Shepherding under the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1-4)
I had a great conversation with a brother in ministry this week about insecurity in ministry. He recently graduated from seminary and was struggling with insecurity. I was thankful for his vulnerability and I did give him the sober reminder that it’s not going to get any easier! And it’s a good thing. Insecurity in ministry causes you to rely on God alone rather than your education or experience. Paul himself said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16) and later answers his own question with “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers…” (2 Cor. 3:5-6).
Yes, there is a gap between where we think we should be and where we think we are and that is what causes insecurity. Sometimes the gap is not as wide as we think it is, but other times the gap is really wide. But for people in ministry, the gap is filled by the grace of God. He helps us be what He calls us to be when we rely on Him. Not that we do not do our part, but more than anything, as Paul says, ministry is “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). To be honest, I can tell you that there is not a day where I do not feel insecure. I still get nervous every time I preach. And I hope to always be! And I always have to fight a nagging voice in my head that says, “Perhaps you are not cut out for this. You cannot do this.” I have learned (and still learning) through this that if I am not careful to channel my heart to the Lord’s, I can get in trouble and be in a bad place. And so can you with your own insecurities. Perhaps you have felt the same way in ministry here at Living Hope? If so, Peter has a word for us today. Wait, you say, I am not in ministry. Well, news flash: ministry belongs to everybody in the church. And everybody in the church belongs in ministry. I may be called full-time as a vocation, but really all of us are Kingdom workers, hired by the Lord when you said yes to follow Him. What a privilege and what a responsibility!
Peter, now well advanced in years, speaks as a spiritual father to struggling believers scattered in various places in the Roman Empire, who are faltering under severe persecutions executed by the monster tyrant Nero. Peter’s heart has been one of hope. He wanted these believers to have a living hope, a hope that affects them in the present in the way they will live, thrive and grow in the midst of suffering. Last week we saw that Peter wanted his audience to realize that God uses the worst of situations to demonstrate His best work. Case in point: the cross. He’s now going to share closing remarks to the church leaders. This makes sense. As the shepherds go and falter under suffering, so goes the sheep and so goes the church. So Peter wants to make sure the leaders of the various churches know how they are to lead their flocks when the wolves of persecution come to eat their souls.
So this message is directly to those who are pastoring the churches. Therefore, for us, this message has first direct application to me (I will be preaching to myself), then to the servant team, and finally to most of you, who are serving in any leadership capacity in our small flock. But all of us, whether we are pastoring or being pastored, need to know what God says about what a flock under the Chief Shepherd looks like. So the title of the message, “Shepherding under the Chief Shepherd.” We are going to look at what it means to be under the Chief Shepherd as His under-shepherd. What does it mean to serve and work for Jesus Christ in church ministry? What are the main responsibilities and what should be our heart/motives behind it? We will look at principles even as some of you lead in youth/children’s ministry, worship or any other type of ministry where you are shepherding people under the Chief Shepherd. I actually also feel the principles conveyed today will even help you parents shepherd your children.
I came up with a new phrase for church leaders from this passage: servant shepherds. I see that leaders are first servants throughout this passage. So I am going to use that throughout. Let’s start with this:
I. Servant shepherds must be growing in relationship with the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1).
Before he gets to the duty and character of spiritual leadership, Peter first identifies himself. He could have said, “So I’m the Apostle. Better yet, call me the first Pope. I’m first always on the list of any list of disciples. Jesus called me the Rock. I preached on Pentecost and thousands got saved. So listen up!” No, he’s so humble. Peter says, “I’m a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.” He doesn’t even say, “I command you.” He says, “I exhort.” Exhort means to “call alongside, to encourage someone in a certain direction.” Some scholars don’t think Peter wrote this epistle because it seems so out of character. This does not sound like the Peter of the Gospels. I just think, Jesus has radically transformed him over the years. How do you know Jesus did that? A good sign: humility.
Peter asks, “You want to know who I am? I am one who has encountered Jesus in my life, seen him suffer (though I ran away for most of it) and have suffered for Him already and waiting to see Him again.” All I am is what I have in Jesus Christ. Peter sees himself first in relation to who he is in Christ. And that is what ministry really is. It is you and Jesus living life together, worshipping Him and the overflow of that is walking and working for Him.
