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- 1 Peter 5:1 - 5
What’s your favorite food? Pizza, tacos, salad with grilled chicken, hamburgers, spaghetti, a ribeye steak? For most of us when we think of our favorite food, we think of something tried and true, something that has been around for a long time. I like a beet salad with crumbled blue cheese and candied pecans but that is probably not a go to favorite. For all the cookbooks and cooking shows and cooking websites and cooking forums, what we most often eat as Americans is fairly common, tested and tasty food that may not even need a recipe.
When we think about the church and church leadership and church culture, we are not trying to discover the most current recipe or the hippest ideas. We are drawing from very straightforward if not plain teaching on what the church should be, how we should act. And here in I Peter 5, what church leadership should look like. We don’t follow trends. We follow the Scriptures.
We are shaped and informed and affected by the culture to a degree but we are not led by the culture. We are led by the Word. And the Word has always been on the cutting edge of all that is current and relevant in the world. It is always way out ahead of us. And we are eager to be led.
You know right away
This morning we will look at the topic of Church leadership or what church leaders should be like. If you have ever been in a church for more than 5 minutes, you get a pretty good idea of what a church’s leadership is like, who the leaders are, how they lead, how happy the people are with the leadership of the church. Are the people smiling or frowning, are they happy in Christ or are they sad and depleted? Do people feel alive in the church, activated in their giftings, passionate about God and His gospel? Or do they feel like they need to diminish or lessen themselves within the church body so that the “leaders” can take over?
It’s best form
Church leadership in its best form will equip and feed and protect the people so that the gospel is displayed and experienced in the Christian community. This is what Peter said that the church does: it displays the excellencies of Him who you called you out darkness into His marvelous light. Church leaders want to see that happen. Church leaders want people who walk through the doors to see Jesus. And that begins and ends and is fueled by a strong desire to be like Jesus in His humility, in his love for the Father and in his self-dying love for the bride, the church of God.
All good leadership begins with a heart that is riveted to Christ, awed by Christ, impressed by Christ. And from there Christ puts individuals in a place to lead others to that same experience.
To the elders
So, let’s get into this topic a bit more. Peter has been writing mainly to the whole church, all you all, if you will. He has also written specifically to slaves, husbands and wives and here in the first 4 verses, he is writing to the elders of the church. “So, I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder…” Peter says. The word elder is interchangeable with the word overseer. Elders show up in many places in the New Testament like Acts 20, James 5, I Timothy 3 and 5 and Titus 1. When a church was planted by traveling apostles like Peter and Paul, elders were put in place to provide ongoing leadership and instruction for the people. These were basically pastors of the church.
One of many
Today many churches have a Senior pastor and what they usually mean by that is someone who is paid to preach and teach and lead the church. That is good and biblical and right. But the New Testament does not make the distinction that we often do. Churches are to be led and humbly governed by a plurality of shepherds or pastors, called elders. The Senior pastor is one of those elders, one of those leaders.
This accomplishes many things: It pushes back on the notion of a one- man show. It protects the Senior pastor from becoming dis-connected and isolated in his ministry. And it provides the people with more than one person to go to when trouble comes.
A fellow elder
Peter in fact calls himself a fellow elder. This is stunning. Peter was an apostle. He had authority directly from Jesus, as did the other apostles to go and preach the gospel and write the Bible. He was ordained to the ministry by Jesus Himself. And yet he calls himself a fellow elder. He is identifying himself as a shepherd among shepherds, a leader among leaders, a Christ-follower among Christ-followers. If Peter did not put himself above any other elder, than a Senior pastor or Associate pastor should not put himself above any other elder either.
A big reason for Peter’s humility was his time spent with Jesus watching Him lead. He calls himself a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker of the glory to be revealed. The sufferings cannot be limited to his death on the cross because we don’t know for sure if Peter saw the death of Christ. We know that he denied knowing the Savior and we know that he wept bitterly. But we don’t know if he wandered back to the scene of Jesus’ death. And it really doesn’t matter.
