Sheep will let you lead them if you first love and feed them.
This lesson is crucial for task-oriented pastors like me. This was Peter’s blind spot, which is why his post-resurrection restoration was such a pivotal moment in his life and ministry.
In Jesus’ third and last interaction with His disciples after the resurrection, they grilled out for breakfast. Then Jesus took Peter on a life-changing walk on the beach.
Jesus asked Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Feed My lambs,” He told him.
A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.” “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said. (John 21:15-17)
Peter was like most action-biased leaders I know. Charge!
Jesus leveraged Peter’s failure not only to restore him, but to also reset his ministry trajectory with these two simple directives.
“Feed my lambs”
Hungry sheep are never happy sheep, so make sure their souls are full from your preaching or teaching.
Soon after his restoration, Peter and his comrades would face the challenge of prioritizing their prayer and preaching ministry (Acts 6:4 ). Immediate ministry demands distracted them from their preparations which led to the spiritual and numerical stagnation of Christianity’s first church in Jerusalem.
The most effective way to prioritize preaching is to start preparing your sermons early in the week. Be consistent with this. Unless you are preaching on Sunday nights, this ideally could begin on Sunday afternoon (after your nap). If you balk at studying on the sabbath, you should relax and enjoy the sabbath on another day that you are not working.
“Shepherd my sheep”
Pastor, your people are longing to be genuinely loved by you.
Yes, even those annoying members who are resisting all of your initiatives. Most church conflict is the result of slow relational erosion, rather than any one issue.
As I said above, your sheep will let you lead them if you first love and feed them. This morning I read this love letter Paul wrote to a local church he planted:
We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
That doesn’t sound very professional, does it? Almost sappy in fact. It took a while to learn that my sheep needed me to be personal more than they needed me to be professional.
I believe gradual relationship erosion sneaks up on a lot of pastors. They are genuinely surprised when their sheep dig in their hooves in response to their vision and initiatives. Perhaps they are not so much opposed to advancing the gospel as they are opposed being pushed or shoved.
If you try to lead or feed them without loving them first, you may get bit, or worse, ignored. As Peter learned on the beach that morning, loving your sheep first is a much better pastoral plan.