Without controversy, the greatest work accomplished by Jesus Christ was His death and resurrection. Yet these two events don’t exhaust the full scope of the assignment given to Him by His Father. They are the pinnacle of His life, but there’s a lot of mountain underneath. Though the essence of His mission was redemptive, we can see in the practice of His ministry His shepherd’s heart, His pastoral concern for the people He came to save. He is not only the Redeemer of His people, He is our Shepherd, too. His death was redemptive and His life was pastoral.
Though the focus of the gospels is clearly on the last week of Jesus’ life – His death and resurrection – there is much material devoted to His pastoral ministry among the people. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the main themes of the gospels, but not the only themes. Without His pastoral ministry among the people, the hostility of the Jewish leadership would be without context. The gentleness of Jesus and His care as He moved among the people were in stark contrast to the indifference of the career minded, ego-driven religious leaders. His pastoral ministry emphasized the twin virtues of servanthood and humility, virtues sorely lacking among the clergy of His day.
In John 17:4 Jesus refers to the work He has already accomplished.
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
Some might argue that Jesus is using the proleptic here, that He is referring to a future event as already accomplished – that He is summing up the whole of His life in one grand statement – that He is referring to His death and resurrection as past events, though future. If suffering a sacrificial death and experiencing a resurrection in power were the only assignments given to Jesus, that might be an attractive interpretation. But the work God had given Him to do, though culminating in the cross and empty tomb, were not exhausted by them. In referring to the accomplished work in John 17:4, Jesus is looking back on the work He completed as a Shepherd among the people.
We are not left in the dark about the work that Jesus accomplished. In John 17:6-13, Jesus reviews the work He completed whereby He glorified God. They outline the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ. These verses set before us the four essential practices of ministry. What Jesus exampled in His ministry and reviews in prayer here before His Father are the essence of being a shepherd to the flock of God. Whatever our ministry training and ongoing theological education is, let’s master these four essential practices of pastoral ministry first. The mature pastor and effective spiritual leader will be one who follows the pastoral example of Jesus and mimics the rhythm and patterns of His life.
Many who are reading this will, no doubt, find that they are already practicing the four essentials. These practices of pastoral ministry do not exhaust the full scope of pastoral care, but, eliminate any one of them, and you will cripple the shepherd and impoverish the sheep. OK – what are the four essential practices of pastoral ministry?
#1 Manifesting the name of God –
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world. John 17:6
#2 Giving the Word –
I gave them Your word… John 17:8
#3 Praying for the people –
I ask on their behalf… John 17:9
#4 Guarding the flock –
I was keeping them in Your name…I guarded them… John 17:12
#1 has to do with the messenger whereas #2 has to do with the message. If the messenger is rejected, the message will probably be rejected, too. If we don’t manifest the character of God we become ineffective in speaking the word of God. There is more to preaching than insight and delivery. #3 is largely private whereas #4 is very personal as we get one-on-one with people and rebuke and challenge and encourage and weep with them.
In my next four blog pieces I will enlarge on each essential pastoral practice.