Because the suffering of Jesus on the cross was the culmination of many years of suffering. And the death of Jesus on the cross was the culmination of many little deaths. Jesus suffered long before his ultimate suffering on the cross. He had no home, no nest or nest egg, no man cave, no family to go home to after a long day of ministry. He got agitated with the disciples, with his own family, with the religious leaders who consistently harassed him. Ministry was not an easy thing and Jesus suffered through it. Peter witnessed these sufferings. And that had an enormous impact on how he thought about his own ministry. If Jesus suffered, so would Peter.
The example He left us
If Jesus came to earth and enjoyed the best of what He had created and then had an inconvenient few days of arrest and trial and death, then Peter could expect ministry to be like that. But that was not the example that Jesus left us. Jesus embodied what it means to love other people to the point of death, even death on a cross. That makes all of our perceived heroics not seem that heroic but rather a very small response to the great Sacrifice of eternal God.
So Peter keeps that memory of Jesus’ suffering always at the forefront of his mind and ministry. He also keeps the promise of future glory at the forefront of his mind. He had seen the transfiguration of Jesus along with James and John in Matthew 17. That was an image of the glory that Jesus left and would one day return to and that we will one day experience as well. And so the theme of suffering and glory are again interwoven in the mind of Peter and in the Christian experience. Jesus left glory, suffered and returned to glory. We also will suffer and then be brought to glory. This helps us to be wise and hopeful as we move through life beneath the mountain on the way to paradise.
Beginning with Christ
Before even getting to the specifics of how to be an elder, Peter begins with Christ. Good leadership always begins with taking a long look at Jesus and then looking at Him again and again and again.
So what are the specific instructions for the elders, the leaders, the shepherds of the church? The first thing is to shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight. To shepherd is to care for, tend to, lead and protect God’s church, the flock of God. This includes: prayer, teaching and preaching, listening to people, guiding people with the Holy Scriptures, mourning with people and rejoicing with people, identifying bad teaching or influences that will cloud the light of Christ, as well as many other things. To shepherd is to look after the well-being of the church, the flock of God, or God’s church.
The flock of God
Now this expression, “God’s church” is sometimes so obvious that it is casually ignored. The church does not belong to the leaders or the members or the person of highest influence. The church has been bought and purchased by the blood of Christ therefore it belongs to Christ. She is His possession. Christ is the Head of the church. There is no body without a Head. And there is no church without a Savior. There is no bride without a Husband. We owe our existence to Jesus.
The local church
And this global, universal bride of Christ is displayed to the world and experienced through the local church. Elders shepherd the flock of God that is “among you.” So my primary concern is not how well the church down the road is doing, although I do care. My primary concern is how this church is doing. Elders are not called to shepherd all churches or other churches. They are called to shepherd the flock that is among you.
The obvious reasons
I think the reasons for this are fairly obvious: there is not enough time in the day to care of more than God has given you to take care of. If you are raising children, it would be fairly unthinkable to go down the road and ask another family if they could use some help raising their kids. They may take you up on an offer to babysit but if you show up with you hands already full, it will look silly to try to take on more responsibility.a The idea here is to do the task at hand. Do not overextend yourself. Christ shepherds all churches. Elders shepherd one local church.
They are to exercise oversight not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you. This really gets at the intangible thing that needs to be embedded in the heart of church leader: A cheerful, eagerness to do the job. This does not mean that a person is always cheerful. It does not mean that a person may not need some prompting or some pushing to become a leader by the voices of other people. It means instead that a church leader does not do the job begrudgingly but by his own choosing.
This principle extends far beyond church leadership. We are also to give cheerfully and serve with the energy and vigor that God provides. Whatever you do, Paul says, work heartily as for the Lord. This is where a robust understanding of the Trinity really helps. Because we as believers are indwelled by Holy God Who gives gifts and energy to accomplish task related to that gift.
