The Heart of a Shepherd: Part 1
Passage: 1 Peter 5:1-4
Of course, this passage is addressed to a narrow group within the church. You may be thinking that I should sit Pastor Kris in the front row and put a mirror on myself next to him, and the rest of you could leave. Of course, I can’t let you off that easy and not just because that would be weird. While Peter speaks to pastors in this passage, it’s not just pastors who can benefit from these verses. The principles that undergird this passage are significant to any leadership position or ministry role. But it is also very important that we are all on the same page regarding what a pastor should be because there are lots of different models of pastoral leadership out there. Some people want their pastor to be a strong leader and others want him to be a team leader. Some want him to be very involved in the details of their lives and other want him to give them some space. Some want him to be a bookworm who delivers heavy doctrinal sermons and others really want someone they can relate to. Some want an administrative wiz, and others want an evangelist. All of these things are good in their place, but we all value different ones more than others. It’s good for us come back to what the Scriptures require and to be unified by God’s vision of pastoral leadership so that Pastor Kris and I are pursuing what God desires and so that you can support us and hold us accountable in that pursuit. There is a lot that all of us can gain from this passage to help us work together to build a healthier, more effective church.
The structure of this text is relatively simple to follow. Peter opens by stating the recipients of the exhortation, and then he gives three descriptions of himself that provide the basis for his authority to exhort elders. He then gives his primary exhortation. The elders must “shepherd the flock of God.” Verses 2–3 follow with three contrasts that further explain the command to shepherd. Finally, v. 4 provides motivation for fulfilling the command in the hope of Christ’s return. I would summarize the theme of this passage as being that, “The pastor must lead the congregation joyfully based on consistent godliness and hope in God’s eternal reward.” There is a lot here digest, and this text is one of the most significant NT descriptions of the pastoral office. It also provides a good opportunity to consider some broader implications for how God wants the church to function. Therefore, this will be a two-part sermon built around the exhortation to “shepherd.”
I’d like to begin our study by considering…
The Recipients of the Exhortation:
Verses 1–2 use three significant terms regarding the pastoral office. They are elder, shepherd, and overseer.
Because they are such significant terms and there is some debate about their meaning, I’d like to take some time to define each of them.
The Greek term is presbuteros. The Presbyterian denomination gets its name from this term. In the most basic sense, it is a reference to advanced age or maturity, but it also has a long history within Judaism of referring to a position or office. In the first century, Israel’s political and religious ruling body was the Sanhedrin. These 70 men were often called elders. The local synagogues rulers were also called elders. The early church immediately adopted the title. It’s used frequently in Acts for the leaders of the Jerusalem church, and the NT frequently mentions the elders in the various churches Paul established. But what is the significance of the term? When the term is used of an office, it is never a pure reference to age. Someone doesn’t have to be old to have the office of elder, which is a good thing for me. However, because the term’s basic meaning is age and maturity, the title primarily speaks to the character expected of the office. An elder must be wise and spiritually mature. He ought to carry himself with dignity and sobriety. Sadly, that expectation is valued less and less today. Many pastors are more concerned about appearing relevant and relating to unbelievers than they are about cultivating wisdom. They will wear outlandish clothes and even use vulgar language in order to connect with the lost. They attract people through their humor and charisma more than by their godliness. There’s little about them that fits the term “elder.” But God expects a pastor be mature and wise and to carry himself with dignity.
Verse 2 commands elders to shepherd. Paul used the same verb when he commanded the Ephesian elders to “shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28). The noun form of the same root appears in Ephesians 4:11, which says that God gifts the church with “pastors and teachers.” Therefore, the title “pastor” comes from the imagery of a shepherd. Israel’s leaders were also commonly called shepherds. Ezekiel 34:1–8 is instructive for understanding the significance behind the title. God condemns Israel’s leaders for feeding themselves instead of the sheep (vv. 2–3). He condemns them for not caring for the sick and weak and for ruling with cruelty and force (v. 4). Finally, he condemns them for allowing the sheep to scatter and not protecting them from predators (v. 5). This passage reflects the fact that a shepherd’s job is to lead the sheep, feed them, protect them, and care for them when they are injured. These are also primary responsibilities of a pastor. He is to lead. He is responsible to feed the church through providing a healthy diet of biblical instruction. He’s also responsible to protect the church from false doctrine or divisive influences. Notice again the warning of Acts 20:28–29. Being a pastor requires a healthy mix of wisdom, compassion, unselfishness, and strength. Of the three terms Peter uses, shepherd is the least common in the NT, but “pastor” is the we use most today, because the picture of a shepherd is so fitting. It provides a rich picture of the many different gifts and responsibilities that are necessary to pastor a church.
