A pastor I once greatly respected and admired was often heard telling ministry workers that the key to faithful service was to "just teach the Word".  He believed that pastors and church planters need only focus on teaching the Word of God to God's people. It didn't seem correct to me the first time that I heard it, and over the years it made even less sense to the point where I rejected that bumper sticker quote as being so reductionist as to be dangerous.

In the 21st chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves Him. In response to each of Peter's affirmative declarations, Jesus replied with: "feed My lambs" (John 21:15), "tend My sheep" (John 21:16), and "feed my Sheep" (John 21:17). I believe that these three responses by Jesus outline the responsibilities of a shepherd.

"feed My lambs".  The metaphor of "sheep" and "food" certainly do reference the teaching of God's Word. The lambs, the young sheep, the young in the faith need to be fed the milk of the Word. It must be presented in a way that can be received and applied by those who are new believers. This requires a deliberate plan to provide that level of teaching as well as a pastor who is in touch with the flock to know who needs the milk of the Word.

"tend My sheep". This is different than feeding. It involves all aspects of caring for the flock. Protecting, providing for, treating wounds, gathering, releasing, and loving, are just some of the responsibilities. Again, a pastor/shepherd needs to know the flock and be connected with it to properly tend to His sheep.

"feed My sheep". This is another reference to teaching the Word, but the target of this type of teaching are the mature believers. They need the meat of the Word, the more difficult and challenging truths of Scripture to help them to grow even more mature in their faith.  A pastor needs to know who in the flock are the more mature believers and provide ways to feed them the more advanced theological truths of Scripture.

"Just teach the Word" ignores the Lord's command to His shepherds to "tend My sheep". It also ignores the need for different type of food for different members of the flock. An attempt at a one-size-fits-all meal ends up not being optimal for the young nor mature in the faith.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." - 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

Apostle Paul through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit wrote that speaking truth must be accompanied by love. "Just teach the Word" doesn't acknowledge the need for love. A "just teach the Word" philosophy of pastoring doesn't produce a shepherd, it produces a public speaker.

On a variety of occasions I've had the opportunity to coach church planters. One planter in particular had taken "just teach the Word" to heart to the point where his primary focus was to teach a Sunday message. The church launched small. It remained small. Some people would visit a Sunday service but not return. Some of them would stay but others who had been there a while, left. The net result was a number that essentially remained unchanged.

Some in leadership asked why I thought that the church wasn't growing numerically. They found it puzzling since the church planter "teaches the Word". In response, I would read John Ch.21 to them and ask them for the evidence that the planter was tending the Lord's sheep and that he is feeding BOTH lambs and sheep. Of course there may be other factors involved, but if these basic aspects of shepherding are not being done then it is a contributing factor.

Those of us who are called to be pastors, to be shepherds of the Lord's flock, need to love the Lord and His people above all things. A genuine, sincere, and observable love. Teaching the Word is essential but not the only thing a shepherd is called to do.

It is when a pastor is in and among God's people, in the trenches of the Christian walk, demonstrating love, care, and concern that the teaching of God's Word has the greatest penetration into the hearts and minds of the hearer.

"Just teach the Word" makes a great bumper sticker... that raises bumper sticker pastors who equip bumper sticker Christians.