The whole of the ministry of the pastor is to press God's people to maturity.
When Jesus pulled Peter from the rubble of his threefold denial and thrust him back into kingdom service, he three times commanded him to feed his sheep (John 21:15-17).
In Jesus' restoration of Peter, we see something of the men God uses, as well as the use God makes of them. Having sinned grossly and wept bitterly, Peter was restored to the work of God. This display of compassion holds out hope to all kinds of grievous failures. From pulpit to pew, hope for future usefulness is offered to the repentant. But forgiveness is a call to service, and for the pastor, that service always requires the feeding of Christ's sheep. God is pleased to mend the broken and then employ them in his service.
Love of God always cohabits with the will to serve. God's work of restoration makes men both fit to serve and willing to serve. Jesus might have asked Peter whether he was repentant, grieved, or ready to get back to work, but it was enough to summarize the whole of Peter's return with this question of love. The question " Do you love me? " required Peter to ask himself whether he had turned away from the idolatry of self-love and self-preservation. He was probed to the marrow of his soul as to whether he loved his Savior with all of his heart, soul, strength, and mind. A humbler Peter affirmed his love and received his commission to feed Christ's sheep.
Having been graced into being usable, Peter then was pressed into usefulness. Peter was to teach, train, and guide God's people. Simply put, he was to take care of them. He interprets and passes on this charge in 1 Peter 5, where he exhorts other elders to shepherd God's flock, serving as overseers, selflessly leading as examples.
Paul's similar exhortation to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:28) to shepherd the church of God is accompanied by the testimony of his own preaching of the whole counsel of God and his warning that savage wolves will come to draw disciples after themselves. To prevent any such defections, lambs must be fed. The Word must be preached in and out of season, that the people of God should be admonished, corrected, reproved, and instructed (2 Timothy 3:1-17-2 Timothy 4:1-2).
The role of those called to shepherd is to equip the saints toward maturity, that they might not be carried off by every new trick and gimmick of the enemy. The mantle Peter has passed to all the faithful elders who have followed is the calling to teach and lead God's sheep. The pastor is called by Christ to press the lambs of God to an appetite for good theology, to aid the sheep with the tough questions of the faith, and to provide such ministerial direction and discipline as the Scriptures require. This is what pastors do when they love Jesus. The whole of the ministry of the pastor is to press God's people to maturity.
Shepherds who love Jesus will feed the sheep. Sheep who know Jesus will seek and follow the faithful preaching of God's Word. Anything less is less than love and a dinner invitation to the wolves.
Adapted from Steven G. Simmons, " Do You Love Me? " Tabletalk (March 2002) pp. 52-53, used with permission
Steven G. Simmons is pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Portage, Michigan.