Peter: From Fisher of Men to Shepherd of Sheep

Nine years ago, God started inviting me to close doors in ministry. This action, however painful, brought me so much fulfillment. I was involved in multiple diocesan events, on teams for leadership institutes, volunteering for Life Teen as an Area Contact, and serving as a youth minister at a large parish. However, God was calling me to love Him more, trust Him completely, and use new gifts for His glory in an entirely unfamiliar capacity. I remember being offered a job with Life Teen that I almost turned down. I had no formal educational background to pull it off, just a passion for serving and an understanding of youth ministry. But, that’s when I read this Gospel and heard God ask me, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15)

Often God asks us this question when He is preparing us for a change, a new way to wholeheartedly follow Him. Yes, my attention was drawn to John 21 when Peter gets a little hotheaded after being asked a third time if he loves Jesus. But what really caught my attention is when Jesus tells Peter, a fisherman, who He previously called to be a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19), to become a shepherd to “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…” (John 21:15-17) Christ changes Peter’s profession to something he knows little to nothing about.

Although Peter is being asked to take on a whole new role, his experience as a fisherman only makes him a stronger shepherd. Even in this Gospel, Peter turned to fishing, something he is comfortable with, in a moment of confusion, fear, and impatience. He could’ve very easily chocked up his time with Jesus as a great adventure and gone back to being a full-time fisherman. But instead, Christ invites Peter to take the skills he gained as a fisherman, combine it with the journey they walked together and apply it to the flock Christ gathered during His earthly ministry.

Like a fisherman, Christ wants Peter to go out every day and cast his net to shepherd His flock. Regardless if the waters of life are rough or calm, Christ wants Peter to be undeterred in going out to all ends of the earth to feed His sheep. He asks Peter to lean on the other Apostles, empower them in fact, to get their feet and hands dirty to proclaim the Good News and feed the multitudes with the living Word of God and the Eucharist.

Peter brings these learned and God-given gifts to his new vocation as a shepherd, Cephas, the rock upon which Christ will build His Church. Christ is entrusting Peter with His flock, and He knows precisely what it will cost him. A shepherd gives his life for his flock, protecting them day and night from the elements and wolves. A shepherd doesn’t let a lamb or sheep stray far from their site. A shepherd shears his sheep to lighten the load, something we can all use from time to time.

So what does this mean for you and your ministry? This is the time of year when programming starts to come to a close and summer planning begins. We evaluate, discern, and hopefully listen to God more than the naysayers and critics. In a sense, we shear our ministry removing leaders, events, and programs that are weighing us down. We sit back and notice the wolves that have gotten too close or have actually taken our sheep from the flock, and we realize all the ways we have laid down our lives for our ministry.

Sometimes this leads to questions like:

God, how are you calling me to grow in the coming year?
How is God calling you to lean on the skill sets gained over the years in ministry and discover new ways of approaching ministry?

Where should I put my time and energy in and outside ministry?
You might be called to cast your net in a new location or called to move somewhere beyond where you find contentment.

Is it time to leave ministry?
Who knows? God might be calling you to a new profession or parish. Take a chance to listen to His answer.

No matter how God is calling you, the primary question He asks is, “Do you love me more than these?” Oh, what a profound question. Do you love the Lord more than your comfort, more than the teens you have spent years serving, more than the family, friends, and village that supports you, more than the security of a paycheck? And are we being moved by the love and trust the Lord has for us and for our desire to love the Lord more?

All of us, like Peter, are called to be fishermen: to cast the net far and wide to catch new fish gasping for the breath of God to fill their lungs. But few are called to be shepherds. Shepherds lead the flock entrusted to them; they know their sheep, and their sheep know them, and they sacrifice their life day and night to protect the sheep to bring them home. Being a shepherd requires a deep love, love that demands everything. So the question on the table that begs to be answered with profound reflection is, “Do you love me?” The answer just might change your life forever.


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About the Author

Tricia Tembreull

Tricia Tembreull is a California girl with a Texas-size heart for hospitality. She said yes over twenty years ago to God’s call to youth ministry and never could’ve imagined the adventures and people He had planned for her to encounter along the way. She serves as a Parish Coach for Life Teen and joyfully travels around the globe training, empowering, and praying with youth ministers. When not on a plane, you can find Tricia in a church, spending time with family and friends, in the kitchen cooking up something delightful, or on the beach for an evening walk.

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