15 ¶ So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21)

These verses are actually the basis of a large part of the operational plan of the catholic church. These verses--taken out of context with scripture--are used by the catholic church (have been for hundreds of years) to say that there is a divine "lineage" given to Peter--and that somehow it has been handed down through the generations (not by birth)--this makes Peter the first pope--the first "great shepherd of the sheep".

Now, we in our protestant churches (or independent churches) say "those darn catholics!-- what a crock of baloney!!"--right? But do we realize that we also use this as a large operational plan for our churches? When we read this chapter--we say "ahh--we know what this means" this means that Jesus wanted us to go to church every Sunday--and sit under the authority of the pastor (the great shepherd of the sheep in protestant terms--same thing as the pope!).

Well, what if we dared to set the Bible in the context which God set it, we would understand in fact, that what Jesus is saying to Peter is NOT that he has "authority over the church"

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
(Matthew 20:25-27, KJV).

Since Jesus had defined leadership and ministry as servanthood--and specifically NOT as authority over others within the church--what was Jesus saying when He told Peter to "feed my sheep" (one thing to notice is that they are Christ's sheep--NOT "Peter's sheep"--right?).

Well, if we were to read the same book of John in which Jesus makes these statements to Peter, He has already defined the feeding of sheep--and in fact the pastoral anointing as the releasing of others to serve God--of not constraining others but to totally release others to serve God freely (which is exactly what Jesus did in His own ministry--Read this same book of John, chapters 9 and 10, and you will see how Jesus defines "pastoring"--what a "good pastor" does. This is the place in the Bible where the word "shepherd" (Greek: poimen) is used the most.......

1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
(John 10:1-17, KJV).

Jesus states that pastoral ministry is this process:

9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

Any man can enter in--

salvation is granted freely to those who enter in

and there is a quick release--those who enter in are allowed to go in--and go out--and find pasture (nourishment). This means the apostolic method of operation--it means the freely release to ministry--the "setting at liberty" (see luk 4:18)--the "apostlolic freedom" which Jesus Himself gives to all who freely receive His Gospel. This little known right of all Christians--"apostlolic freedom"--is intrinsic to the Gospel, and the purposes of Christ's annointing and ministry. It's a free gift--just like healing, deliverance and salvation--and it is miraculous as these things are also. You "get it" when you meet Jesus with faith--and NOT by the standards and traditions of man!

Yet the organized church and pastoral authority operate in the opposite direction--WE believe a pastor is the person who controls commands and "has authority over " the "sheep"--the people whom he does his ministry toward. The "pastor" is the person who had been educated and "approved" by man---it all sounds right (to our common "church experience")--yet it is Biblically wrong-!

So if we dared to set the Bible in the context which God set it in--if we dare to let the Bible define itself--rather than our long standing church experience--we would see that when Jesus was commanding Peter to "feed my sheep" He was not telling Peter that he had authority over the church--rather Jesus was telling Peter to operate his leadership in the same way that Jesus had demonstrated--by preaching the free Gospel--and along with it the free release to ministry ("apostolic liberty") that Jesus had brought.

Jesus was telling Peter to not constrain the ministry of the people. And Peter did do this--in fact he reiterated it in His own Gospel--

1Pe 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

The book of acts is not the story of Peter. In its' full context the book relates the apostolic method of "handing off ministry freely". Peter 's story only goes up to about chapter 10--and then we read all about Paul and the other apostles. We read here that Peter continues the correct teaching of Jesus--He tells the leader of the church which he has released to not rule by constraint--to not rule with authority--and by holding people forever under authority--but rather to continue the apostleship which Jesus brought--the "setting at liberty" by which Jesus operated. This is what "feeding the sheep" really is!!