Examples To The Flock
Our text this morning provides an exhortation specifically to elders—a suitable text given that we will soon induct six new members to our Session. But, while Peter specifically exhorts elders, we shall see that his instruction is relevant to every Christian—not just to elders. In the first four verses of chapter 5, Peter instructs the elders, and then, in verse five, he instructs the rest of the church in how to respond to the ministry of elders.
Since chapter five begins with that all-important word, “Therefore” (5:1), we are compelled to examine what Peter says in advance of his exhortation to the elders. What we find is Peter addressing a church that is experiencing tremendous persecution. Peter tells his readers “not (to) be surprised at the fiery ordeals” (4:12) they are facing, and prepares them to “share the sufferings of Christ” (4:13) as they “entrust their souls to a faithful (God)” (4:19).
From this we conclude that it is not unusual for a church to experience adversity and suffering. I confess to you that, no matter how many times I read this passage, I inevitably find myself surprised by adversity within the church. Though nowhere in Scripture do we find exemptions from suffering for the Christian, or for the Church, I still find myself flat-footed when the day of trial comes. Beloved, this should not be.
Peter tells us, “(don’t) be surprised(!)” by trouble in the church. It is not a strange thing to face trouble in the church—it is to be expected.
I sometimes imagine that if we in the church are faithful; if we in the church our diligent in the work entrusted to us, God will reward us with times of ease. I sometimes imagine this, yet, nowhere in Scripture do I find such a promise. What I find, instead, are warnings; what I find instead is the promise of help in the midst of trouble (Ps. 46:1); what I find instead is that when trouble comes, we are to recall that “The name of the LORD is a strong tower”, and when we run to it, we are safe (Prov. 18:10).
As I force my mind away from what I want to be true, and move my thinking towards what is true, it is not surprising that St. Giles Kingsway would have to face serious adversity. What would surprise me most is if St. Giles Kingsway did not face any threats to her health and well-being. For we know from the countless examples of Scripture, that God means to test our faith in order to promote greater holiness (Jas. 1:3). Or, as the Puritan, Thomas Watson, puts it, “The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles.”
So, to the six individuals who are joining the St. Giles Kingsway Session, I say, ‘Welcome to leadership within the suffering church. Welcome to leadership within the church which is weak and wounded, sick and sore.’
As a group of people who suffer in many ways, we require a certain kind of leadership—a kind of leadership described by Peter here in chapter five of this letter. The image Peter employs to instruct the leaders of a suffering church is the image of a shepherd. Peter writes, “shepherd the flock of God among you” (5:2).
You might remember that this was the instruction Jesus gave to Peter as they shared breakfast by the Lake of Galilee. As Jesus inquired about the level of Peter’s love and devotion, He also charged Peter with the task of feeding His sheep and tending to them (Jn. 21:15-17).
As we merge Jesus’ instruction to Peter with Peter’s instruction to us, we should note who the sheep belong to. Jesus refers to the sheep as “My sheep” (Jn. 21:15-17). Peter calls the Christian Church “the flock of God” (5:2). From the apostle Paul we are reminded that we are “not (our) own . . . (we) have been bought with a price” (1Cor. 6:19, 20). And, again, from Paul, speaking to the Ephesians in the Book of Acts, we hear the exhortation to “shepherd the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
These verses also speak to the value of the Church. Because the Church belongs to God; because the Church has been purchased with the blood of Jesus, we who constitute the Church are particularly precious to God. God wants His flock cared for. God wants His flock fed, and so He has appointed some to exercise “oversight” over His flock.
Yes, “oversight” is the word Peter employs here. Christians are not to view themselves as free agents. Just as an individual sheep would struggle to survive on its own, Christians are not meant to be on their own. We belong in a group; we belong in the local church; we belong in a flock where the undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd can tend to us.
How shall the undershepherds conduct themselves? What shall their leadership look like? Peter writes, “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness” (5:2).
Peter speaks first here to motivation. Being a leader in the local church should not be something forced. Exercising oversight should be approached with “eagerness”, Peter says. It should be “voluntary”; it should be counted a privilege; it should be our delight. We do not lead because we crave power; we do not lead because we crave the praise of others; we lead because we care about the sheep. When we exercise oversight over the flock, our motivation for this oversight must be love.
Remember again, the breakfast with Jesus and Peter. Three times Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” And, in response to Peter’s affirmative answer, Jesus charges him, “Tend My sheep” (Jn. 21:15-17).
From this I conclude that the care and affection church leaders will have for the flock will be proportional to their care and affection for the Lord. The motivation for our oversight must come from the overflow of our personal affection for Jesus Christ.
When I met with the group of six, in order to prepare them for joining our Church Session, I told them that the key to being a faithful Session member was being a faithful Christian. The reason being, that our love for Christ will inevitably spill over into a love for His sheep. And, our desire to serve Christ will naturally spill over into a desire to serve His sheep.
With love as our motivation for leading, we should also say a word about the manner in which we lead. Peter says that we lead “not lording it over those allotted to our charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (5:3).
"Lording it over" implies that the elder-shepherd is driven by the desire for power. This kind of individual enjoys putting his authority and prestige on display. This is the kind of individual who needs to be up front. This is the kind of individual who craves the praise of others. Peter tells us that church leaders must not be like that.
The elder-shepherd is not a cowboy, driving his flock like cattle. The elder is to lead the people the way a shepherd leads his sheep. We are to walk ahead of the sheep, removing obstacles and protecting them from outside threats.
You see, the paradigm for leadership is very different in the Christian realm than in the secular realm. Jesus instructs us in this regard, when He says, "whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave "(Mt. 20:26, 27).
And, Jesus also models leadership for us in John 13 when He stoops to wash His disciples’ feet. After washing their feet, Jesus says to them, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (Jn. 13:14, 15). Beloved, this is our model for Christian leadership.
If you are a member of the church session; if you are a minister of the gospel, you should be a foot-washer. The authority we possess, given to us in Christ, is the authority to serve. Our authority is not the authority to control things; our authority is not the authority to behave as we please. Those who would be called to lead in the church are authorized to serve.
And, in case any leader lacks motivation to stoop in service of another, Peter sets before us the “crown of glory”, given to the undershepherds when the Chief Shepherd appears (5:4). Or, as my fridge magnet puts it, “Ministry may not pay very well, but the benefits are out of this world!”
Apart from anticipating future benefits, the Christian leader who serves out of love will find that the work itself is its own reward. Those who serve the Lord will be able to say with the psalmist, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents (outside)” (Ps. 84:10).
Now, to you who will be recipients of the ministry of our Session; Peter has a word of exhortation for you: He says, “be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (5:5).
Are those tough words? I hope not. Because, what are we subjecting ourselves to? We are subjecting ourselves to individuals who are committed to loving us. We are subjecting ourselves to individuals who are themselves subject to one another, and to the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We are subjecting ourselves to individuals who our eager to serve us.
This requires humility. To place ourselves in the care of another goes against our self-sufficient tendencies, and so Peter calls for humility, reminding us that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (5:5).
So, you see, subjection within the church does not mean giving deference to our leaders. No, subjection within the church means allowing your leaders to wash your feet.
I am grateful that I can say that we have those kinds of leaders at St. Giles Kingsway. I am grateful that I can say the six Session members we are gaining today are foot-washers. I am grateful that I can say that the six Session members we are gaining today will most certainly be examples to the flock.
I would like to borrow a verse from our hymn to give a final charge to our new Session members, and yet, clearly this is a charge for all of us. From the hymn, “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord”:
For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end. Amen.