Terminology is important. What we call ourselves says a lot about how we view our role.
Marci and I do our daily Bible reading with the help of the Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘New Daylight‘ notes. This morning the set passage was 1 Peter 5:2-4, but we read a little more than that. Here is the passage:
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 favour to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-8 NIV 2011)
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.
In the short note in ‘New Daylight’, the author frequently used the terms ‘leader’ and ‘servant leader’, but the thing that interests me is that Peter never once uses this word in this passage. His preferred term is ‘shepherd’; he talks to the elders and tells them to see themselves as shepherds after the pattern of the Good Shepherd himself.
What am I saying – that pastors don’t lead? Of course not. But terminology matters, and Peter’s instructions in this passage actually run counter to much accepted leadership wisdom. Authoritarian leadership is not appropriate for a Christian shepherd; we’re told not to lord it over the flock, but instead to lead by example – in other words, modelling the true Christian life in the sight of the congregation so that they can see what it looks like and want to emulate it (of course, this assumes that Christian congregations are small enough for the members to know their elders well – which perhaps has something to say to our obsession with church size).
Not once in this passage are we pastors told to ‘lead’. We’re told to be shepherds, to watch over the flock, to be eager to serve, and to set a good example. Personally, i think if we do these things, the leadership will take care of itself. But I think if we focus on leadership and neglect these things, the flock will find itself without the shepherds it needs.
Terminology matters. We may lead, but leadership is not our primary calling; shepherding is. May the Lord help us to be good shepherds of the congregations we serve.