Shepherd like Jesus: Encouragement​ for Pastors and Leaders

Jesus is the Perfect Shepherd

Jesus perfectly fulfilled the promise of God from the Old Testament to provide a messianic shepherd to lead His people (Jer. 23:3-4; Ezek. 34:23-24). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus set out in His ministry to train shepherds for His church that arise following His ascension. He did this by example and through his teaching—even having the disciples practice under His direction (Matt. 10).

Jesus Chooses Key Leaders 

After His resurrection, He would need to leave someone in charge to serve as shepherd to the new church He was about to launch. Jesus chose Peter. The same brash Peter who said he’d never leave and then denied Him the morning of His resurrection. Peter who had seemingly chosen to go back to his old profession of fishing after things settled down in days following the resurrection.

In John 21, Jesus singled out Peter with an opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus three times–the same number of times he had previously denied him. Peter’s affirmation of love preceded a single command expressed three different ways: “feed my lambs,” “shepherd my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.” Jesus called Peter to leave behind his boats and nets to become a shepherd—a shepherd of Jesus’ flock. Jesus ended the discussion with a simple command, “Follow Me.”

Key Leaders Obey

Peter obeyed. He followed Jesus away from the shores of Galilee into the role of a shepherd. His life changed forever as the church exploded onto the scene. Peter served in the key role as the lead pastor for the early church. He led the church in the selection of a new disciple (Acts 1:13-15). Peter stood and proclaimed the Gospel following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). He took the lead when serving with John as they faced imprisonment (Acts 3 and 4).

Peter was on the place of authority as the Holy Spirit poured out discipline on Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5). He represented all the apostles when he proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than people (Acts 5:29).” Peter led in receiving the Samaritans into the church (Acts 8:14). He dealt with Simon’s misunderstanding in Acts 8:20. The Lord used Peter to reach out to the Gentiles and encourage their acceptance into the church Acts 10 and 11. Even in Acts 15 when James is functioning as the lead pastor, Peter still had influence during the Jerusalem Council.

Key Leaders Produce Fruit

What Peter saw as he walked with Jesus, he modeled as he led the church. When he seemed bull-headed, he must have been listening and watching. When he failed miserably, broken and humbled by his own sin, Jesus restored Peter to a place of health and leadership. Given a second chance, Peter didn’t disappoint. He followed the example of the Good Shepherd as he obeyed. He led the early church through treacherous waters to see thousands saved and discipled.

The Privilege of Serving

What could be greater than serving the King of Kings? Pastors are not expected to be perfect. They are expected to follow Jesus. Walk with Him and point others to Him. Jesus has given all of us a second chance at life through His death and resurrection. Some of us have been called to follow Him as shepherds of His sheep. That is an incredible privilege and a great responsibility.  

7 Principals to Lead Like Jesus

Peter served the early church as its first pastor. He had followed Jesus, failed Jesus, and been restored by Jesus. When Peter penned his first epistle to the church, Peter gave instructions to his fellow elders that speaks to pastors in every generation. For Peter, these seven principles came out of his training from Jesus and his experience as a pastor in the early church. For us, they are preserved in God’s Word in 1 Peter 5:1-5.

I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. 1 Pet. 5:1-5 CSB

1. Embrace Stewardship – (God’s flock)

First and foremost, the flock belongs to God. Every individual sheep is precious to Jesus who died for them. God has given the pastor the profound privilege of serving as His steward of His precious sheep. The Lord expects His undershepherds to love and care for His flock as He does. When a pastor understands this incredible privilege, he will also understand the incredible responsibility that is on his shoulders.

2. Live in Proximity – (those among you)

Second, a pastor must live among the sheep. Jesus is the greatest example as He came in the flesh to live among us. Pastors are called to live among their people in order to serve and lead them. A pastor can preach from the pulpit, but he cannot be a shepherd unless he is with his people.

3. Exercise Oversight – (overseeing)

Third, the pastor must accept the responsibility to watch over the flock. This will require his diligent attention and sometimes administrative skills. Pastors are called to care for the church as administrators, visionaries, and leaders. Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.”

4. Maintain Enthusiasm – (willingly)

Fourth, Peter commands pastors to serve their sheep willingly. Peter’s to obedience Jesus’ call to “shepherd His sheep” was grounded in the truth that Peter loved Jesus. A pastor’s greatest motivation for faithfully shepherding God’s flock should be his love for his Master. When the pastor loves the Lord, an enthusiastic love for the Lord’s flock will closely follow.

5. Practice Generosity – (not from greed)

Fifth, a pastor should serve with a heart of generosity and not greed. Any man who serves the Lord’s flock “out of greed for money” is not a shepherd, but a hireling (John 10:11-13). A true shepherd surrendered to the call of God will sacrificially serve God’s flock. Paul warned against the false teachers who would serve for monetary gain (1 Tim. 6:1-10). 

6. Walk in Humility – (not lording it over them)

Sixth, Peter called pastors to serve with humility. Peter demanded that pastors lead with a servant’s heart “not lording it over those entrusted to you.” When a shepherd and his church are rightly serving the Lord, there will be no need for politics or power plays. Pastors will accomplish much more by serving their church with a gentle spirit than by demanding submission.

7. Be Exemplary – (being an example)

Seventh, pastors are called to be an example to their sheep. Peter found his example in the sufferings of Christ that he personally witnessed (1 Pet. 5:1). As a shepherd living among his sheep, the pastor must lead by example. The sheep will learn to follow their shepherd. When he serves, they will learn to serve. When he evangelizes, the sheep will evangelize. If the pastor expects the sheep to live a Christ-honoring life, he must do so in before their eyes.

God’s Eternal Reward

After admonishing his fellow elders, Peter encouraged them with a promise. “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4).” Whatever the pastor may give up on this earth as he submits in service to the Lord’s flock, he will regain in endless reward from the chief Shepherd. Peter begins his next paragraph with a reminder in verse six to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time.”

Dr. Dennis Hester

Dennis Hester has over 30 years of full-time pastoral experience, serving in two churches. He was the pastor of FBC in May, Texas for 13 years. He is currently the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Watauga, a growing church located in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Dennis earned a BA in Practical Theology from Howard Payne University and a MA in Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He recently completed a Ph.D. dissertation on the subject of "pastors as church members." Dennis is married to Susan. They have been married since 1987 serving in ministry together and have four daughters. Dennis is an avid bow hunter and enjoys being outdoors. He and his family have camped throughout the US and Canada.