Four Pictures of a Shepherd

1 Peter 5:2-3 “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

There are four things to point out in Peter’s directions. First is the general picture of leadership: “Be shepherds of God’s flock.” A shepherd is a dear picture of the kind of care our Savior wants us to receive. He uses it as a picture of his own love and care for us. It involves feeding and nourishing people, defending and protecting them, seeking them when they are lost, and leading them in the right direction. Having a shepherd isn’t about having a boss and being told what to do. It is about having someone always watching out for you and being loved.

That is at least a partial reply to those who don’t have much use for churches or pastors. A woman who hadn’t attended church for many years once said to me, “I don’t have to go to church to praise the Lord.” It is true, you can do it at home. But you are only cutting yourself off from the loving care and attention God wants his people to be given. It means not hearing that you are the dear child God has always loved, and forgiven, and gave his Son to save. “Be shepherds,” Peter tells the elders. That means he wants us to be shepherded, too.

One reason people may not understand that may be a failure of many shepherds to follow the second godly direction Peter offers: “not because you must, but because you are willing.” Serving God as pastor is not a rule, an obligation, a burden he has laid on the backs of some poor unfortunate souls. It is a joyful response to his grace. It’s an opportunity to return some love to the one who loved us all the way to the cross. It is an evangelical task, not a legal one.

If a man doesn’t see it that way, he might view himself as the police sent to keep the unruly citizens in check. He might end up like Jonah who preached God’s wrath and destruction to the people of Nineveh, then was disappointed when God relented and didn’t send the destruction he threatened. We may need a little pulpit pounding from time to time. Hard hearts may call for some fire and brimstone. But the last word never belongs to God’s rules or threats. It always belongs to the grace of God that makes hearts willing.

Third, serving in the ministry is never a mere means for making a living: “not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” I appreciate the salary I receive for being a pastor. It allows me to take care of my family and offer my services to more people. But it’s not the reason I do the work. Nor should making money be the main reason for any of the jobs God calls us to do. I once asked a Bible class, “From a Christian point of view, what is the reason for having a business?” Most people answered, “To make money.” No, God created a world in which we can create businesses so that we can offer a product or service to our neighbor. A business is a way to love my neighbor. The money simply makes it possible to keep the business open so that we can offer our services full time.

The same applies to the ministry. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, “It is God’s will that those who preach the gospel should earn their living from the gospel.” But this is not a money-making venture. It is a service, and shepherds who take that to heart would work for free if their circumstances allowed them to do so.

Finally, Peter gives godly direction regarding methods: “not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock.” Remember when James and John came to Jesus, and they asked him for the positions of power at his right and left hand, because they were power hungry? When the whole group became angry (not because James and John asked for these positions, but because they had the gumption to ask before the rest of them thought to do so) Jesus had to remind them all, “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…Not so with you.” Jesus doesn’t call disciples, or shepherds, to create little dictatorships ruling over little kingdoms with an iron fist. That’s the pagan way of doing business.            

Peter expects the shepherd to lead by example. Shepherds need to practice what they preach. That’s what the Chief Shepherd did. Jesus says he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” They called him Lord and Master, but he was the one who stripped down to his underclothes and washed his disciple’s feet. For pastors today, being shepherds means that the sermon they preach with their lives Monday through Saturday is at least as important as the one preached Sunday morning. As God’s people, we are wise to pay attention to both messages.

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