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A Pastor’s Heart

The Lord put it upon my heart to write about the heart of a pastor during my time of meditation. I was surprised because I had never walked in the office of a pastor. So, I hesitated, but not for long because I sensed an urgency in my spirit.

I have been in ministerial leadership before; I was an elder in my home church back in Virginia. I was the chief administrator of one Christian school and the principal of another. As a school administrator,  I operated in a pastoral capacity with students, parents, teachers and other employees when it was needed. But, I have never been a pastor!

This subject is obviously weighing on the heart of our Lord Jesus. From experience, I know not to disobey an assignment from the Lord. So, I prayed about it and I sought confirmation. When given a writing assignment of this magnitude, relevance and significance, I lean heavily on getting the heart of Jesus on the matter. I, without question, seek and rely on the Holy Spirit to illuminate the direction that I must take. And I depend on God’s Holy Word, his blueprint, for verification and substantiation of the content.

Having a pastor’s heart requires being conformed to the image of and having the heart of the Chief Pastor and Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Jesus walked in the pastoral office while on the earth. His divine love and protection were so great that he died on the cross for his flock’s salvation and eternal life. There is no greater measure of love! That revelation is an impartation that all who are called to be his under-shepherds, pastors, must have. As Head of the Church, Jesus was and is Chief Pastor/Shepherd. In fact, he modeled the entire five-fold ministry—Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher while he was here on the earth!

In the Old Testament, the shepherd metaphor refers to the Messiah, the coming Shepherd several times . Shepherd is derived from the Middle English term, shep-herd. Shepherds lead their sheep to places where they can receive nourishment; they protect their flocks from the enemy, and they even protect their  sheep from harming themselves. The coming Messiah would take care of his people, Israel, just as a shepherd loves, guides and takes care of his sheep.  Jesus, as the Messiah, “Like a shepherd. . . will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs, and carry them in the fold of His robe; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” (Isaiah 40:11, NASB)

Jesus, the Messiah, and Fulfillment of the Old Testament Shepherd 

The metaphor of Shepherd continues in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, pastor is mentioned only once in Ephesians 4:11. Shepherd is the term used for church overseer every other time in the New Testament. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5:4. He is the Great Shepherd in Hebrew 13:20. He is the One Shepherd in John 10:16.

And, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10:11 and 10:14. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . .” (verse 11) “ . . . I know my sheep and my sheep know me. . .” (verses 14)

Jesus, as Shepherd, counters and repudiates the Pharisee’s argument denouncing him for healing a blind man in John 9. He describes what a true shepherd is in John 10. The Pharisees saw themselves as the leader of the people, but Jesus refers to them as hirelings, not true leaders. His profile differentiating a shepherd from a hireling cut to the core of the matter:

  • A true shepherd of the flock enters the sheep pen by the gate, not through an improper entrance. (verse 2) Jesus identifies himself as the gate in verse 7.
  • Those who do not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but enter by another way are hirelings and false shepherds—thieves and robbers. (verse 1)
  • Jesus, the gate, allows a shepherd/pastor entrance to the flock (of Jesus).
  • The shepherd who enters through the proper gate, Jesus, is recognized by Jesus and he calls them by name. Shepherds recognize the voice of their Shepherd, Jesus, and they follow him. (verse 3)

The take-away from this is: The shepherds (pastors) entering the gate are under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus. They  must never lose sight of the fact that they are sheep in the Lord’s sheep pen, too. As they enter the sheep pen, Jesus knows his true under-shepherds and calls them by name. They must know the voice of their Shepherd, Jesus, and follow him and no other. The true under-shepherd of Jesus is not a hireling who enters illegally or who will abandon the sheep when a wolf comes. The true under-shepherds are anointed to lead the sheep because they entered by the sheep gate, Jesus.

Peter continues the shepherd metaphor in 1 Peter 5:1-4. He calls Jesus the Chief Shepherd as he addresses his fellow elders and witnesses to Christ’s sufferings. He shares the prerequisites of a pastor/shepherd:

  • Shepherds lead the flock with oversight, not lording it over them; they lead by example.
  • Shepherds watch over the flock with care, not because they are commanded to do so and not for earthly gain.
  • Shepherds care for the flock from a willingness to serve the Lord and his sheep.