Let me first give you a brief note on church government. Who are elders? Well, first I think that the New Testament teaches the plurality of godly leadership, that there is no one person who should be leading the church. There is a lot of practical wisdom to this. Plurality of leadership protects the church from being a one-man show. It also protects the church from doctrinal error. The teachers and preacher are then accountable to the Lord and others for what they are teaching. Moreover, it is good to have elders when a church discipline issue comes up, so a matter can be decided upon more than one witness. Also, it is good to have a team of people to pray and come up with the direction of the church. The Bible says with a multitude of counselors there is safety (Prov. 11:14). God does not give all the spiritual gifts to one person as we learned in the message a couple of weeks ago. So the elders of the church have the responsibility of three main areas: doctrine, discipline and direction. I have to say personally I have experienced the wisdom of God’s Word in having a plurality of godly leadership, with the amazing servant team I am part of!
Though elders are originally found in the Old Testament (Lev. 4:15; Num. 11:25; Deut. 25:7; 1 Kings 21:11; Ps. 107:32; Prov. 31:23), the term “elders” first show up in relation to the church in Acts 11:30, where Luke identifies them as leaders of the church in Jerusalem. The actual Greek word for elder is presbuterion where we get the word “Presbyterian.” Another word that is used interchangeably us overseer or bishop, which is the Greek word episkopos, where we get the word “Episcopalian.” Still another word that is used is the word “pastor” or “shepherd.” All of them are used to describe the same office. John Macarthur does help to differentiate the nuances between the three when he observes, “Elder emphasizes the man’s spiritual maturity necessary for such ministry, and in many Protestant churches it is the official title chosen for the office. Bishop, or overseer, states the general responsibility of guardianship. Pastor is the word shepherd and expresses the priority duty of feeding or teaching the truth of God’s Word.” The Bible does give qualifications for being an elder in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. You can see all three words used here in our passage.
But don’t miss Peter identifying himself first as one who has and is experiencing a relationship with Christ. Look at the word “witness,” which is a word from where we get “martyr.” It simply means, “one who personally saw and experienced something, and one who testified to what he saw.“ And because so often in the early church when you claimed to be a witness for Jesus Christ, you were killed for it, we got the word martyr. Notice also the word “partake” which means “one who takes part in something with someone.” Both words not only emphasizes empathy Peter has with the church leaders, but also how he sees himself in relation to Jesus Christ. Jesus makes him who he is. In the end, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. We are all just redeemed, ransomed sinners saved by grace.
Notice also how often there are allusions to Peter’s experience with Christ throughout this epistle. There are so many! But look even in this chapter. The obvious one is the “shepherd-sheep” imagery in 1 Pet. 5:2-4 and 1 Pet. 2:25. I can’t but help to think that Peter is remembering talking to Jesus on the beach in John 21:15-17 and the time Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd in John 10. Even “clothe yourselves in humility” in 1 Pet. 5:5 may be perhaps an allusion to the time Jesus washed the disciples feet in humility (John 13:1-17). Or in 1 Pet. 5:8 the warning about being watchful of the Enemy, which Peter may have said thinking of the time Jesus told him that Satan would sift him like wheat if he was not careful (Luke 22:31).
The point being that Peter is pouring out to these elders what the Lord had and is pouring into him. You cannot be a leader if you cannot first follow the Lord. This is why Jesus in calling the disciples to ministry first said, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). This is why after Jesus reinstated Peter for ministry concluded with “Follow me” (John 21:19). You can’t lead anyone where you have not gone and the Lord is continually calling us to follow Him, to go where He has gone already. Jesus called us to be His sheep who hears His voice and follows Him. So the first question is not “Are you a leader? Or where are you leading?” The first question is, “Are you a good follower?” You cannot be a good leader if you are not a good follower. Are you in His Word, hearing His voice, talking to Him, receiving from Him, having Him fill you, so you can be poured out? Jesus himself modeled this for us in Luke 6:12-13. Before choosing disciples, through whom He was going to change the world, He spent the night before in prayer. How many of us are serving here in our own strength? Even if you are a parent, you cannot shepherd your kids if you are not obedient sheep an obedient child before the Shepherd following Him. Good shepherds must be those who are getting to know the Good Shepherd really well. Let us not serve out of giftedness, but from brokenness. This is what you should pray for me!
II. Servant shepherds must shepherd God’s flock with the proper motivation (1 Pet. 5:2-3)
So Peter says, “As one who is just like you walking with Christ and witnessing for Christ (i.e. growing in relationship with Christ), knowing how you feel as we are all suffering for Christ and yet also waiting for Christ’s return, shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.” Whose flock is it? God’s! Strictly speaking, there is no such thing really as “my church” or “your church” or “my ministry.” All of it belongs to God, which means Heb. 13:17, shepherds will have to give an account to the owner, the Chief Shepherd, one day in how they shepherded His flock…oh boy!
