Meditations in 1 Peter : 59: Guidance for Shepherds
1 Pet 5:2-4 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Peter, we saw in the previous meditation, is speaking to elders of the local church, the local leaders. Here he now instructs them to act as shepherds. Whereas “elder” is the designation of position, being a senior member of the local church in a place of oversight, ‘shepherd’ is a clearly defined role. We all know what shepherds do – they look after sheep – and if we aren’t very clear about it, Peter explains it in quite a lot of detail which every church leader should consider.
The first thing that spiritual shepherds are to realise is that the flock belongs to God. The people of God, the local church, only exist because each one has been born again – as we saw in earlier meditations – and they are each a unique work of God. The apostle Paul, when instructing the Ephesian elders said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28). If you bought something with some of your own blood, it would be very precious to you. The church is precious to God and we need to remember that. This is God’s flock we are thinking about.
Next then he states the obvious in his description of this flock: “that is under your care.” If you have been called into the position of leadership we need to realise that it is first of all a position of care. Our role is to care for these people, to look after them. Again Paul warned the Ephesian elders prophetically, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31) I include those verses in their entirety because they convey the awfulness of what can happen to the local church and the responsibility that local leaders have to prevent such things happening.
He then goes on to say that we do these things as we serve as ‘overseers’. Obviously an overseer sees over the whole flock and should be able to see the landscape surrounding the flock and so be on the alert to pick up any needs within the flock and ward off any attacks coming from outside the flock.
Then he touches the subject of motivation: “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.” There should not be a sense of heavy duty about this call but a glad willingness which is a joyful response to seeing the need and sensing the call, which provokes the response, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8) Indeed, he adds, “not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” This is not a job and money is not to be the motivation; this is a calling to serve God and serve the people of God. The leader of the local church is first and foremost a servant of God. Jesus taught, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mt 20:26-28). But there is another side of this coin: the flock needs to realise that this man is God’s servant and as such is both answerable and accountable to Him, but also under His direction and protection. This is a man to be honoured.
But that doesn’t mean that the man is put on a pedestal for Peter continues to describe the way of serving: “not lording it over those entrusted to you.” There is no room for pride, arrogance and any similar thing in a leader in the church, no room for throwing your weight around. This is a calling to humility in service.
Yet this something more in this ‘job description’: “being examples to the flock.” The leader is to be someone who goes ahead and who therefore sets an example in life and service for the flock to follow. Paul laid down the criteria for this example giving, in his instructions to Titus: “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:6-9) In all those ways he is to be an example for the flock to follow.
And his reward? “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Jesus will reward this servant in due time in the right way. This is not to say don’t pay the man, for Paul speaks strongly about this elsewhere; it just says God will honour this servant in due season. Rest in that. There are many important issues here for the local church. May we heed them!