On being a good shepherd

This morning in my devotions I read 1 Peter 5:1-7:

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: 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;  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.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV 2011)

Of course, as a pastor I find this passage to be very relevant to my situation!

The illustration of the good shepherd is one of the best-loved biblical images for Jesus. In the Old Testament it was primarily a royal image – the shepherds were the political leaders of Israel, and they often fell short. But in John 10:1-18 Jesus took this image and redefined it around his own ministry, and the New Testament applies also it to those who take leadership positions in the church: they are called ‘pastors’ – which means ‘shepherds’ – under the authority of the Chief Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are two dangers inherent in this ministry to which we pastors have been called: greed and authoritarianism.

Greed comes to us in many ways, because when you are a church leader there are dozens of opportunities to enrich yourself financially. This is a particular temptation in wealthy churches where the pastor’s income is probably much lower than most of his or her parishioners; envy starts to do its insidious work, and the next thing we know, we are doing things we never thought we’d do, because of course ‘we deserve it’.

Authoritarianism is a perennial temptation, especially in these days when there is so much emphasis on ‘leadership skills’. At heart, it’s about role confusion: Jesus Christ is Lord, and I am not! In this passage Peter specifically renounces authoritarianism: ‘…not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (v.3).

Here are the positive injunctions:

  • ‘Be shepherds’ (v.2)
  • ‘Watching over them…because you are willing, as God wants you to be’ (v.2)
  • ‘Eager to serve’ (v.2)
  • ‘Being examples to the flock’ (v.3).

It is a high calling and at times the burden seems heavy. That’s probably why Peter reminds us in verse 7 to ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’. Tom Wright comments:

The verb is a strong one: pick up everything that is bothering you, everything that is weighing you down, and fling them on God’s back. He will carry them. He will be delighted to do so. He loves you, after all. (Early Christian Letters for Everyone, p.94).


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