Shepherds Feed the Sheep

Shepherds Feed the Sheep

Written by Jared C. Wilson |
Friday, February 17, 2023

If you simply want to build something for Jesus, go sell cars or insurance or real estate. Start a non-profit. We don’t need any more salesmen in the pulpit.We need tenders of the sheep. We need shepherds up to their elbows in Christ’s little lambs. Pastor, if you don’t get to the end of your week without at least a little wool on your jacket, you might not be a shepherd.

After his resurrection, before his ascension, Jesus has this moment with one of his chief traitors, one that is as tender as it is powerful:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)

This, then, serves as the great pastoral commission. And it centers not on building a large ministry or casting a large vision. The central pastoral commission centers on this mandate: Shepherds are to feed the sheep.

In the center of Peter’s restoration here is embedded not just a reality of identity but a reality of vocation. What I mean is, Jesus isn’t just reaffirming Peter’s right standing with himself; he is restoring Peter’s pastoral office. He’s giving him something to do, and it is the fundamental, essential, irreducible task of the shepherd—feed Christ’s sheep.

Three times he commands him to care for the flock:

v.15 He said to him, “Feed my lambs.
v.16 He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
v.17 Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

If I may speak briefly to one issue I believe central to the more recent debate about the sufficiency and reliability of the Bible in worship gatherings and in evangelism and apologetic conversations with unbelievers. I think if we trace back some of these applicational missteps to the core philosophy driving them, we find in the attractional church, for instance, a few misunderstandings. The whole enterprise has begun with a wrong idea of what—biblically speaking—the worship gathering is, and even what the church is.

In some of these churches where it is difficult to find the Scriptures preached clearly and faithfully as if it is reliable and authoritative and transformative as the very word of God, we find that things have effectively been turned upside down. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul uses the word “outsider” to describe unbelievers who are present in the worship gathering. He is making the case for our worship services to be intelligible, hospitable, and mindful of the unbelievers present, but his very use of the word “outsider” tells us that the Lord’s Day worship gathering is not meant to be primarily focused on the unbelieving visitor but on the believing saints gathered to exalt their king. In the attractional church paradigm, this biblical understanding of the worship gathering is turned upside down – and consequently mission and evangelism are actually inverted, because Christ’s command to the church to “Go and tell” has been replaced by “Come and see.”

Many of these churches – philosophically – operate more like parachurches. And the result is this: it is the sheep, the very lambs of God, who basically become the outsiders.

And so you will have leading practitioners of these churches saying things to believers like, “Church isn’t for you.”

For example, Steven Furtick, leader of attractional megachurch Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a series called “Confessions of a Pastor” says this:

If you know Jesus–I am sorry to break it to you–but this church is not for you.
“Yeah, but I just gave my life to Christ last week at Elevation.”
Last week was the last week that Elevation Church existed for you . . . Let me get a phone book; there are 720 churches in Charlotte. I’m sure we can find you one where you can stuff your face until you’re so obese spiritually that you can’t even move.

In response to the criticism that his teaching isn’t deep enough, Perry Noble, former leader of Newspring Church in South Carolina, once said this:

I’ve heard it…You have too…Christians saying, “I just want to be fed!” It blows my mind!

Read More

Scroll to top