There is no shortage of models for ministry. If you’re a pastor looking to grow in the ministry, there are so many books, workshops, and conferences available. Many of them are incredibly helpful and informative. But none of them should take the place of Jesus as a pastoral model.
The word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for shepherd, and that’s exactly how Jesus described Himself:
1. Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26)
In the fourth chapter of John, Jesus found Himself in a Samaritan town called Sychar. While He’s resting at a well, a Samaritan woman comes out to draw water, and Jesus engages her in small talk.
Most first-century Jewish men would not be able to see beyond the red flags here. First of all, they went out of their way to avoid Samaria because they considered Samaritans to be amoral, blasphemous “dogs.” Beyond that, it wasn’t appropriate for a man to be chatting up a woman alone-especially one with a shady past.
Jesus looks past these barriers to see a person in need of a Savior. He turns a request for water into an opportunity to discuss eternal life:
“… Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13b, 14).
Even when He brings up her questionable relationships with men, it isn’t to condemn her. Instead, it’s to reveal His prophetic nature and confirm that He’s someone worth listening to. In the end, He reveals to her that He’s the Messiah. And this is something He didn’t share very often.
When Pharisees saw Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors, and the demon-possessed, they saw social ills that needed a remedy. Jesus saw people-and He interacted with them in a way that recognized their intrinsic value. For pastors looking to shepherd people through the complex struggles of modern life, understanding this difference is essential.
2. Peter walking on water (Matthew 14:22-23)
Faith is a muscle that gets stronger as it’s exercised, but that’s a lot easier said than done. To test (and grow) your faith, one needs to be outside of their comfort zone. A wise pastor understands the need to encourage people into situations where they need to trust God. We see Jesus do this with Peter on the Sea of Galilee.
After withdrawing to pray by Himself, Jesus walks out to the disciples who are in the middle of the sea of Galilee. At first, they fear that He’s a spirit, but Jesus assures them that it’s Him. Peter says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Jesus beckons him out.
As anyone familiar with this story will tell you, Peter’s successful for a moment, but as soon as he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the buffeting winds, he begins to sink. But the real story here is that Peter decided to get out of the boat. His walk on the water wasn’t successful, but it wasn’t a failure either.
Comfort is often a barrier to growth. If we want to grow into the fullness of God, we will find ourselves in awkward-and sometimes challenging-situations. Jesus put Peter in a position where his faith could be tested without putting his life at risk-as any wise pastor would do.
3. Jesus’s heart for humanity
There’s an old joke that goes something like this, “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.” Obviously, the ministry is about people. Take the people out of the equation, and you no longer have ministry. At the same time, we’re all broken, and our selfish, contrary natures make ministry a challenge.
No one understood the darkness in the human heart like Jesus, but He was still driven by concern and tenderness toward humanity. Matthew tells us that the crowds around Him emotionally moved Jesus:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:35,36).
So often, Jesus would go into a town and be up until all hours healing everyone (Matthew 15:30, Luke 4:40, 6:19). Jesus poured Himself out everywhere He went because He recognized humanity as feeble and vexed, caught in the middle of a cosmic struggle.
The Greek word Matthew used for “compassion” was splagchnizomai. This word literally means to feel something in your bowels. It signifies those moments when you’re so moved by something that it hits you in the gut. Christ’s compassion wasn’t purely intellectual-He felt it physically.
He turned to the disciples and said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37b, 38). In context, Jesus isn’t just asking for people to do the work of ministry, but for people who are as emotionally invested as He was. The Chief Shepherd is looking for others who feel compassion and mercy in their guts.
Following the Good Shepherd
With so many excellent resources available to pastors, we need to be careful. The heart of our calling and identity comes from what we learn of Jesus. And while there’s so much helpful material to draw from, we need to follow Jesus’s advice to “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me” (Matthew 11:29). He is our source and model, and when we follow in the steps of the Good Shepherd, we become good shepherds ourselves.