How Jesus Shepherded His Sheep

by Nathan Knight August 2, 2023

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Planting by Pastoring. You can purchase your copy anywhere books are sold.

We know Jesus is a shepherd because he calls himself one. But even if he’d never used the title, we would still see his shepherd’s heart by observing his ministry—how he prayed, how he loved and taught, how he shared authority, and ultimately how he sacrificed himself.

Jesus prayed. I used to think a day of prayer and solitude was time away from the mission. Jesus saw it the other way around. As he went about planting his church and the crowds pressed in, Jesus’s instinct was to pull away frequently in order to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 6:12). As he faced the agony of the cross, he steeled himself with an intense session of prayer (Luke 22:39–46). Jesus was planting as a pastor, and pastors pray.

Jesus loved and taught. While lounging at a dinner party with the town elites, Jesus didn’t see the sinful woman who interrupted the meeting as a distraction, but as an opportunity to love and teach. A parable of grace and forgiveness came effortlessly from his lips as the woman wept and the town elites mocked (Luke 7:36–50). He was willing to lose face with the movers and shakers in order to shepherd one single, burdened woman. Jesus was planting as a pastor, and pastors love and teach.

Jesus shared authority. When it came time for Jesus to call his closest followers, he didn’t select the gifted and the powerful, but instead chose twelve fumbling men—a few nondescript fishermen, a despised tax collector, and so on. After a period of discipleship, he then “gave them authority” and sent them out in pairs so that they would “proclaim that people should repent” (Mark 6:7, 12). Notice two things in this passage. First, Jesus took advantage of his popularity to give authority away. Second, he gave authority away in order to see people repent and believe. Jesus was planting as a pastor, and pastors share authority in order that more and more people might proclaim the gospel and be won to that gospel through faith and repentance.

Jesus sacrificed himself. Perhaps most amazing of all, Jesus “remained silent” (Matt. 26:63) as he stood before the unjust Sanhedrin, hearing false charge after false charge leveled against him. It’s tempting to wonder why. After all, Jesus was heaven’s darling! He threw demons into pigs! We want him to speak up for himself, to rebuke these fools and make the truth known. Eventually he does speak up, and in doing so he explains his silence. Blood dripping from his brow, he says, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). Jesus remained silent so that he might sacrifice his life in order to bring his sheep into the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus was planting as a pastor, and pastors sacrifice for the good of their people in order to bear witness to the truth.

Jesus didn’t hastily build the church. He was deliberate and careful. He prioritized relationships over speed. Jesus was a pastor. He planted his church as a pastor. He knew his sheep and his sheep knew him. He drew near to them. He cared for them. He led them, gently. He listened and ministered to individuals. Names, not numbers, concerned him. He looked people in the eye, he touched their wounds, he wept with them, he entered their homes, he shared meals, he washed their feet, he taught them the truth, and he prayed for them.

Churches built on Jesus and his gospel will survive on the last day. If you’re a church planter or pastor, it’s worth asking the question, What lies at the foundation of this thing I’ve spent such a long time building?