BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (BP) — I was anxious to walk through my garden after being out of town for vacation to see how it had fared in my absence for two weeks.
The corn and cucumbers looked fine. Many of the tomatoes in their colorful cages were noticeably tilting to one side. The bell peppers were discolored and drooping. The yellow squash and zucchini plants were riddled with white flies. All but a few of our peaches were lying on the ground. And of course there were hundreds of weeds all over the garden and surrounding areas.
As I walked back to the house, I realized how important the gardener is to the garden.
Without the care and nurture of the gardener, the vegetables and flowers suffer while the weeds thrive. There was no one to water and protect the plants. There was no one to pull the weeds. There was no one to straighten out the tomato cages.
As a pastor and missionary, I immediately associated the garden to a church, Bible study group or ministry. Every organization needs caregivers, whether they are vocational ministers or members of the church.
Someone must take care of the people God has entrusted us with. Someone must care for and nurture those enrolled in a small group. Someone must care for and direct the ministries and those who volunteer in them. Someone needs to mow the lawn, pull the weeds and paint the buildings.
After His resurrection, Jesus intentionally waited for the right moment to talk to Peter, who vowed to die for Christ the night of Jesus’ arrest. Sadly and tragically Peter ended up denying His Lord three times. Peter’s heart was humbled and broken. The Lord restored him by asking him a few key questions followed by three simple instructions for the future.
“Peter, do you love me (agape = unconditional love)?” “Yes Lord, I like you (phileo = friendship and brotherly affection).” Jesus replied: “Feed my lambs.” He asked him the same question again. “Peter, do you love me (agape = unconditional love)?” Again Peter could only say that he cared for Jesus as a brother. Jesus replied: “care or shepherd my little ones.” Jesus asked Peter a third question. “Peter, do you like me (phileo)?” “Yes Lord, I like you.” Jesus followed with the command to feed his little ones. Jesus used the same word for brotherly love in His third question to Peter.
It seems that Peter was not ready to make any more bold claims for his future as he did the night of Jesus’ arrest. Yet Jesus’ challenges to Peter are a strong reminder to feed (teach, disciple and mentor) God’s sheep as well as to shepherd (care, nurture, love and protect) God’s people.
It breaks my heart to drive by an abandoned or neglected church building. A whole string of questions come to mind. Where are the teachers, preachers and caregivers? Where are the Bible teachers and ministry leaders? Is anyone home?
Just as a garden needs a gardener, the church needs shepherd leaders to teach God’s Word and care for God’s little ones. It is a thing of beauty to see what a dedicated gardener can do. The same is true for shepherd leaders who lovingly care for and feed the body of Christ.