It is here that Peter outlines the heart motivation of Jesus’ true shepherds. They  are not interested in control or not even interested in exerting authority. These under-shepherds lead by example—by what they do. They have love and compassion for the flock, not because it is their job to do so—but they are invested in caring for the well-being of each sheep, spirit, soul and body. Jesus’ under-shepherds love the him, and therefore, choose to fulfill their kingdom purposes by loving and caring for his flock.

Jesus, the Pastoral Model for Pastors and Under-shepherds-in-Training 

Jesus’ ministry as Shepherd is the primary model that every pastor should follow and that firsthand account is found in the gospels. The whole of scripture is God-breathed— to guide, teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness, so that the Body of Christ may be complete. (2 Timothy 3:16) That is the case with pastoral training, as well. It is, however, the gospels, that supply the undershepherd-in-training with the actual model of the Chief Pastor/Shepherd.  Jesus, and Jesus alone, came to the earth to redeem, save and lay down his life for his flock on the cross.

  • Jesus taught the good news, healed the sick and cast out demons, and just as importantly, he demonstrated his love and compassion for his sheep. Matthew 9:35-36 notes that as Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching the good news of the kingdom and healing the sick, he “saw” the crowds and he had compassion on them. He “saw” that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus loved his sheep and he felt their pain; he was invested in their plights; just as he does today. In verses 37 and 38, Jesus tells his disciples to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers to the harvest field. (Note: I believe that Jesus is asking for laborers who will “see” and be invested in his harassed, helpless sheep today, not just laborers fulfilling a Christian service or mandate. He is looking for laborers who have a “Jesus kind of love.”)
  • Jesus ministered not just to the spiritual needs of the sheep, but to their physical needs, as well. He fed them when they were hungry. On several occasions, the gospels document Jesus feeding the multitudes during ministry. He fed five thousand, using five loaves of bread and two fish, according to Matthew 14:13-21 and John 6:1-15. In Matthew 15 and Mark 8:1-10, Jesus fed four thousand with seven loaves of bread and a few fish. They had been with him for three days and had nothing to eat.
  • Jesus always intended to save and restore all of his sheep, even those outside of Israel and that is why he purposely sought out the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4:1-26) Jesus made that clear in John 10:16, “I have other shepherd that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” He is talking about Gentiles. John 4:4 says, “he had to go through Samaria.” (NIV) The NKJV says, “He needed to go through Samaria.” It was his providential plan to meet the woman at the well, a precursor to including the Gentiles in his atoning death on the cross. In fact, the Samaritan woman became the first one to whom Jesus ministered the salvation message.
  • Jesus did not exert authority through domination or control. His very presence, the sinless, loving and compassionate Savior, illuminated his authority in the spiritual and earthly realms. The authority of his presence was highlighted when the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to him. (John 7:53 -8:6) During the interaction, Jesus never lorded it over the woman, in fact, he never asked her to repent or denounce her sin. Even as the men railed against this woman in an effort to ensnare Jesus by what he said, Jesus just stooped down and wrote in the dust. He did that two times. The second time, he asked before writing in the dust, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Just what was Jesus writing in the dust after he made that statement? Could he have the been writing about the hypocrisy of sinful men who wanted to stone the woman for her sin? Could he have been writing about the injustice of bringing the woman to him, but not bringing the man who had committed adultery with her? (Maybe I’ll get the answers to those questions one day in heaven.) Anyway, one by one, the woman’s accusers “slinked away.” Scripture says they slipped away, one by one. Jesus’ very presence had pierced the hearts of those sinful men. When they left, he turned to the woman; he told her to go and sin no more. Interestingly, he never condemned her! His very presence exuded his authority. That very presence brought judgement on and illuminated the sins of the scribes and Pharisees. And it also brought repentance to the woman’s heart!
  • Jesus’ authority was also exhibited when the soldiers came to arrest him after Judas’ betrayal. Scripture notes that Jesus asked the soldiers who they were looking for in John 18. They said that they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said, “I am he.” They stepped back and fell to the ground. His very presence exuded authority and caused the soldiers to fall to the ground. Jesus, then, voluntarily, relinquished his authority and allowed them to arrest him.
  • Jesus came to serve; he washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. (John 13:1-17) It was typically the disciples’ role to wash the feet of Jesus but they had not done so. So, Jesus used himself as an example of servanthood. He washed their feet. He said, in Matthew 20:28, . . . “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus, the Source and Primary Connection for Walking in the Pastoral Ministry 

As Chief Shepherd, Jesus provides the example both positionally and spiritually for earthly pastors or under-shepherds to follow. So, it is important to stay connected to him. Just as fruit need a healthy connection to the vine to bear fruit, believers, including pastors, need a healthy, connection to the “Source,” Jesus. Jesus clearly states in John 15:5-7 that: “Apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. . . .”

