemn charge nor one which is filled with more grave responsibility than the one contained in this passage of scripture. History and experience have emphasized the truth of the warning given. There are those who have, those who do, and those who will, enter in among the church, not sparing it. There are those who have, do, and will arise from among the elders themselves and maliciously destroy the church which cost Christ's blood. These are unscrupulous men who have no regard for the Lord nor for his church. They enter into the flock before they begin to do their destructive work. There is no telling from what quarter in the church they may come. He may be a prominent member of the congregation. He may be one of the elders with wealth, power and influence, A church which is unprepared for one or more of these wolves, is at his mercy and incapable of avoiding injury. And a wolf does not possess the characteristic of mercy.

There is no church which is more unprepared for the destructive work of such men as those against whom the elders were warned, than a church which is untaught. When a church is untaught, they are more likely to rise up against godly elders than they are to rise up against a prominent, influential wolf. Sometimes elders themselves, because they have listened to the song of "peace at any price", would rather allow the wolves and the Iambs to run together while the lambs are being devoured one by one, than to have any disturbance dealing with the situation... Why are brethren heard to lament, "why do some Christians act the way they do"? The reason is these brethren do not know enough about what the scriptures teach to be able to tell the difference between a Christian and a wolf. "By their fruits ye shall know them." (Mt. 7:20).

Feeding The Flock

It should be unnecessary for us to point out that feeding the church does not have reference to physical food. But, lest some are so engrossed in the idea of the church supplying physical food that they have such a concept of this passage, we will make the observation. In the passage under consideration, the admonition is to teach the church. Jesus said, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone (physical food), but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God spiritual food)". (Mt. 4:4.) The elders of the church have the responsibility of seeing to it that the church is taught in all things that pertain to the faith and practice of Christians, both individually and collectively.

The work of elders begins and ends with the oversight and teaching of the congregation in which they are elders, with the exception of sending support to preachers elsewhere and/or sending help to sister congregations who are unable to care for their own needy members. However, many elders have concerned themselves to such an extent with the affairs and funds of other congregations or have delegated their work and funds to elders of other congregations until they have almost, if not entirely, neglected the one responsibility given them by the Holy Spirit. Their interest is in the work and funds of other congregations or in the outcome of the work and funds they have delegated to others.

The primary concern of elders as elders should be centered in the spiritual welfare of the congregation in which they are elders. God has so designed the organization of the church, that when elders in their respective congregations have the proper concern for those over whom the Holy Spirit has given them oversight, everything which God wants to be accomplished will be accomplished. Furthermore, it will be accomplished without a single elder or set of elders concerning themselves with the oversight of one thing outside the sphere in which the Holy Spirit has authorized them to function.

The Flock

The flock is a term used, in Acts 20:28, with reference to the members of the body of Christ which make up one congregational unit. In that particular case, it referred to the church at Ephesus. To feed the flock then, would refer to the instructing of the members of the congregation in a way that they may know everything they need to know in order to function as Christians in harmony with the will of God.

This part of the command is specific. That is, the particular flock the elders are to feed is specified. "All the flock, over which the Holy Ghost bath made you overseers,"; "elders in every church." (Acts 14:23.) These references show that the specific flock to be fed by the elders is the church in which the Holy Spirit has authorized them to be ordained.

The Feeding

This part of the command is general in its application. That is, the method or methods to be used are not specified. The feeding may be done by what is termed "pulpit preaching"; by class teaching; by personal, private teaching; by printed literature; etc. But since the elders are charged with the responsibility of this feeding, they must see to it that it is done in a way to promote the spiritual welfare of the flock.

While elders are responsible for making every provision for feeding the flock, they cannot force any one of the flock to eat. No elder, nor anyone else, can teach anyone who refuses to be taught. Teaching arrangements may be provided and members of the flock may be encouraged, plead with, and warned, but there are many who still refuse to be fed. Many apparently think that the Lord's supper is the only food they need to live spiritually. This shows that their refusal of some of the food has caused them to reach this false conclusion.

The Food

This is without a doubt, the most important phase of feeding the flock. This part of the command is specific in its nature. Just as the diet of a person may be planned by a master dietitian, the spiritual diet of the Christian has been prepared by the Master Spiritual Dietitian, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the anathema of heaven is pronounced against anyone who would change it in the least. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you then that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed". (Gal. 1:8). "Which is not another (gospel); but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." (Gal. 1:7.)

A perverted gospel or a substitute for the gospel is deadly poison to the soul. A God-fearing elder is to be respected and admired. But an elder or elders who would feed the flock, for which they are responsible, a watered-down, perverted and false gospel are low and contemptible beyond description. And here is a word to those of the flock: If you are inclined to "turn up your nose" at the food dispensed by elders who are feeding the flock on the pure gospel, just remember that the food came from the Lord and the elders are only servants doing the feeding.

The spiritual food was designed by the Lord to furnish man with every spiritual need. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (II Tim. 3:16, 17.) This food, when properly digested, will be sufficient to bring one into a perfect state of spiritual being and cause him to function in complete harmony with the will of God.

More and more, people have come to consider things from a mass standpoint. We have mass production, mass movements, mass meetings, etc. We would think of things more from the standpoint of the individual member. In the case of the church, if the individual member of the flock functions in every way as he should, it certainly follows that the flock as a whole will function in every way as it should. Then in turn, if each congregation functions in every way in harmony with the will of God, it follows that the church in its universal sense will be just what God wants it to be.

