To the elders among you 1 Peter 5:1-14
Scott is Youth Minister at St Lawrence’s, Dalkeith, WA
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Although Peter is speaking to the elders, or leaders of the suffering churches, what he says is important for every believer. Perhaps you’re on a staff team, or involved in volunteer youth leadership, serving in the music team, kids church, Bible study or any other church ministry? If so, how should you lead? What do we expect from our leaders and how can we pray for them and encourage them?
Peter’s instruction to the church leaders is a command: “Shepherd God’s flock.” It’s a biblically rich metaphor of a shepherd tending sheep under their care. A shepherd’s purpose isn’t to entertain or impress. They are to watch over the flock on behalf of the chief shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. This means feeding them with the Word of God by guiding and pointing them to the overseer of their souls, the Lord Jesus Christ. Church leaders are to be these kinds of “under-shepherds”, people who care for God’s flock while they wait for the Chief Shepherd to appear in all his glory. Shepherds lead by helping the flock see Jesus.
How do they do this? First, Christian leaders are willing leaders. Faithful shepherds don’t watch over the flock grudgingly, or under compulsion. You might find yourself saying, “Well, someone has to do it, so I may as well.” We need to catch ourselves and remember that elders of the flock of God are willing leaders. Staying fresh means praying for a willing heart and a willing attitude. If you are leader you might think, “It’s time for me to step down because I don’t feel like leading at the moment.” He is setting the challenge. He is calling for a change of heart. God wants leaders who are so captivated by the Chief Shepherd, so motivated by his mission, that it is their desire to watch over the flock as willing under-shepherds. This is a good prayer for those who are not elders to pray for their leaders, as well as those who have the duty to lead. Duty often is followed by joy. This is a good prayer to pray.
Secondly, godly leaders aren’t pursuing dishonest gain but are eager to serve. Perhaps there are some elders who are pursuing dishonest financial profit. In which case, Peter doesn’t want Christian leadership to become a kind of scam where the true motives are concealed, and the flock are given a raw deal. And notice what Peter compares dishonest gain with: it’s not honest gain. Dishonest gain is contrasted with an eagerness to serve. I think that is one of the biggest challenges to my Christian leadership. It’s not actually about my gain at all. So, when I stop receiving—whether that is acceptance or affirmation—does my eagerness wane? It’s a sure sign that I am leading with a mixed motive.
Finally, Peter says that Christian leaders don’t lord it over those under them, rather they lead by example. Don’t misunderstand the apostle at this point. Leaders in the church are given authority from the Lord Jesus and the congregation and they are to exercise authority. Sometimes we Australians are so enthusiastic about everyone being equal that we’re reluctant to step out in front and lead. Peter says in verse 5 that we are to submit to our leaders. But Christian leaders don’t guide or lead the flock harshly. Military commanders enforce submission. Christian leaders never use coercion. There is no room for threats intimidation, manipulation or even by sway of influence. Christian leadership is much harder. Christian leaders are to be an example. By their example others will imitate them. One of the best tests of faithful Christian leadership is to look behind and see if people are following. When you look at your leaders, do you see a person who is shepherding the flock like Jesus? May God make his leaders like that. Does the church family see Jesus? That is the question. Jesus was an astonishing blend of humility and gentleness. He had courage to confront sin and error with strength of character and unsurpassing and ongoing love and humility. That is what me need to pray regularly for all who lead in the name of Jesus.
In all these things, look to Christ who willingly and eagerly came as the servant of all. He suffered for others even when he was humiliated and rejected. Ultimately, he is the model of a Christian leader who is not lazy, or greedy, or power-hungry. While the church waits for the Christ, the Chief Shepherd to appear in his glory, the under-shepherds are to lead like him. Leaders, don’t throw in the towel. Soon the Chief Shepherd will appear, and, Peter says in verse 4, when he appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. Your crown is both glorious and unfading. A crown far better than this world can offer, kept in heaven for you. Push on to that day when the Chief Shepherd returns and what is temporary will fade away. The fruit of your shepherding will be seen and recognised by the Lord Jesus and that is reason to rejoice, knowing that God used you in spite of weakness, failure, mixed motives and struggle. Your work will not be wasted, it will be recognised and rewarded by our good Father.