So it is a complete package: task, gifting, energy. When a church has leaders who know their task, know their gifting and have sufficient energy to fulfill the task, everyone benefits. This is a model not just for formal leadership but for all forms of ministry.
How do you know?
But how do you know what our giftings are? These things are often noticed, confirmed or affirmed through the voices of other people. And trial and error is also very helpful in the process. Try things, attempt new things, experience things and a driving passion will emerge and be confirmed by the people in your life.
Not shameful gain
Leaders should not lead for shameful gain but eagerly. There is and always been the misuse of authority to pad the pockets of the ministers, to cook the books. Paul warns of it. Peter warns of it. And there are other forms of shameful gain: grasping for recognition, praises from people, making your identity a public thing instead of a personal relationship with Jesus, using the church to validate your existence and to puff yourself up.
Having God is enough
Instead of doing that, there is to be eagerness or alacrity, a simple desire to do what God has given you to do. David said he would be okay with being a door-keeper in in the house of God. Why is that? Because it’s the house of God. Because he is in God’s presence. And that is the point. To be saved is to be in the presence of God or have God’s presence in you. What you do from there is not that big of a deal. We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices: if that sacrifice takes the form of pastor or an encourager or listening ear, that is up to Him.
Elders are not to domineer over those in their charge but to be examples to the flock. To domineer is to overpower. It’s to tell people what to do with no intentions on ever doing it yourself. This is what made Jesus so upset in His ministry, religious imposters who say one thing and do another, people who use their supposed authority to overpower and dominate people. Jesus says this about religious imposters in Matthew 23, “….. they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” This is using power to lift up one’s own greatness instead of lifting up the greatness of Christ. This kind of authority eclipses the excellencies of the Son and puts in center view the pride of man.
Not adding burdens
Leaders do not add burdens onto people so that they feel helpless and powerless. They actually remind people of the God-given power within them to be faithful to the carry the burdens that Jesus has given them. Leaders are quick to remove the wrong burdens and help people identify what Jesus expects of them, not what others expect of them or they even expect of themselves.
Not a burden factory
Sometimes the church can be seen as the place to get burdens but we are not handing out burdens. We are helping you to identify the wrong burdens and take on the burden Christ has given you, which is easy and light and joy-producing, not joy taking. The church in its best form is filled with people eagerly and cheerfully doing the task that Jesus has assigned for them to do, confirmed by people and accomplished with the energy God provides. It is a be first church, not a do first church.
Those in your charge
Peter does not say do not domineer over your people or your flock. He says do not domineer over those “in your charge” or those who have been assigned to you to care for. This is not an opportunity to boss your people around because these are not your people. Instead it is an opportunity to be an example to the flock. To be an example goes far beyond a public ministry. It includes how one treats his family, interacts with people in the community, how a person handles conflict or criticism, and so on.
This may seem fairly anticlimactic. I want to be a church leader, yes, what do I gotta do?! Begin by being an example. Paul lists allot of qualities of an elder in I timothy 3 and Titus 1. The underlying theme is character, not ability or skill. Some elders will teach and preach and lead more publicly. But all elders are to have a deep affection for Jesus that is not dependent on public ministry but leads to a public ministry.
This does not mean that leaders are perfect. Instead, they are being perfected by the work of the Spirit to make them like Jesus. One of the amazing things about Christianity is the perfect work of God accomplished through very imperfect people.
Christians are often criticized for being “no different than the world.” And I think that is very unfair criticism. Not because I don’t think it’s true. I think it’s an unfair criticism because people take that as a reason to not be a Christian. But it should lead to the opposite response.
What makes us different
Believers in Jesus struggle allot, with anxiety, fears, difficulty raising children, marital challenges, depression and you can add more to the list. What makes Christians different is our inexpressible hope filled with glory. In spite of all that we can’t get right in our life, Jesus has made us right before holy God. And that is what makes us different: Our identity first that then leads to a change of behavior, slow though it may be. People should want to become believers because they need a Savior not because they see a bunch of squeaky-clean people that they want to be like.
