Pastor, To Tend the Sheep You Must Love the Shepherd

This blog was originally written by Tumelo Matsitse and posted on TGC Africa.

As people in ministry, whether full-time or part-time, we are in constant danger of our love and affection for the Chief Shepherd, Jesus, and his sheep, growing cold. A waning love for Jesus the Chief Shepherd and his sheep expresses itself in various ways. For example, when we start to perform our ministry duties for the sake of ticking a box and filling up hours. That is, one of the signs that our love and affection for Jesus is diminishing is when ministry becomes a duty rather than a devotional act of worship.

How can we, by the grace of God, ensure that our love and affection for Jesus and his sheep doesn’t die out? First, we’re called to love the Chief Shepherd, before we can love his sheep. Second, we’re called to love the Chief Shepherd by feeding his sheep. Finally, we’re called to love the Chief Shepherd by embracing his call to suffer for both him and his sheep.

You Won’t Love the Sheep if You Don’t Love the Shepherd

In John 21:15-19, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times. Before we consider ourselves gifted men and women, fit for ministry, we need the Chief Shepherd to probe our hearts and see whether we love him. Jesus didn’t ask Peter if he enjoyed preparing kids’ talks; if he was a famous preacher; or if he had an angelic voice for music ministry. All those things are good to have. But they aren’t the primary qualifications for ministry.

What matters to Jesus is our love for him. In other words, entering ministry shouldn’t begin with our gifts, but with our affections for Jesus. What will be the natural outcome of loving Jesus? Shepherds that love the Shepherd’s sheep. Only, how will we love the Chief Shepherd before we love his sheep?

One way we can do this is by constantly reflecting on the love the Chief Shepherd has for us. Jesus is the good shepherd who voluntarily laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:14-15), including you. Jesus has loved us with great love and calls us his friends (John 13:34; 15:12). As we soak ourselves in the Chief Shepherd’s love for us, we’ll be motivated to love him by feeding his sheep and suffering for them.

“Feed My Sheep”

After asking Peter three times if he loved him, Jesus commanded him to feed and tend to his sheep (John 21:15). Fellow ministry leaders, our love for Jesus is primarily expressed in caring for his sheep. The abuse of Jesus’ sheep by those in ministry displays a lack of love for the Chief Shepherd. That lack of love is exemplified when we fail to feed his sheep the whole counsel of God’s word (Acts 20:27).

Another thing to observe in this text is that Jesus calls those whom we minister to his sheep (John 21:15-17). He calls those in the church “my sheep.” So the people we minister to belong to Jesus. They’re his sheep. Therefore Jesus gets to prescribe their diet. In other words, we must always point the sheep to their Shepherd. For they’re easily distracted in this world, as are we.

Embrace Suffering for Christ and His Sheep

Feeding his sheep, from a place of devotion to the Chief Shepherd, will also mean suffering.

In John 21:18, Jesus paints a picture of an independent Peter who could dress and walk wherever he wanted. A man who had control over his life. However, because he’d been called to love Jesus and to feed the sheep, Peter’s life was no longer his own. Like the old man dressed and carried where he does not want to go, Peter’s life and ministry depended on the Chief Shepherd.

Peter’s call to love the Shepherd and his flock is framed by the reality of suffering (John 21:19). Peter undoubtedly suffered for the Chief Shepherd. Consider Acts 5:41. Peter and some of the apostles “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” Peter embraced the call to suffer for the Chief Shepherd.

His Love Must Sustain Ours

So, how can we love the shepherd and his sheep? Well, before anything else, we must see that our affections for him run over. Only this will sustain suffering for the sheep as you try to feed and tend to them. May God empower us, by his Spirit, to love the Chief Shepherd and his sheep.

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