I am in the midst of editing the final volume of my New Testament devotional commentary series titled Live the Word. This last volume covers the epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude. I have wanted to post some other thoughts on leadership and was editing 1 Peter 5:1-4 and decided to share my comments on that passage as my next leadership entry on my blog. Here goes:
5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be 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; 3not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
5:1 – Peter addressed the leadership among the churches as a fellow elder. Eldership seemed to have been the standard governing structure of the early church. It isn’t clear how they related to the pastors, but today we have two models—either the pastor rules the elders in modern churches or the elders (or deacons) rule the pastor. I have not seen many examples where they serve effectively together, but my sample size may be too small. I wonder why that is? Perhaps because we are too hung up on who’s in charge and who has the power. This is why I am passionate about the concept of servant-leadership, which is the only antidote I have found for leadership power and its intoxicating effects.
Sometimes leaders are self-absorbed, infatuated with their own position, needs, and importance, instead of focusing on the flock of God (or the needs of their company). Both pastors and elders can easily develop an attitude of ownership instead of service and leadership. When that happens, the “customer” or church member is generally not served and may even be abused.
Peter addressed the leaders from his unique perspective as an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and sufferings. He also heard Jesus’ instructions to leaders in person, so that makes Peter’s directions to leaders in the next few verses important for all church leaders, for they are Peter’s summary of what Jesus would want and expect from those who lead His church and people. You can see from his letter that Peter did not exalt himself over the local elders, but rather identified as one of them. That pretty much refutes any claim that Peter was the chief shepherd over all the church’s leaders as some would imply.
Note also that Peter was looking forward to his ultimate reward of sharing Christ’s glory that will be revealed. Not all rewards for leaders are given in this life, so we serve in faith that God is watching and will allow us to enjoy His glory with Him in the age to come. Thank you, Lord. Are you a leader? Are you leading and serving, or leading and ruling? There is a huge difference.
5:2&3 – Peter commanded the elders, presbyters, or bishops (they are one in the same title) to shepherd or feed the flock of God. The shepherd was not the focus of the flock, but rather the needs of the sheep were to be the focus of the shepherds. Peter put the emphasis for leaders squarely on the people of God and their well-being. I would say the same is true for those in corporate or secular leadership. Leadership power exists to serve the interests of others and not the leader.
The shepherds or elders had oversight, and that wasn't expressed through the use of power and authority but rather perspective and protection. Yes, the shepherd was and is the leader of the flock, but his or her leadership initiative is determined by what he or she “sees” in regards to the needs of the flock. If the flock needs water, then that determines what the leader will do. If the flock needs pasture, then again the shepherd leads accordingly. It is obvious that the people to a great extent determine the leadership agenda for shepherds and elders. Peter outlined three attitudes that you should use as a guide in your own church leadership roles:
- Lead willingly.
- Lead without focusing on money.
- Lead by setting an example.
Leaders were and are not to lord it over those under there care. Perhaps Peter was thinking of what Jesus taught at the Last Supper:
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:24-30).
Then there is another famous story of something that also happened at the Last Supper in which Peter, the writer of this epistle, played a prominent role:
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:1-17).
When did this foot washing occur? It is my theory that it happened right after what Jesus said as recorded in Luke 22 and provided a great object lesson, a show-and-tell, of what Jesus was teaching His leaders about service and humility.
Every elder, pastor, and bishop (and all leaders everywhere in any walk of life) should read and re-read these verses regularly and reflect on their meaning. Jesus instructed His leaders not to lord anything over His flock, even if it was for the flock’s own good (note that someone who does this, who serves in someone else’s best interests is in Luke 22 is called a Benefactor—Latin for a doer of good). Jesus’ leaders should not have much in common with the leaders of the world or their ways.
How does your leadership style and method compare to Jesus’ instructions and example? How well have you applied the three principles Peter laid out in these verses? How can you improve? What are your other leadership passages that guide and develop your leadership philosophy and style?
Some leaders struggle with how they can lead and be a humble servant at the same time. That is why leaders need the Holy Spirit to help them, for what Jesus asks in that passage in Luke and the example in John are impossible without a total “makeover” in spirit, mind, and heart.
5:4 – Was Peter referring to the last verse or the passage from Luke 22 quoted above? What a marvelous promise Jesus gave to His leaders. If they will lead like He wants them to lead, then He would see to it that they sit on thrones and receive honor and glory. The implication seems to be that if they sought after their own throne and glory, He would not grant them His. So it comes down to when a leader wants to receive a throne—now or later. If the leader chooses later, then he or she must be a servant-leader now. If he or she chooses a throne now, it seems that that leader will be denied one later. Which one do you choose? I will put mine off until later and embrace the leadership role and attitude that Jesus requested today.
You can find all the volumes of my Live the Word commentary on Amazon. This last volume will be published by year's end.