Jesus’ thrice repeated question, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me …?” is a restorative response to Peter’s three-fold denial. Here Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to affirm his love one time for each of the three times he denied Jesus. With each affirmation, Jesus gives Peter a pastoral commission – “Feed my lambs,” then, “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep,” the differences expressing the shepherd’s total care for the whole flock.
Peter was not a shepherd but a fisherman, yet Jesus deliberately chose the illustration of a shepherd. Despite Peter’s experiences, Jesus does not say, “Be like a really good fishing-boat captain to the other fishermen.” The Bible consistently names the Lord as our Shepherd and us as His sheep. God’s Word has given church leaders the task of following Christ’s example as a shepherd.
Despite the richness of the image of the pastor as shepherd, some today would seek to alter the shepherding aspect of church leadership as culturally irrelevant. But if the Holy Spirit chose to reveal Christ as a shepherd – and names church leaders as shepherds following Christ’s example – then it is our duty, not to change the word “shepherd” to suit our modern ideas, but to change our thinking to conform to the Bible. The pastor is not a CEO; he’s not a head coach; he’s not a dictatorial leader nor is he a father. He is a shepherd and therefore must fulfill the three-fold commission that Jesus gave to Peter. He must feed and tend the lambs and sheep.