ArticlesHalf-hearted Shepherds and Hungry Sheep

Half-hearted Shepherds and Hungry Sheep

By Silas Ingram, Youth Minister at FBC Cisco 

Dwarfed by the magnitude of Mount Sinai and the heroics of Moses, the Israelites were given a set of rules by which they should be governed. Interestingly, one of these rules stated that if anyone were to steal another person’s sheep and kill it, then that person would owe four sheep in return. It was egregious for an Israelite to mistreat any livestock, as is evident in the story of Balaam’s donkey, but it was especially egregious to mistreat someone else’s livestock.[1] Unfortunately, the evangelical pulpit is full of pastors who have neglected, deceived, and starved Christ’s sheep. The church is full of hungry sheep, and it does not need any more half-hearted shepherds. Fortunately, Jesus Himself gives us four aspects of a biblical, Christlike shepherd. This is recorded in His conversation with Peter in John 21:15-19.

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”[2]

The Shepherd’s Delight
We find the first aspect of a biblical shepherd in Jesus’s relentless interrogation of Peter’s affections. Three times in the text, He asks, “Do you love me?” Jesus is suggesting that before the charge can be given to take care of His sheep, Peter’s greatest delight must first be in Christ. Such a question ought to be engraved on the inside of every pastor’s eyelids. However, it is instead often ignored. Far too many step behind the pulpit while finding their delight in anything but Christ. If a pastor finds his affections stirred more so by a sport, a television series, or even his ministry, then he has failed to embody the first aspect of a biblical shepherd. Those whose hearts are truly overflowing with a love for their Lord must have His gospel also overflowing from their lips. The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, says, “If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.”[3] When a pastor’s delight is in Christ, he shouldn’t be able to help but shout his glorious name in each sermon. He should feel compelled to preach in such a way that is similar to guiding his congregants to a chair set before the cross, strapping them down to it, and pleading with them to behold his beloved.
The pastor’s great passion should not be reserved for Sunday mornings, his fervor for the Lord is not limited to the pulpit, and Christ’s light should not only shine on him through stained glass. Notice that before Peter shares breakfast with Jesus he was willing to abandon the haul he had labored so persistently over and swim about a hundred yards just to be with Jesus. Beginning in verse 7, it says, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.”[4] Pastor, is your delight for Christ this great? Do you love him more than these? In the midst of the chaos and calamity we call life, the other six days of the week, is your delight in Christ so great that you leap at the opportunity to spend time with Him? If the goal is to be a biblical shepherd, it ought to be.

The Shepherd’s Duty
The next aspect of a biblical shepherd is found in Jesus’s equally repetitive charge. He instructs Peter, planted firmly on the foundation set by the examination of his allegiance, to feed His sheep. What are shepherds supposed to feed Christ’s sheep? Scripture. This is the duty of a biblical shepherd When tempted by Satan in the wilderness Jesus says this. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”[5] If the creator and sustainer of all things who wrapped Himself in flesh said that He depended on the sustenance of God’s word, then how much more do His followers? Unfortunately, many pastors have literally and figuratively abused God’s word for the sake of entertaining the sheep rather than feeding them. In February 2024, teaching pastor of Crossroads Church, Allie Patterson, punted a bible off the stage to the audience’s rejoice during a service on Superbowl Sunday.[6] In the same month, pastor of Transformation Church, Mike Todd, drenched a bible with syrup and whipped cream. When the congregation started groaning over the blasphemy, Mike Todd said, “Y’all stop acting like you care about this.”[7] Heartbreakingly, the sheep in these congregations, the true followers of Christ, probably don’t even know how starved they are for God’s word. While their stomachs growl for spiritual truth, Christ’s churns with righteous indignation. After all, those sheep belong to the great “I Am,” and it is egregious to mistreat another person’s sheep.
Pastors must be willing to stand on God’s word even when it is unpopular. Pastors must be careful to remember whose sheep for whom they are caring. To call oneself a pastor is to wield the staff of the Good Shepherd. In counseling sessions, he must caress the wounded sheep with the tender arms of Christ. Behind the pulpit, he is extending the open palm, which is heavy with the inspired message of life and death, to hungry sheep just as Christ would. Many pastors have opted to dawn the wig and makeup of a clown rather than the robe of a shepherd. Doctrine has been ignored in much of modern evangelicalism, and sheep are not being fed. Like an old-fashioned coat, hard teachings and harsh rebukes have been hung up in a closet in exchange for more faddish attire, which Paul calls “ear-itching”. However, both are essential to biblical shepherding.

