As a pastor, our aim is to love of congregations well. However, loving them well can be a great challenge! After all, each member has their own preferences for how they wished to be love. We attempt to show our love in a variety of ways, mostly through the giving of our time. We sit with people in the hospital, go out with brothers for lunch, or make visits to the sick. Now, I’m not arguing a pastor shouldn’t spend time with his people, but visitation is not the primary way a pastor displays his love to his congregation. So what then is the primary and best way a pastor loves his church? For that, we have to look to the chief shepherd Jesus in Mark 6:34.
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34, ESV)
Pastor Jesus Shows His Love
The disciples had recently returned from a Great Commission scrimmage (see Mk 6:7-13). In their ministry, they had great success, so much so that they didn’t even have time to eat! Jesus, seeing their exhaustion, invites them to come and rest. So, they hop in the boat to go to a desolate place, but they were spotted by the crowds. Many saw them get in the boat, and ran down the bank of the Sea of Galilee to meet them on the other side. As they traveled, the number of people grew larger and larger. People rushed out of the towns, trailing behind the stampede sprinting down the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Before long, the crowd cut Jesus and the disciples off on the other side of the sea. Jesus and his disciples only wanted a moment of rest! They were all hungry, tired, and exhausted. They only needed a bit of time to themselves, but here they find their time of rest interrupted by thousands of people! Though our crowds might not be in the thousands, Pastor, I’m sure you can relate.
Yet, Jesus expresses no frustration or irritation. In fact, his reaction is just the opposite! We see the savior’s tender and compassionate heart. When he sees the great crowd there on the shore, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). Jesus sees the spiritual need of these people. They appear lost, unaware of how to navigate the terrain of life and unaware of the pathway to spiritual life. They are like sheep wandering through the dessert, looking for green pastures. They just need a shepherd to show them the way. Mark includes the detail in verse 39, that Jesus commands them to all sit in groups on the green grass. The image of Psalm 23 comes to mind. Here is the good shepherd whose sheep do not want, as he leads them to green pastures. The shepherd has arrived, and his affection is so stirred for these people that he can’t help but love them. So, what does he do? He teaches.
Isn’t that peculiar? As Jesus’ heart bubbles up in tender mercy and love towards this amassed crowd of 5,000+, his default way of showing love is through teaching the word. Here is the principle we pastors must glean: A shepherd’s love for his flock is expressed through the teaching ministry.
As a man called to be a pastor, I pray that God would give you the same compassion and love for your people that he has for your people. After all, Jesus owns the flock. He is the chief-shepherd who has purchased them by his own blood. Yet, he entrusts his flock to pastors like us, so that our love for our people would reflect Jesus’ love. Thus, may we show them love in the same manner as our chief shepherd. There are many ways a pastor expresses a love for his congregation, but the primary way of expressing that love is through teaching. Whenever a pastor ceases to feed his church the word of God, he no longer loves them.
So, as you go about your pastoral work this week, do not neglect the time locked away in your study. The hard work of sermon preparation is a privilege, but it is not a luxury. We go into our studies to prepare a feast to feed the flock each Sunday. By diligently preparing for preaching, you love your people well. Because the teaching ministry is the primary way pastors love their flocks, we must prioritize this ministry and the time it takes to prepare for it. We must not allow our schedules to meander depending on the randomness of the day. Saying no to other activities, including inordinate demands for visitation, is not mean spirited. Rather, it is an act of love, as you love the flock the way Jesus has commanded you to love them. Aim to love your church well by feeding them the good food of God’s word, so that they can experience true rest and satisfaction in Christ.