Pastors must remain connected to the Shepherd to get the work of the ministry done. Secondary connections will not do it. Modeling famous pastors, theologians, authors or motivational speakers will not do it. No believers, including Jesus’ under-shepherds, will bear fruit when they depend primarily on a secondary connection and not on the “Source,” Jesus. How can an under-shepherd hear or know the voice of the Chief Shepherd when he/she is depending on a secondary source? How can the sheep know the voice of their under-shepherd when that under-shepherd is not connected to the Chief Shepherd? Dabbling in and making secondhand sources the primary model for pastoral ministry may even unplug a well-meaning shepherd from the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ! There is also the danger of ending up following a hireling.

So, ultimately, the under-shepherds of Jesus should follow the pastoral account of his earthly ministry. They should demonstrate a Jesus heart of unconditional love and compassion towards his flock. These under-shepherds should be invested in the care and well-being of the sheep and they should demonstrate a servant’s heart. They are anointed with authority from on high by their holy lives. And finally, they should demonstrate a sold-out commitment to the work of the kingdom. It is then that under-shepherds who follow Jesus will bear the pastoral fruit of his heart. They will, as Peter states in 1 Peter 5:4, receive a crown of glory from the Chief Shepherd.

The True Shepherd With a Pastor’s Heart 

If you believe that you have been called to be a pastor: 1. Make sure that this is your calling. It is not a glory calling; it is a solemn assignment and must not be taken lightly.  2. Stay connected to the “Source,” the Good Shepherd. The pastors who stay plugged in will know the voice of Jesus and follow him. They will demonstrate Jesus’ heart towards his flock. And when the burdens get heavy, and they will, connected pastors and under-shepherds-in-training will know that they can cast their burdens upon the Lord. They will know the Lord will sustain them and guard them against burn-out. (Psalm 55:22) They will not become weary and heavy-laden because Jesus will give them rest when they need it. (Matthew 11:28) Jesus will direct their paths as they direct his flock. He loves his flock and the under-shepherds of his flock.

The true under-shepherds will be fully invested with love, compassion and care for his (Jesus’) sheep—the ones in his sheep pen and the ones not yet there. (John 10:16) The true under-shepherds always listen to the voice of Jesus and they follow him and no other. The true under-shepherds will be instrumental in bringing those sheep that are outside of the pen into it. (John 10:16) They will have the heart of Jesus and will lead the flock with love, compassion and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15) 

The Urgency of the Call

I leave you with Paul’s farewell message to the Ephesian elders when he met them for the last time. He was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be arrested. This message is also a warning to pastors today.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:28). So be on your guard . . . ! (Acts 20:31)

Paul warns the Lord’s under-shepherds to keep watch and guard  their own hearts first. Shepherds must be spiritually alert to some sins that are unique to pastoral and ministry leadership.   Shepherds cannot guard their flock if they are struggling with fleshly ambitions, flattery/adulation, monetary temptations, political entanglements or sexual immorality. The hearts of pastors in God’s church must be attuned to the voice of Jesus and focused on the flocks that have been put in their care. Those flocks have been entrusted to them and bought with the blood of Jesus!

The time is short and the mission is urgent. “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.” (Mark 13:33) Those who are invested in their mission as under- shepherds of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus, must soldier-on!  Those who cannot meet the urgency of this calling should step aside and find other places to serve in the kingdom.

Be blessed, my friends.

Scripture References for Meditation:

Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Jeremiah 3:15 Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.

1 Peter 5:2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve . . .

Ezekiel 34:2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?. . .’”

Ezekiel 34   The false shepherd is an abomination to God. Read the whole chapter.

Published inInspirational Commentaries, Articles and Stories


  1. Jackie Branche Jackie Branche

    Dr. Barbara, this is beautiful. Thank you for writing on this topic. It is a needed reminder to all Christians. Blessings,

  2. Yvette Forbes Yvette Forbes

    A Pastor’s Heart is a very well written, detailed description of. Jesus’ role as a Pastor and what he expects of his under Shepherds. This is straight from the heart of the Lord. Obviously you sought him in prayer & did the research Dr. Barbara!

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