While Jesus is the sole owner and chief Shepherd of his flock, he chooses to lead through his people. We see the first example of this in John 21 when Peter was called by Jesus to feed and care for his sheep. This exhortation continues to this day.
I have been attending church since I was a little boy, but Mars Hill was the first place where I heard Jesus referred to as the senior pastor. Admittedly, when I first heard the sentence “Jesus is our senior pastor,” I thought to myself, What does that even look like? Is there an open office at the end of the hall? Is there an open seat at the head of the conference room table? But the more I’ve learned about what it meant to be a pastor, both functionally and characteristically, the more I’ve come to understand what it means when we refer to Jesus as our senior pastor.
A Word Study
As I began to look at what it meant to be a pastor, it became clear in Scripture that the word “pastor” had meanings that described one who leads to pasture or graze, and also, to tend, keep, feed, or guard. From that, it’s pretty easy to see how the term pastor can be used synonymously with the word “shepherd.” In doing so, we’re able to see clear examples and more vivid descriptions of what it means to be a pastor or shepherd. For example, in John 10, we see Jesus describing himself as the good shepherd, and then further on in the book of John, we see Jesus exhorting Peter to shepherd, or pastor his flock.
“[Jesus] 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.’”
The Chief Shepherd
There are a couple of important distinctions about the chief Shepherd, Jesus, as compared to under-shepherds. First and foremost, the flock is under the sole ownership of the chief Shepherd. Secondly, the chief Shepherd knows the flock better than anyone else. According to John 10:14 this is certainly the case with Jesus and his people. Not only did he create us, but he also knows us far greater than anyone ever could—even ourselves.
Feed My Sheep
While Jesus is the sole owner and chief Shepherd of his flock, he chooses to lead through his people. We see the first example of this in John 21 when Peter was called by Jesus to feed and care for his sheep. This exhortation continues to this day. Jesus calls pastors as subordinate or under-shepherds to care for, protect, and provide spiritual nourishment to his sheep.
The Character of a Shepherd
While Jesus paints a pretty vivid picture of himself in John 10, he is also laying the foundation of the qualifications for pastors and elders by describing the heart and character of a shepherd. We also see more regarding the qualifications and characteristics of shepherds or pastors in both Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 as well as 1 Peter 5. We are called to do all the things that a shepherd would do while watching over a flock, but we clearly need to look to Jesus to give us instruction and guidance on how do that because as the chief Shepherd, only he truly knows the needs of his sheep.
How Jesus continues to call his people to tend and care for his flock through his people:
Jesus uses people to train his flock to hear his voice and acknowledge that he is the one true Shepherd and we are his sheep. By revealing his truth through the Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit, he gives us the opportunity to see, know, and to love him. He uses pastors to act as a voice to continually remind each other of these truths.
Jesus uses pastors to guard the flock against wolves and false teaching. In John 10, Jesus clearly tells us that wolves will come in and try to scatter and destroy his people, so as pastors we are called to guard and keep watch over the flock.
Jesus leads his people by using some people as examples to the rest of the flock. God often times demonstrates his love and care for us through his people. Much of what is defined in the qualifications for elders or pastors in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 is character-based—not that we should try to be all of those things, but that through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, those things will be evident.
Jesus works through leaders he has chosen to shepherd his flock. In the same way that you would see a shepherd watching over a flock to steer them away from danger as well as lead them to pastures to graze, Jesus entrusts leaders within his church to lead, protect, and provide nourishment to his sheep.
We’re All Sheep
Even as pastors and shepherds, we are still sheep. Left to our own devices, we are going to run headlong into our destruction without the leadings and instruction of Jesus, the good Shepherd. We still have an absolute dependance on Jesus to tell us what his flock needs whether it be through his teachings in the Bible or the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Even so, Jesus leads his flock by use of under shepherds, sheep who are chosen by him to lead as an example to the flock, to proclaim his truth, as well as guard the rest of the flock from wolves.
To What End?
The most important thing to consider is that church leadership is not there to simply populate an org chart, but comprises men called by God to be on his mission in redeeming the lost, caring for the flock, and guiding and directing the rest of the flock to follow Jesus in his plan of restoration. We can also rest assured knowing that the proverbial buck does not stop with any one man—except Jesus. He builds his church, he calls his flock, he cares for his flock, he leads his flock and ultimately he gathers his flock to be with him for eternity. Jesus leads in and through his people as our senior pastor for our good and for his glory.