Attention All Shepherds (and Sheep)

1 Peter 5

Tuesday, October, 11, 2022

Chapter 4 ends with verse 19: Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (ESV).

The suffering in the New Testament is related to living a life set apart from worldliness, which is opposed to God’s will. It is not God’s will that we should suffer, but when we follow in the ways that he has prescribed for us we will undoubtedly face opposition and ultimately suffer for the sake of the Gospel. We need to trust that our creator will ultimately use that suffering for good. There’s a popular song that we sing at my church that has the line “you take what the enemy meant for evil, and you turn it for good” (drawing on Genesis 50 for inspiration).

Chapter 5 then begins with Peter addressing the leaders of the church, specifically calling to mind the sufferings of Christ. Pastors/elders are to function in the role of shepherds for the congregations that have been entrusted to them in leadership. The verb that is translated as “shepherd” also can be translated as “feed” – does this directive remind you of any instructions that Peter himself received from Jesus?

In John 21 three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him (notice a correlation between Peter’s three denials of Jesus and the three affirmations that Jesus receives from him?) and three times tells him to feed his sheep (this is a different Greek word in John, but it means essentially the same thing). As the primary leader of the church Peter was to feed Jesus’ sheep, meaning Christians. The impetus for this spiritual leadership is not to be out of self-importance or in Peter’s case even that Jesus chose him to lead, but out of love for his master and savior (and friend!). When we see Peter lead, he is following in obedience to the one who called him out of the boat and invested in him and entrusted him to feed his sheep. Peter certainly was not doing this for gain or for an easy life, I imagine his life would have been much easier had he simply decided to go back to fishing full time, but he faced many trials and much opposition in his preaching the word and leading the church.

In the same way, those of us who are called to be pastors and elders (who are specifically addressed here, but anyone who holds an office in the church should take heed of this) should be using their love of Jesus as their motivation for leading. Presumably most church leaders start off this way, but it can easily go to one’s head. There are many public instances of pastors who have become controlling, power hungry, and abusive (quite often we see this in large churches with lucrative opportunities for pastors) – but even in small churches the desire to control can infiltrate the hearts of those who are called to lead or “run” the church. Elders (I’ll include pastors in this title from here on out) are to be willing and eager to carry out the work that they have been called to. With a calling to leadership comes responsibility – a significant thing to note is that we who are in authority (and who teach) are held to a higher level of accountability (James 3:1). Those who are in authority are to be an example to those who they oversee spiritually, and humility is one way in which we should be an example. Jesus stated that he was gentle and humble (Matthew 11:29), and we see in Philippians 2 that humility was essential in Jesus salvific work as God’s anointed one.

As Jesus was humble and as we who are elders (overseers) are to be humble (following Christ’s example), so then are the members of the body to exercise humility and submit to those who are in authority over them. If leaders are humble and operating as Jesus would expect them to, then humble Christians submitting to the godly authority that has been placed over them will thrive in their submission. We’re never going to agree on everything and that is why the decisions of local congregations are to be subject to the elders and not left up to the democratic will of a large collective. Elders absolutely can delegate responsibilities and set up clear roles for the body (Acts 6), but the authority over the church should lie with them.

We just added two new elders at my church yesterday. The process was not a short one… Myself and our other elders had many discussions on who we thought would be a good fit to assume these offices and eventually recommended that these two individuals be confirmed as elders. We don’t accept nominations for elders, but rather we look for men who meet the requirements of elders as listed in Titus 1, and then we have a confirmation vote. Other churches do things differently and may have boards structured in different ways or may be more egalitarian in the way that they define elders, I don’t condemn that, but we need to take seriously the guidelines that are listed in scripture and not be too quick to structure things in a way that is more reflective of the nation/society we live in than how the early church did things. Regardless of our views on church leadership one thing we need to be able to do is disagree with grace and love.

We need to make sure that whatever disagreements we have are dealt with in love and we need to not let them distract from what God would have us do and we need to make sure that we keep our minds clear (5:8, reaffirming 4:7), be on the lookout, and refrain from being anxious (cast those anxieties on God, see also Matthew 6), because the enemy prowls like a lion looking for someone to devour. When we allow conflict to take root or we allow anxiety to be prevalent in our churches, bad things will happen. We may often think about the enemy being on the prowl for individuals, but he’d also love to devour a local church and render it ineffective at making disciples or worse, cause it to die out (is that really worse?). I bet we could all think of examples of things we can (or do) divide over, one such argument could be what Peter means by “our enemy the devil”, but we need to take seriously the words of the author of Hebrews when he/she says: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:14–15 ESV).

-J.J. Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

1. For those of you in authority: do you do it willingly? Eagerly? Without being domineering? Sometimes we do have to be forceful and make unpopular decisions, but that can still be done in a graceful and kind way. Do you need to be humbler, or do you think you have that well under control? Do you have an individual in mind that has authority problems with whom you can practice extra grace?

2. For those of you under authority: Do you respect those who have been placed in authority over you? Do you easily submit to that authority? Do you gossip about the leaders of your church and cause problems that way? Do you stop attending church when changes occur, or decisions are made that you disagree with? Do you go church hopping and just stick around till someone ticks you off and move on to the next place (which might just be going back to a former church until the vicious cycle starts over again?

Podcast Recommendation: The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill (from Christianity Today). It can be difficult to listen at times, but it has lots of examples on how to do leadership wrong, which we can benefit from.

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