Sheep-feeding is not a glamorous job. It takes the kind of people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work of keeping sheep alive—leading them to good grazing areas, warding off predators, shearing them, and tending to their wounds.
When the Good Shepherd walked the earth, surely the miracles and teachings that earned him the most acclaim were only the highlights of his ministry to the flock of God. He also lived among them day in and day out, doing all the other mundane “dirty work” necessary to keep this wild and woolly flock healthy. I imagine him bearing with their squabbles, bad habits, and attitudes with his divine balance of grace and truth.The salvation and sanctification of this flock was the joy set before him each day and the passion that compelled him to endure the cross.
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, care for his people was still foremost in his thoughts, and he entrusted that work to one who would remain with them:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).
Peter seemed to be an unlikely candidate for this job. His demonstrations of love for Jesus had always been heavy on bold professions and big gestures but light on the self-sacrificing attentiveness to the needs of others that is required of a shepherd. What a paradigm shift these words must have caused for him! Love Jesus by feeding his sheep? Surely it would take more than Peter’s own instincts to carry out this commission. His heart would have to be compelled toward that self-giving work through immersion in the promised Holy Spirit.
Throughout the ages, the Good Shepherd has continued to faithfully compel people’s hearts to love and care for his sheep. Though many might despair of the church in all its failings, Jesus has made it abundantly clear that his affection for us never diminishes. Patiently, faithfully, he prompts the hearts of those who love him to nurture and feed his sheep.
I asked a group of this year’s candidates why they were going into pastoral ministry. These are some of their answers:
“We go into ministry because that’s the only thing we can do. We’ve been compelled by God.”
“I said to myself, ‘Just attend a church, but do not be a minister’. But I felt the urgency of calling in me.”
“I consider it a deep honor to be part of the simple means of grace that God uses to feed his church.”
In their journeys toward candidacy, many have decided to leave higher-paying careers, postpone retirement, and sacrifice all margin in their schedules for years on end. They are driven not by their own ambition, but by a love for God’s people that is not their own. Their call stories indicate no other logical incentives to enter ministry than compulsion from the Good Shepherd.
May we rejoice together in the love of the Good Shepherd as we celebrate these 2023 candidates, thanking God for them and for all the other lay and ordained ministers who faithfully lay down their lives to nurture God’s precious sheep.
For contact information, biographical information, eligibility status, and testimonies from each candidate, visit the candidacy committee website at crcna.org/candidacy.