By the way, when Scripture calls us sheep, it is not a compliment! Ever see those paintings where the white Jesus is holding this lamb in his arm? Sometimes those paintings lead us astray to think: “aww, that’s sooo cute! I’m like Jesus’ pet. He strokes my nice wool and we jump in the fields together and he carries me on my shoulder…awww.” Actually did you know:
·Sheep are most unintelligent of animals they’re dumb. They are least able to take care of themselves.
·There are no sheep trainers, sheep tricks or sheep in circus
·They are defenseless—no fangs, claws, can’t bite or outrun you.
·No teams with sheep as mascots---we have the Chicago Bulls, St. Louis Rams, but not one team with sheep!
·No tv show dedicated to sheep as a main character. Dolphins had Flipper, horses had shows like Mr. Ed, cats had Garfield, but you are not going to find any sheep shows topping the Nielson ratings. Even owls have a movie now!
·They are dirty---cats and dogs clean themselves, birds can be found in a birdbath, bears in a river, but sheep are dirty and stay dirty. They eat and defecate in the same place.
·They follow the crowd---down the cliff!
·They are easily distracted, stubborn and prone to wander. If it falls on its back, it has really fallen and can’t get up. They are totally helpless and dependent, easily frightened and you cannot drive them like cattle, they need to be shepherded.
But the Scripture says we are sheep who went our own way. But we are redeemed sheep because our Shepherd laid down His life for us and purchased us (Is. 53:6; John 10:11; 1 Pet. 1:19). Interestingly, the word “flock” and “its use here and in verse 3 apparently expresses endearment. Rotherham translates, “Shepherd the beloved flock of God.” It’s so humbling to me that God can take such an animal and call it beloved! This only because of the value that God gave it because He gave His life for it. I love Luke 12:32: “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” What love!
Nevertheless, sheep need shepherding. The word “shepherd” here means everything that is required for the well-being and safety of the sheep, whether “…protecting, leading, guiding, feeding, etc. (cf. BAG, p. 690).” I want to break down the various tasks. What does it mean to shepherd God’s flock?
a) Feed them
David says the Lord is like a shepherd leading him to green pastures and still waters (Ps. 23:2). Sheep often grazed on the fertile grass produced by rain. In the summer and autumn they fed on weeds and stubble left over from harvest. Like camels sheep can go long periods of time without water and then drink as much as nine liters. In contrast to goats, who are quite independent, sheep depend on the shepherd to find pasture and water for them. Otherwise they forget to eat. But if they don’t eat, they stop milking and growing.
I really hope you are not eating once a week, just at church. You’re going to get sick if that’s the case. My desire is to bring you to the lush, green pastures of God’s Word. But I cannot make you eat it. You have to choose to eat. I hope to make you hungry for God’s Word as you go about your week. And you really just don’t want to eat food that I ate! I don’t care if you fill out the outline or not. I don’t care if you do not remember all the points. I hope the Savior grabbed a hold of you! God is not interested for you to sit around the green pastures and look at the food the pastor ate and you never eat from God’s hand. God provided manna to His people, but He never put it next to their pillow or magically ingest it into their stomachs. They had to go out and get it (Ex. 16). My job is to make the pastures look amazing to eat. I want to make the still waters of God’s Word sparkle so much that you thirst for it. I hope to make God look so good you can’t but help to run to Him and eat from His hand. I pray Living Hope is a church that has its sheep taking care of their spiritual diet daily! Secondly,
b) Be among them
Notice “among you” repeated a couple of times here. It shows that shepherds are not absentee lords, sitting in a castle while the sheep are in the valley, but living among them. I have been to churches where the church leaders all sit on the stage and watch the audience. What? No, the best way to shepherd is to live among the sheep. This is what God did. He did not stay in Heaven and look down at us and say, “Get to know me!” No, the Word became flesh and dwelt (literally, pitched His tent) among us (John 1:14). So there is a balance between being over people and among people. We need to be over and among and wrong focus on either extreme can cause problems I hope you know that Jenny and I want to live life with you. We want to share our struggles, our joys, our pains and be among you. And I am glad our servant team is not hired from outside, but picked from the inside, among the sheep. You want to best shepherd your kids or youth, live among them. Be an ear more than a mouth.
c) Watch over them
Not “watch them,” but watch over them. Notice in the text: “exercising oversight.” Oversight, again, means to oversee, literally, to gaze upon or look upon something. He’s going to elaborate what it means to watch over the flock of God by mentioning three negative ways---i.e. how not to oversee-- paralleled with three positive ways---i.e. the character needed to oversee. I’m going to put them into three categories. God is going after the motives of the heart. He cares more about how you do ministry than where you do ministry. Yes, these are points within a point within a point (sorry to go all Inception-like on you!)
