There is a lot of conversation these days about being a Coach, and how that is an improvement over so many other methodologies. Recently I have been scrolling through Twitter looking for new tweeps and I have been amazed at how many people are describing themselves as coaches. It led me to ponder is that the main role of the leader of the church. Let me clearly say, I am not demeaning the role of coach, and I truly believe it is a good positive approach.
In the first letter that Peter writes to the church he has words of instruction for church leaders, those he calls his fellow elders. What is interesting to me is the verb that he uses to describe the responsibility that they have. He tells them, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . . “(I Peter 5:2). Peter had been a fisherman, not a shepherd. At the beginning of Peter’s encounter with Jesus the call had been, “Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men.” But when we look in on the very intimate conversation that Jesus has with Peter on the back end in John 21, Jesus is giving him responsibilities of a shepherd.
Before the private conversation that takes place after breakfast, don’t miss the description of verse 9, “When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place . . .” It was a charcoal fire. The only other time that word is used in the Bible is in John 18:18, where Peter is warming himself by a “charcoal fire” the night that he denies Jesus. Few things are as powerful to evoke memories as smell. Imagine this early morning after a night of fishing in John 21 where Peter is warming his hands. I don’t think the apostle John missed the significance of that specific detail as he relates the story. Peter is again warming himself by a charcoal fire. By that smell he is transported back to that terrible night of great failure when he had been so proud. Jesus is constructing a teaching moment on the foundation of humility.
So after breakfast Peter and Jesus walk alone along the shore and Jesus gets to the heart of the matter, “Do you love me?” What I want to call attention to here, however, is the statement that follows Peter’s affirmation the second time Jesus asked about his love. In the ESV that I am reading at the moment Jesus tells him, “Tend my sheep.” The actual word, however, that appears in the Greek text is the word best translated “Shepherd”. Jesus tells him “Shepherd my sheep.” (John 21:16) It is that instruction that Peter passes on in his letter to the church in I Peter 5. He tells the leadership, “Shepherd the flock” that God has entrusted to your care.
In verse 4 Peter reminds that the “chief Shepherd” will return and call leaders to give an accounting for their stewardship of the charge that has been given. It is from this idea that we have come to speak of the responsibility of pastors as that of “undershepherds.” Under shepherd combines two words to designate someone who works under another shepherd. In church life a pastor serves as an undershepherd to the Great Shepherd, Jesus.
All of this in the form of a long introduction to a thought I have on this rainy Friday morning. I have noticed that a growing popular concept is that of “Coaching” and that it is often set in contrast with counseling, mentoring, leading, managing, and in Christian context even with discipleship. I think that “Coaching” is a marvelous improvement on much of our methodology. But perhaps “undershepherd” is the overarching umbrella that best descries the role of a pastor. Sometimes a pastor coaches. Sometimes a pastor feeds the flock. Sometimes a pastor mentors. Sometimes a pastor disciples. Sometimes a pastor leads. Sometimes a pastor does some other role. But a pastor is described in the Bible as an undershepherd. And always, Jesus said a “Good Shepherd” is willing to die for the sheep and is contrasted with a hireling that is in it for his own good, and that not of the sheep.