The diet of the Christian is made up of the things which affect his character and his function in his service of God. His character is molded by being taught the great principles contained in the word of God. Peter said, "in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge self-control; and in your self-control patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness brotherly kindness: and in your brotherly kindness love." (II Pet. 1:5-7.) This form the foundation for the function of a Christian. Peter continued (verse 8). "For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." The food then, would consist of principles to mould the character; commands and examples to control the actions.

Food For Thought

The proper order of the teaching of God's word, as God designed it, is first, food for thought and second, food for action. This is seen in the fact as expressed in the scriptures, that obedience must be from the heart. The facts of the gospel go before the commands. The teaching of the gospel so tenders and mellows the heart, as to prepare the individual for obedience. All of this part of the teaching might well be termed, food for thought.

It Is This Food For Thought Which Forms Within The Christian, The Convictions Which Are So Necessary To Acceptable Service. The Christian Who Has Partaken Of This Food For Thought, Will Not Be One Who Is Selfish And Arrogant Nor One Who Will Disregard God's Word. This Food For Thought, Contained In The Word Of God, Will Cause The Christian To Minimize His Own Opinion And Judgment And To Have A Profound Respect For A "Thus Saith The Lord".

Food For Action

Food for action is contained in the commands and examples of God's word. The Christian, having digested the food for thought, is ready for action as God directs. In this food for action, is found all that is necessary to cause the Christians to function perfectly because it contains the perfect standard.

In this food is contained the commands and examples which are to be carried out in the private life of the Christian. Then there are those things which have to do with the activity of the Christian in connection with the activity of other Christians. In this he receives the teaching to assemble with other Christians for the purpose of prayer, praise, being taught, observing the Lord's supper and giving. In short, this teaching covers the whole field of Christian action.


Peter said, I Pet. 5:1-3, "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." Let us consider the import of some of these words.

The Who Of Oversight

People have become so engrossed in projects and certain endeavors over which elders claim to have oversight and over which oversight has been ASSUMED, that they have lost sight of what the Bible teaches about oversight.

In the first place, the primary teaching on this subject is not WHAT the elders have the oversight of, but WHO the elders have oversight of. The flock is WHO; not WHAT. This not only places the bounds of oversight to those AMONG the elders, but it shows the responsibilities of elders for the members WHO make up the flock among them. As members of the church function in carrying out the duties and obligations imposed upon them by the Lord, who is the head of the church, both INDIVIDUALLY and COLLECTIVELY; they do so under the oversight of the elders among them. According to the first two verses of I Pet 5, the elders are AMONG the flock and the flock is AMONG the elders forming one congregational unit.

The What Of Oversight

The what of oversight is established by what God has imposed upon His children to do, both INDIVIDUALLY and COLLECTIVELY. As to what is to be done individually and what is to be done collectively and the distinction to be made between the two, is established by the nature of the command or example.

That which is to be done collectively becomes the work of the church because the term "church" is a collective term. This work is accomplished by members of the church as they make individual contributions to it. It may be for the support of the preaching of the gospel or the assistance to needy saints in their congregation or elsewhere. The elders have the oversight of the members in regard to these matters in teaching them their duty thereto, and observing their conduct in the performance of it.

Some seem to have the idea that the extent of the oversight of members in regard to their contributions is the oversight of the money and the spending of it AFTER it is contributed. But oversight actually begins before it is contributed because the elders have the oversight of the MEMBER in regard to his contribution as well as other things which the member is taught to perform. Nor does the oversight of the elders cease when the contributions is made, because they have the responsibility to see that what has been contributed is spent for that which is authorized by the scriptures.

There are many things over which elders have oversight, which never were and never will be the work of the church (collective work). This field of oversight is a broad field and it will be impossible for us to cover it in this article. However, we will give an example of it. The scriptures teach the individual to "Provide things honest in the sight of all men." (Rom. 12:17). The elders have the responsibility of teaching the member in regard to this command. Having taught the member, the elders have the oversight of the member as to whether he is governed by this teaching. If, after the member has been taught his duty along this line, he provides something dishonestly, the elders have, not only the right, but the duty to rebuke him for it. They have the oversight of the flock as pertains to what the scriptures teach.

Things Not Under Oversight Of Elders

There are many things which the oversight of elders does not include. One of those things is the spending of money which was not contributed by those among them which is spent for that to which all congregations are equally related. The only spending of money over which elders have oversight is the money contributed by those among them and money sent to them by another church or churches to assist the needy among them.

There are many personal things of the members among them over which the elders do not have oversight. A member's participation or non-participation in recreation and social affairs, as long as these things are not sinful within themselves, is not under the oversight of elders. The secular profession followed by the member, as long as it is a legitimate profession, is not under the oversight of elders. The kind of house the member lives in or the food he eats, etc., unless the member is a needy member and these things are being provided by the church, are not under the oversight of elders. We might make it still clearer by saying that the member is not under the oversight of elders in regard to these things.


The Holy Spirit has made elders responsible for teaching the Christians among them the truth regarding everything which pertains to their salvation or spiritual welfare. The Holy Spirit has made elders responsible for exercising the oversight over Christians among them in regard to their practice of everything which pertains to their salvation. Elders are not responsible for teaching Christians among them, or anywhere else in secular matters nor do elders have the oversight of Christians among them, or anywhere else, in regard to secular matters, as long as none of these things are sinful within themselves.