Swinging open the door
Leaders of the church make every to swing wide the door to invite the lost to be found and the sinner to be saved. We don’t ever lose touch with the miracle of rebirth. And we are not slow to admit our shortcoming and daily dependence on Jesus. That is what good leaders exemplify: dependence on the ongoing work of God to make us like the Son.
The chief Shepherd
And that leads us to verse 4, “when chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory.” Throughout this whole description of leaders in the church you get the sense that the Main Player is going to show up at some point. Here he is: the chief Shepherd, the shepherd of the under-shepherds, the Lord Jesus. When Peter calls Jesus the chief Shepherd I think he is speaking from the heart and from experience. This is not the obligatory, “Jesus is the Senior Pastor,” type talk. Peter loved the chief Shepherd.
Do you love me?
The chief shepherd asked him 3 times if Peter loved Him. And Peter said, yes. Then do you remember what Jesus said, “feed my lambs.” Not feed your lambs but feed my lambs. Peter had his time feeding the lambs. Then someone took his place and someone has taken and will take the place of every pastor charged with feeding people the Word. But the Chief Shepherd will never be replaced. So then the temporary task of under-shepherds who will one day be gone is to lead people to the Chief Shepherd, the great Shepherd of the sheep Who will never leave you nor forsake you.
Unfading crown of glory
So what is the unfading crown of glory that awaits those who serve and shepherd the church of God? Is it a higher status in the kingdom or some of kind of physical crown that is worn on the newly created head? We don’t really know. Rewards for all of us are in in God’s hands. But what we do for sure is that suffering now does lead to honor then. Work now leads to reward then. Your work at home, your efforts to love and care for people, your unseen tasks are seen by God and not forgotten or wasted. These are good works that God prepares before hand that each one of us should daily walk in.
To the young
Peter makes a summarizing statement in verse 5 as well as a short challenge for the young: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The very fast command for the young is short but purposeful. There is a gravitational pull in every generation of new believers to think that they know best, to recoil from authority or at the very least pay authority lip service with no intentions of listening to their council.
Don’t give in to it
That gravitational pull is not necessarily sinful. But Peter is saying don’t give in to it. Listen to council. Reflect on a variety of perspectives. Be influenced by Godly leadership. To go even further, see it as a good thing and remember that the elders are also subjected to and underneath the authority of the Christ. We have Shepherds in our life because God loves His people. Take advantage of that gift.
Clothed with humility
And lastly, all of you, all of us, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Is humble the first thing you think of when you think of a goal for Christians or a church community? Maybe. Hopefully. Humility is fairly hard to gauge but I think it is manifested or displayed through the way we interact with each other. We are to be humble toward one another, show deference to each other, love one another.
This is not having a low view of yourself and a high view of everyone else. It is primarily having a high view of Jesus. It is honoring people because Jesus died for the person you are sitting next to and are about to talk to or just talked to an hour a go. Jesus died for you. Jesus die for me. Therefore we are equal and equally dependent on His grace. Our particular position of serving the church does not change the fundamental identity of all of us as undeserving and redeemed children of God.
Being clothed in humility actually is a way of asking for God’s grace. God gives grace to the humble. He gives His favor to the humble, He blesses the humble, He rewards the humble. And He does the opposite to the proud. Humility invites blessing. Pride blocks the blessing. And this is most obvious through the invitation of the gospel. All those who respond to Jesus in humility and faith, acknowledging the holiness of God and our need for forgiveness, will be saved. They will be given grace.
But those who are unmoved by Jesus’ death and do not see their need for grace will not be given grace. Pride is the only thing blocking you from the grace of God. Let go of the pride and the blessing of God in Christ will be given to you. No strings attached. Suffering yes but glory to come. Let’s pray.