Church-planting pastors aren’t just planters; we’re shepherds, too. We’re charged with the faithful care of our flocks. We take our cues from Jesus, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
Shepherding people isn’t about displaying power; it’s demonstrating the humility of Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20). Just as our heavenly Father shepherds his flock with love and great care, so newly planted congregations need pastors who execute this same vision of shepherd leadership.
This is both a privilege and a challenge. What should this kind of pastoral care look like in new church plants? How can church planters lead like good shepherds? Consider four primary functions of the shepherd-planter.
1. Know the Flock
The most basic responsibility of the shepherd-planter is to know his sheep. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). This means it’s not enough for pastors to know their sheep as one massive whole on a macro-level. Rather, we must know each person individually, from the nursery to the nursing home.
Recently, I had lunch with a father of two teenagers from our church. Their family is struggling to figure out how to manage their kids’ academic, athletic, and social calendars. Stress and tension are running high. Apart from meeting with him, I wouldn’t know the depth of his family’s hardships. They need a pastor to come alongside them with love, encouragement, and counsel in this busy season.
It’s not enough for pastors to know his sheep as one massive whole on a macro-level. Rather, we must know each person individually, from the nursery to the nursing home.
I don’t always succeed in this area, that’s for sure. But a faithful shepherd will keep his eyes and ears open to what’s happening in the lives of individual sheep. Shepherd-planters are attentive to the sheep, knowing their spiritual, emotional, and physical conditions so they can care for them in a healthy, biblical manner.
2. Lead the Flock
Healthy church plants are led by pastors marked by deep love and humility. This kind of leadership creates a culture of grace, trust, and safety. It fosters the hope and encouragement needed to fuel a church’s mission to make disciples for the glory of God. Humble and loving leadership helps God’s people remain faithful to his Word while remaining rooted in the gospel.
Newly planted churches need shepherd-planters who humbly, patiently, and gently guide them in the ways of Jesus, or they will wander. They will wander from the pasture of God’s truth into dangerous fields of deceit and darkness, which lead to despair and death. Thus God promises, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15).
Shepherd-planters must have knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures in order to rightly teach and effectively lead their sheep in the truth. This is what makes Christian leadership uniquely Christian. It’s the kind of leadership God’s people desperately need.
3. Feed the Flock
A third biblical function of shepherd-planters is to feed the flock. Jesus charges Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). Sheep rely on their shepherds for healthy food to sustain their bodies. How much more do God’s people depend on spiritual shepherds to feed their souls?
Sheep can sometimes have a difficult time discerning the difference between healthy food and poisonous weeds. They depend on the shepherd to provide their nourishment. Likewise, God’s people need shepherd-planters who teach them rightly, feeding them good food from God’s Word.
Our preaching and teaching should aim to glorify God through Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered biblical exposition for the purpose of converting the lost and edifying the found.
4. Protect the Flock
A fourth biblical function of shepherd-planters is to protect the flock. This burden to protect is demonstrated in Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian elders: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Shepherding people isn’t about displaying power; it’s demonstrating the humility of Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us.
Wolves are cunning and capable of inflicting tremendous damage to the flock. Sheep can’t protect themselves, and they won’t work together like other herd animals to protect each other. They need a protector. But it’s not enough to only defend the sheep from outside evils; we must be wise and courageous to bring lovingly firm correction to sheep inside the fold.
Sadly, it’s common to find individuals in churches who stir up division, promote false doctrine, or foster sin. Shepherd-planters, then, must be on guard against any threats seeking to destroy the flock God has entrusted to their care.
Church planter, remember you’re primarily a shepherd. And biblical shepherding creates a culture where people feel genuinely known, valued, and safe. And most importantly, their adoration of the Good Shepherd grows as they experience his love and care through their pastors.