1. Serving from calling not compulsion
Compulsion here means “coercion or to be compelled by force.” This is dangerous in ministry. What was a delight soon becomes mere duty. What was once “I get to do this!” becomes “I have to do this!” If that is you right now, I would urge you to pay special attention to your soul. I was thinking of the reasons why people end up feeling compelled by force almost to serve.
There are a lot of reasons. First of all, lack of leadership. We just don’t have enough people! Often people get pushed to places they did not want to be. Secondly, the weight of responsibility is heavy on your heart and insecurity sets in, you listen to lies that the Enemy tells you about how you are not good enough to do this, etc. and before you know it, you feel paralyzed thinking more about how great the task is instead of how great God is. Secondly, you’re addicted to approval. Minimal response from people you serve and then doing it week after week to get that encouragement and response, you end up serving out of compulsion. Thirdly, you’re stuck with it. Ten years ago someone once asked you to watch the nursery while they stepped out for a moment and now today you are the nursery director! Now you are serving out of compulsion. Fourthly, you’re alone. Especially at our small church, not a lot of people can replace you. There’s no one else to do it. Guilt can be a factor. So serving becomes a burden and not a blessing.
All of these reasons are valid and real. Obviously we cannot wait until our hearts have perfectly pure motives to serve for then no one will serve! And I think sometimes you may need to step down either to take a break or because you feel God is calling you elsewhere. Come and speak with me if that’s the case with you. However, most of the time, it is because our hearts are in the wrong place. So what’s the way to get out of it? Peter says serve “willingly as God would have you.”
Literally, he is saying serve heart-motivated according to the will of God. In other words, go back to calling. Did God call you to this? If He called you, He will equip you with all that you need to serve Him well and make Him look good. Come back to Him and His call on your life. I tell young people who want to go into ministry full time telling them that if there is something else you feel like you can do, do it! It is no joke! Pastor Ray Pritchard says that pastoring “…demands the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, the strength of Samson, the courage of Daniel, the kingly character of David, the administrative ability of Nehemiah, to say nothing of the compassion of Hosea or the battlefield brilliance of Joshua.” That is for full time by vocational work I am talking about. But even if you are just a volunteer servant at church, you have to go back to how God has gifted and called you if your soul is shriveling up in serving out of compulsion. Another commentator observes, “God neither compels us into His kingdom nor forces us against our will to do a specific task. He draws us by His grace…God is a gentleman. He wants His children to willingly and enthusiastically to love and serve one another.”
Paul says, “The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, once said, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” When I experience His love for me, the weight of responsibility comes off my shoulder and unto His. When I experience His love for me, I’m addicted to His grace and I serve from acceptance and approval of Him not for acceptance and approval. When I experience His love for me, I am not thinking “how did I get stuck with this job?” I am thinking more, “What a privilege I have to serve the Lord with that He has entrusted to me!” And when I experience His love, I am no longer feeling alone. I toil with all His energy that mightily works within me (Col. 1:29). He stands with me, beside me, inside me, above me and serves through me! John Ortberg says, “Living in grace is learned behavior.” I also think that serving from grace is learned behavior. Often the case is that we have not yet learned what it means to serve from grace. What would ministry look like if you sacrificed because you have been the recipient of the greatest sacrifice? That you would give your all because God has given you His all?
2. Serving in selflessness not selfishness
Next overseers, watch over the flock “not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” “Eagerly” here “indicates zeal, energy, and enthusiasm for the job… and such enthusiasm is the opposite of the calculating spirit that is concerned mainly with how to make money.” What he’s saying is that don’t be in ministry for the money. Don’t be like Judas, being among the flock with other agendas. I want to go deeper though. Serving in ministry for money is the fruit. The root or the heart behind that is selfishness. Pride and idolatry is at the root of every sin. In other words, don’t serve always looking for what you are going to get out of it.
Shepherds must not shepherd feeding the sheep with one hand, while eyeing and coveting the sheep’s fleece with the other. Perhaps earthly shepherds do that, but Christ’s shepherds must serve selflessly. One commentator says, “To enter the ministry simply because it offers a respectable and intellectually stimulating way of gaining a livelihood is to prostitute that sacred work. This warning also includes the temptation to use the work of the ministry to gain personal popularity or social influence. When a love for gain reigns, the shepherds are prone to become mere hirelings, feeding themselves at the expense of the flock.”
