‘Feed My Sheep’

My Dear Shepherds,

“Simon son of John, do you love me …?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs. … Take care of my sheep. … Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)

My Bible heads this passage, “Jesus Reinstates Peter.” No small mercy, considering Peter’s three denials while Jesus stood alone facing death. Yet, Jesus not only reinstated Peter there beside the Sea of Galilee; he promoted him … to shepherd.

No kingdom work is closer to Jesus’ heart than the care and feeding of his sheep. After all, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. If you preach on this passage, you need to figure out how it applies to your church. Your point could be, “Every Christian needs a pastor who loves Jesus.” But maybe this passage should be reserved for pastors’ conferences and ministerial meetings because Jesus’ three commands are as directly applicable to us as they were to Peter.

What Jesus did beside the shore for Peter was akin to when he’d gotten on his knees to wash Peter’s feet. This time, Jesus washed the gunk off Peter’s conscience. The first time Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” The second time Jesus scrubbed with his repeated question, “Do you love me?”

Here’s the gift: When Jesus restores us he doesn’t take us back to square one, back to where we were before. Jesus not only forgives our failures, he repurposes them to make us better than we had been. Just ask Peter. Thanks to the grace that reinstates us, we love Jesus more deeply. We are better carriers of grace, better models. We are safer and more sympathetic to our people because of our new-found humility.

Loving Jesus isn’t the only thing that matters in the making of good shepherds, but it is the first thing; the primary necessity. Our love for Jesus, revitalized each time we come to the throne of grace, organically generates all else we need to be good shepherds. To love Jesus is to obey him, and obeying Jesus leads to all the best things pastors can do to nourish their flocks. Loving Jesus unlocks our gifts, opens our minds and hearts, and infuses our words and work with worship. And when we must share in his sufferings, we embrace the honor in it.

A pastor friend wrote me recently, “I’d love to talk about contentment and what it looks like in a church setting where it feels like a constant pressure to grow.” It’s a good idea, but it’s a little off-kilter. By “grow,” he meant the pressure to grow bigger. At our best, most pastors would like our churches to grow to extend the reach of the gospel. Good motive, but I believe the secret to a growing church is not to focus on growing it.

Both healthy church growth and personal contentment hearken back to loving Jesus and obeying his instructions: “Feed my lambs. … Take care of my sheep. … Feed my sheep.” According to Acts, Peter’s shepherding included choosing a successor for Judas, preaching the gospel at every opportunity, disciplining Ananias and Sapphira, healing a lame man and raising a dead woman, and responding to a radical re-envisioning of the gospel’s reach. Shepherding with a capital S.

Peter told us who serve at the local level, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them … eager to serve … being examples to the flock.” We teach our flock as he did to be joyful and holy, to remain strong under pressure, to love each other, and to wait expectantly. Shepherding them because we love Jesus.

Be ye glad!

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