This title comes from the Greek term episkopos. It’s the term from which the Episcopalian or Anglican Church gets its name. The KJV will occasionally translate it as “bishop,” which makes sense, since the Church of England produced the KJV and bishops are important to their structure. Episkopos is a compound word that literally means “to look over.” Therefore, the translation “oversee” is very appropriate. As a title of leadership it is very similar in meaning to shepherd. In fact, 1 Peter 2:25 calls Jesus the primary “Shepherd and Overseer” (same terms as are used here) of your souls. It is used several times in the NT for the pastoral office, most notably in 1 Timothy 3, where Paul gives the qualifications of a pastor. The title points to the pastor’s responsibility to lead or manage the church. This responsibility is described well in 1 Timothy 3:4–5. By comparing a pastor’s leadership in the church to his leadership in the home, Paul indicates that the pastor is responsible both to oversee the spiritual care of the church and its administration. Therefore, the term “overseer” indicates that a pastor must be a leader. He can’t simply hide in his office all week and pop out on Sundays to deliver a sermon. He must watch over the souls of people, and he must be an administrator.
In sum, elder, pastor, and overseer are the primary biblical titles of the church’s leadership. I believe it’s important that we take a moment to consider…
The Relationship of the Terms:
This is because different denominations see the relationship differently. I mentioned already that Roman Catholicism and Episcopalians, as well as Methodists, believe in a hierarchy of authority in the church. They have local pastors but then bishops that oversee the local leadership. As well, Presbyterians and other denominations who hold to some form of elder-rule generally see at least some distinction between pastors and ruling elders. Their elder board will typically consist of the pastors as well as lay-elders. The lay-elders don’t have pastoral training or really help to shepherd the church; instead their purpose is to govern the church. But the problem with all of these various models is that the NT never makes these kinds of distinctions. In our text, Peter uses all three terms for the same role. Paul does the same in Acts 20:28. Verse 17 says that Paul is speaking to the elders from Ephesus, and he tells them that God made them overseers in order to shepherd the flock. In other words, he assumes that elders, pastors, and overseers are all the same people, and this this is the consistent assumption of the NT.
Based on this fact, we can conclude that…
The NT does not support a hierarchy of church authority.
Local churches are assumed to be independent with their own leadership. Now, the apostles did assert authority over the churches in the first century, but they don’t give any indication that this will continue. It’s interesting that Peter, whom Catholics say was the first pope, calls himself a “fellow elder,” or in some sense, an equal to the elders in the churches.
A second implication is that…
The NT does not support a distinction between ruling and teaching elders.
It’s pretty common for churches to have elders who aren’t deacons but aren’t pastors either. These elders are simply an administrative board. But the NT never acknowledges such an office. This is why our church only has pastors, deacons, and saints, which is what Philippians 1:1 describes when Paul says he is writing to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops (or overseers) and deacons.”
Now that we have described the recipients of the exhortation, let’s talk next about…
The Authority of the Exhortation:
Returning to our text, in v. 1, Peter grounds his exhortation to the elders in three qualifications he possessed.
Peter was a fellow elder.
As I mentioned already, it was pretty common for the apostles to refer to themselves as elders. It happens in Acts and John introduces himself in 2 and 3 John by calling himself an elder. By using this title, Peter identifies himself as being at least to some extent on an equal plane as the elders he is addressing. He can empathize with the weighty task that God had given them. This empathy adds great weight to his exhortation.
Peter was a witness of Christ.
This description speaks to Peter’s authority as an apostle. He had seen the Lord and heard him teach, and Jesus had commissioned him along with the other apostles to lay the foundation for the church. The apostles were to be witnesses in the sense that they were to give authoritative testimony about Christ and his will for the church. As such Peter’s exhortation to the elders was not just the opinion of an equal. It bore the authority of Christ, as do all of the inspired writings of the apostles. Before we move on to the third description, I want to mention a couple of implications of this description. First, Peter doesn’t call himself the pope. He calls himself a fellow-elder, and “a witness” not “the witness.” He assumes that there were other equally authoritative apostles. Second, he ties his authority as a spokesman to being an eyewitness observer. I mention that because some cults and even churches see a continuing office of apostle. These apostles bear an authority that is to some extent parallel to Scripture. However, none of these supposed apostles observed the sufferings of Christ. The office of apostle is tied to historical events; therefore, no one today can be an apostle.
Peter was a fellow believer.
“The glory that will be revealed” is simply a reference to the return of Christ and the glorification of believers. When Jesus returns, Christians will see his glory, and as Peter says, we will partake of that glory. We will be made like him. This is the hope of all Christians; therefore, this description again places Peter on an equal plain not just with the elders but with all Christians. It indicates that while there are offices in the church, there are no classes of Christians. We are equal recipients of God’s grace, and we are all ministers in the church. I remember sitting in staff meeting once at my former church, and I used the word “laity” or “laymen,” and Pastor Doran gave me a dirty look and said, there’s no such thing. We are all in the ministry; God has simply called some to serve in more visible roles.
