Good morning church! Right now we are going through an exciting series titled “The Church”. A couple of weeks back we understood that the church isn’t a building or an event we go to but it is the redeemed children of God. Last week we learnt that the church has an amazing purpose – to glorify God by preaching the message of His grace! This week we’ll try to understand a little bit about the leaders / pastors / elders (NT uses these words interchangeably) that God has appointed to lead the church.
But before we get into the passage, I want to start by asking a few questions. In today’s day and age, is it relevant to have pastors in the church and our lives? If we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit in us to lead us, do we really need a pastor? Or is it like every team needs a captain & every organization a manager, is that why we require a pastor? Do we really need another person to tell us what we should or should not do?
Let’s look to the Bible to understand God’s purpose in appointing pastors.
1 Peter 5:1-5
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,[a] not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
3 observations on pastors from this passage:
1) Being a pastor is a role and not a title
shepherd the flock of God that is among you (v2)
The word pastor actually means “shepherd”. What if we called the pastors we knew as “Shepherd so and so” instead of pastor? Suddenly is sounds less prominent and sort of funny. It’s a role and not a title. For many of us – the word “shepherd” although we know the meaning but the visuals aren’t familiar because there aren’t too many shepherds around us. But in that time and culture in ancient Israel, they knew exactly what Peter meant when he said “shepherd”. They knew that the shepherd’s duty was to keep the flock intact, protect it from predators and help the sheep find pasture to graze on.
Feed the sheep – In John 21 is a fascinating passage where Jesus basically asks Peter thrice if he loves Him. Peter responds “Yes” three times and after every response Jesus tells Peter to feed His sheep. In a sense Jesus was trying to tell Peter that he was to show his love for Jesus by feeding the church. With what? The word of God. The primary responsibility of the pastor is to preach, teach & guide the church with the Word of God. It’s not to entertain or plan programs but to preach and teach the Word of God because it’s the Word that will cause the sheep to love, trust and follow Jesus.
Protect the sheep – In Paul’s last meeting with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he tells to pay careful attention to the sheep of Christ because “fierce wolves” are going to come in to draw disciples after them. Who are these fierce wolves? False teachers & teachings that are going to creep into the church. And the pastor’s role is to protect the sheep from that. I think nowadays with the access that all of us have to the internet, it presents a different type of challenge because we can allow false teachings and teachers to influence us even without meeting them in person. I think one way we’ve tried to address that is by coming back to the gospel and reminding people of what’s true & beautiful & life-changing.
Care for the sheep
exercising oversight,[a] not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (v2)
The pastor cares for the church by watching over them willingly and eagerly. And that’s a challenging question because it deals the attitude of our hearts. If we don’t see any fruit in ministry, will we still serve the church willingly and eagerly? If we don’t see greater commitment and passion for Jesus from the members of the church, will we still continue to serve them willingly? And if the members don’t end up doing what we tell them to do instantly, will we still continue to serve them eagerly? If we don’t ever get anything from the church monetarily, will we still serve them willingly? Genuine care is displayed by willingness and not mere activity.
Model for the sheep
but being examples to the flock. (v3)
Pastors also called to model what trust & obedience looks like for the church. Their lifestyle matters. That’s why in all the passages that talk about qualifications for being a pastor – it always combines character qualities with competency. It’s not good enough to know theology but you have to live it out. In my previous church experiences, I noticed that some churches would automatically consider a person to be a pastor if he graduated from seminary even without paying attention to his life. This can be damaging for the church because instead of bringing people closer to God, a pastor whose life isn’t monitored or tested might take people away from God.
How do we apply this? Sometimes we end up placing pastors on a pedestal creating a divide between God’s expectation of godliness from them vs what He expects from a church member. And although God will hold the pastor accountable to the way he shepherded the flock, God’s expectation of intimacy with Jesus, purity, faith & love from pastors isn’t any different from the way He looks at us. Some of you might be called to pastoral ministry but some others might not be called to serve in the same way but yet God’s desire to see you mature & grow closer to Jesus is exactly the same.
2) God calls broken people to pastor His sheep
Imperfect people – broken leaders! What? That’s crazy. I presumed that pastors were the best in the lot and that’s why they are chosen to be leaders. Not true. Look at v2 & 3. Peter addressing fellow pastors tells them to not serve out of compulsion, not do it for shameful gain & also not dominate or control people! He’s presuming that the leaders are going to struggle with these areas and they need a powerful reminder of what they’ve been called to.
Soul shepherding Institute sometime back compiled a list of alarming statistics regarding pastors in the US (unfortunately I didn’t have any Indian stats)
- 77% feel they do not have a good marriage
- 41% display anger problems in marriage as reported by the spouse
- 38% are divorced or divorcing
- 50% admit to using pornography
- 37% report inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
These are such sad figures. I’m sharing this not to justify any of the sins. It’s absolutely wrong & abusive to the flock of God. I can’t imagine the pain & hurt it has caused to the church members & families of these pastors. My intention in sharing this is to indicate that pastors are broken people in need of redemption. How do we comprehend this reality? For the members, I think it’s to recognize that your pastor cannot be your redeemer. If you are looking at your pastor to give you ultimate hope, satisfaction and peace – you will be end up being terribly disappointed at some stage because that’s something he is not capable of offering you. He himself needs to be redeemed. For the pastors, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we cannot be our own redeemer. Since we are used to advising & counselling people, we sometimes forget how sinful we truly are…more than we can admit or even imagine about ourselves.
3) Pastors are under-shepherds of Christ
4 And when the chief Shepherd appears (v4)
It’s a very crucial truth to realize because then that means pastors are accountable to Jesus Christ & it also means that no church belongs to an earthly pastor. The church solely belongs to Jesus Christ and pastors are “under-shepherds”. And I think in this lies the secret to redeeming the brokenness in the pastor & the church – Run toward the Chief Shepherd. Listen to what Jesus says in John 10
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:11-13)
Imagine the same picture of a shepherd in ancient Israel. Jesus says that someone who is hired and doesn’t care about the sheep will run away as soon as trouble arrives for the sheep. When the weighty penalty of sin & it’s deadly consequences fiercely approached us, Jesus Christ our Good shepherd who owns us stood in the way and laid down His life to protect us! That’s the love & commitment of our Chief Shepherd. He doesn’t abandon us. He doesn’t leave us. He fights for us & lays down His life for us!
When pastors rest in this amazing assurance & when they learn how to pastor by mirroring the love and commitment of the Chief Shepherd, it’ll invariably transform the lives of the people in the church as well. Success in ministry isn’t determined by the flock that gathers around a pastor, but success in ministry is determined by the flock that gathers around the Chief Shepherd.
Pray for your pastors – pray for their intimacy with Christ & that they continue growing in repentance. And also, trust their leadership – not only when it comes to administration or initiatives but also when biblically they are challenging or correcting you so that your love & faith increases. (v5)
5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”