John Holt also remarks that “Ministry is giving when you feel like keeping, praying for others when you need to be prayed for, feeding others when your own soul is hungry, living truth before people even when you can't see results, hurting with other people even when your own hurt can't be spoken, keeping your word even when it is not convenient, it is being faithful when your flesh wants to run away.”I’m sure he is not implying that you don’t need to get fed spiritually or never get prayed for, but he’s highlighting that selflessness is so important in ministry and shepherding well.
Guard your heart with thinking things like, “Did I feel good from serving? Did people get anything out if it? Did people like me? Did people respect me? Did people notice me?” These things happen especially right after you serve. For me, I fight it all day Sunday. I fight it all day Saturday. I fight it in the shower. My flesh wants to be fed so badly and of course encouragement is always welcomed, but coddling and entertaining those thoughts soon make ministry about self and not the Savior. Ego stands for edging God out and the solution to decreasing self is always an increasing Christ. So what helps me is to pray in gratitude and leave the sermon with the Lord at the altar of thanksgiving.
3. Serving as humble examples not for a hunger for power
Lastly Peter says that oversight entails “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” Domineering conveys the idea to “to control, rule, to be lord or master of.” In other words, do not be in ministry for status or power. Jesus taught the disciples about Gentiles who lord instead of being a loving servant (Matt. 20:20-28). So God’s Shepherd must not try to be like a cowboy and drive cattle. Shepherds must serve and lead sheep. Sheep cannot be driven. They need to be led. So church leaders must not come across as “most holiness reverend right blessed bishop do- what-I-say-because-I-told-you-so.” Remember, you church leader are also just a sheep. Peter will be talking about humility soon. I often feel like in American Christianity we have far too many celebrities than servant shepherds. We need more leaders who will serve and servants who will lead.
Notice why you can’t lord your position over people because they are “those in your charge.” Other translations say, “entrusted to you.” The people under you (even your own kids) are allotted to you. So “the allotment implies responsibility; God has assigned the various portions of His precious possession to their personal care. Elders thus ought not think they can do with their allotted portion as they please.”
Rather Peter says, be “examples.” A pint of example is worth a gallon of advice. An example is the best sermon you can preach. Jesus is our greatest example (1 Pet. 2:21) and one church father said, “"He became what we are that He might make us what He is.” We need leaders who lead like Christ through Christ and for Christ. We need examples of servanthood, not greedy power hungry people who love and want status.
A lot has been said here about what it means to shepherd God’s flock. It seems like a huge privilege and heavy responsibility and motives are so important. Why do this again? All of this sacrifice for what? Last point goes quickly:
III. Servant shepherds will receive the Chief Shepherd’s reward (1 Pet. 5:4)
Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd who died for His sheep (John 10:11), the Great Shepherd who lives for His sheep (Heb. 13:20-21), He is also the Chief Shepherd who is coming for His sheep (1 Pet. 5:4). Peter says He will “appear,” which means “to make manifest, to make clear or to reveal.” Now you have been serving the Chief Shepherd by faith. But as Augustine once said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” Not only will your faith be rewarded by seeing what you have always believed, but you will also receive, which “conveys the thought of getting something for oneself and carrying it off as wages or a prize”an “unfading crown of glory.”
Crown here refers to “the athlete’s crown, usually a garland of leaves or flowers that would quickly fade away.” These were used to celebrate occasions of joy and victory.But as we all know, flowers do not last. They wither. But our crown is “unfading.” Why will it never fade? It says in Heb. 2:9 that Christ is crowned with glory and honor. We will get to share in His glory for faithful service!
So the challenge is either build for the Lord on the sand of selfishness, power and duty or build for the Lord in selflessness, humility and love. Building on sand will never last in the end. Those are fading crowns of glory in this life. God sees all. He sees all that we do in serving Him, whether noticed by others or not. He also sees all that we do in wrong motives. He sees all. Let’s be reminded that our labor is not in vain and to serve in such a way to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:14ff).
As I close, I think the Lord would have us search our heart. Why are you serving here? What are your motives that need to be purified? Are you talking regularly with the Chief Shepherd? Are you eating from the pastures of His Word? Perhaps you have lost the joy of serving. Perhaps you feel like you have to instead of you get to. The Lord sees all of that. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s the Chief Shepherd. He’s the Great Shepherd. Perhaps you need Him to pick you up and have Him search your fleece, your heart. Allow Him to do that now. Ask the Lord what it means for you to serve in and from grace. Ask Him to take your heart and make it like His. Ask Him to replenish your emotions, your attitudes and your energy. Ask Him to refocus your heart to the things that will never fade away. Then thank him for the privilege of serving Him here and that He will reward us when we see what we have believed for so long.
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