The Shepherd’s Deservedness
In the last conversation between the two, Peter swears that he would never waver in his allegiance to Christ. Peter insists that even if he stood alone or in the face of death, he would stand firm nonetheless on his devotion to his Lord. As Jesus predicted, Peter would instead deny his Lord three times.[8] It should seem significant then that Jesus interrogates and exhorts Peter three times in John’s gospel. The thrice-parroted exchange serves as a reminder of Peter’s guilt. Peter’s hurt after the third question was contrition. At one time, Peter certainly viewed himself as the most dedicated, decided, and deserving of all the disciples. Meanwhile, Jesus showed Peter through the repetition that his ministry is not at all given on the basis of Peter’s merit, but instead on the basis of Christ’s mercy.
Let Christ’s probing words to Peter stand as a reminder. Pastor, be careful not to think yourself worthy of the title of shepherd. Seminary accreditation, extensive ministry experience, eloquent oratory, and meticulously formed theology are all wholly inadequate to justify your presence behind a pulpit. There are obviously qualifications of such a man found in the pastoral epistles, but no characteristic is qualifying apart from mercy. No pastor has ever deserved his ministry, and therefore he must sing of Christ’s mercy the loudest. Just as the pastor who does not feed the sheep neglects doctrine, the pastor who thinks himself deserving neglects the gorgeous pardon offered through Christ’s blood. With as much simplicity as sincerity, Nikolas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf used to offer this advice to his missionaries, “Preach the gospel. Die. Be forgotten.” The sentiment is relevant to all who plants themselves behind the pulpit.[9] The gospel is breathtaking, so let it take your breath as you preach until you breathe your last. You deserve it as much as you deserve your ministry, not at all.

Conclusion
So long as the office continues to be defined apart from God’s word and Christ’s example, the church does not need more pastors, it needs less. It does not need entertainers, coddlers, or innovative visionaries. It needs shepherds who delight in Christ above all else, who fulfill the duty set before them, and who understand their lack of deservedness as well as anyone. Far too many pews are aimed at illegitimate hired hands rather than men who are desperate to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. After an honest examination, many shepherds can be described as halfhearted, if not hostile towards their responsibilities, and many stand in front of hungry sheep each week with little to no intention of feeding them. All who are in ministry should take Peter’s conversation with Jesus as a guideline for biblical shepherding and seek to conform to the principles revealed in it. All who are not willing to do so should not dare assume the title of shepherd. The church is full of hungry sheep, and it does not need any more half-hearted shepherds.

 

[1] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Exodus 22:1

[2] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. John 21:15-19

[3] Justin Taylor, “Preach Christ or Go Home—And Other Spurgeon Quotes on Christless Preaching,” The Gospel Coalition, August 4, 2010, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/preach-christ-or-go-home-and-other-classic-spurgeon-quotes-on-christless-preaching/.

[4] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. John 21:7

[5] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Matthew 4:4

[6] Ian M. Giatti and Christian Post Reporter, “Ohio Megachurch Pastor Kicks Bible off Stage during Super Bowl Sunday Service,” February 13, 2024, https://www.christianpost.com/news/ohio-megachurch-kicks-bible-off-stage-during-super-bowl-sunday-se.html.

[7] Jessica Lea, “Pastor Michael Todd Pours Syrup, Whipped Cream on a Bible in Sermon Illustration,” ChurchLeaders (blog), February 2, 2024, https://churchleaders.com/news/467988-pastor-michael-todd-syrup-whipped-cream-bible-sermon.html.

[8] Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. John 13:31-38.

[9] Rev James E. Laurence, “Preach the Gospel, Die, and Be Forgotten,” My Pastoral Ponderings (blog), July 1, 2022, https://mypastoralponderings.com/2022/07/01/preach-the-gospel-die-and-be-forgotten/.

 

 

*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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