In sum, these three identifiers serve to both establish Peter’s authority to exhort and his ability to empathize with their struggle.
This brings us to the central idea of the text, which is expressed in v. 2a. Let’s consider…
The Center of the Exhortation (v. 2a):
I’d like to make three statements about this command.
The church belongs to God.
I’m taking this idea from the designation “flock of God.” Peter commands the elders to shepherd the flock. But ultimately, it’s not the their flock they are shepherding; it is God’s flock. Verse 4 supports this idea further when it refers to the “Chief Shepherd” who is Christ. I’ll be transparent and say that this is a reminder that we pastors need often because it’s very easy for us to begin to think of the church as our kingdom to build. When that happens, the work of the pastor becomes more about showing the world and especially other pastors how great they are based on what they built. Thinking of the church as “my church” leads pastors to abusive authority or to covering their sin and staying in the ministry even when they are biblically disqualified. I could tell you stories for a very long time about prominent pastors of massive churches who lost sight of the fact that the church belongs to God and did terrible harm to the church based on their own arrogance. Of course, they don’t get the same headlines in Christianity Today, but there are also many churches who have been ripped apart by a member or a deacon who forgot that the church belongs to God. They get wound up over some minor issue that is not worth dividing the church (I say that because some things are) or because they are proud and must be heard or seen, and they sacrifice the church for a personal agenda. We all need to be very careful that we not lose sight of the fact that Life Point Baptist Church is God’s church. Woe to me if I ever fit the description of Israel’s shepherds that I read earlier in Ezekiel 34. And woe to anyone among us who ever uses this church to advance their own agenda or to scratch a selfish itch.
The pastor is to shepherd among the sheep.
We already talked about the significance of the title pastor or shepherd. Here Peter uses the verb form, and this verb is a command. The tense of the verb indicates that this is an urgent command. The elders must shepherd the flock. Pastoring is not for the lazy or the selfish. It’s not for the cold-hearted or passive. The duties of pastoring are urgent and important. Notice as well, that Peter commands the elders to shepherd the church “which is among you.” This phrase indicates that the common distinction between the clergy and the laity is a false distinction. Elders are themselves part of God’s flock. This doesn’t mean there are no differences. Elders are to oversee. They are to lead, but they are to lead from a position among the people, not above the people. As I said earlier, the pastor who hides from the sheep all week long and then appears from his office to address the church on Sunday is not shepherding well. He has to live close enough to the people that he sees their needs and can anticipate where they need protection. Think of how a shepherd in Israel lived. They were with the sheep all day every day. A pastor needs to cultivate this same kind of relationship. By the grace of God, that’s the desire that Pastor Kris and I have. We want to know you and be among you. I know that there are some of you that we haven’t had much time with yet. I hope you know that this isn’t out if disinterest. We want that time, and we are working to that end.
The pastor is to oversee.
Again, we already talked about the meaning of this title. It describes leadership and management of people and all of the other business of the church. Since we already talked about the significance of the title for an elder, let’s talk a little about its significance for the congregation. This is of course uncomfortable for me to say, but I think it’s fair to say that if God appoints leaders over the church, then he expects everyone else to follow. The church shouldn’t function like American politics where there is constant public campaigning and protests. If we don’t like something about our government, we sometimes take great liberties to make a statement or to express our displeasure. I think we are all glad we have the liberty to express ourselves politically. However, we ought to be more careful regarding the church because I think we all agree that we don’t want to see the kind of fragmentation we have in our culture reflected in the church. Now certainly, we want you to feel the liberty to express your concerns and questions, and we want to hear them. And certainly, I don’t want you to stand back and do nothing when truth and holiness are at stake. But we have to choose our battles carefully. And sometimes when the direction is set, we have to set aside our preferences and go forward full speed ahead. And BTW, that applies to me too. My preference is not always the best thing for Life Point. I’m okay with that, and I hope you will be also.
We’ve seen today that the calling to be a pastor is a weighty, awesome privilege and responsibility. I hope that you will take it upon yourself to help Pastor Kris and I be the best pastors we can be. I hope that you will pray for us that we will walk humbly before God and that we will love his flock. I hope that you will pray for our families because they make tremendous sacrifices as well for the ministry and trouble at home never stays home. I hope that you will support our leadership and be faithful. There’s nothing more significant you can do to encourage your pastor than to be here and to be excited to be here. And I hope that you will love us enough to watch for our souls as we watch for your because we are sinners too. Just like you, my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and no man can know it. As we pursue these things together, the world will see that we are truly Christ’s disciples.