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: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:1-4
On Sunday, we had the privilege of ordaining and installing a group of men who have been called and confirmed to serve the church as elders and deacons. We believe the Lord has called these officers to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). As we focused on Peter’s exhortation to the elders of the early church, we considered the challenges of being a shepherd. Whether we are officers or not, many of these challenges apply to all of us as we love and serve one another. Some are called to ordained offices in the church, but we all are called to shepherd somewhere—in our families, friendships, neighborhoods, and workplaces. What must we remember as we seek to shepherd others?
Throughout our study of the life and letter of Peter, we have been reminded that it is absolutely essential for us to embrace our primary, permanent identity as beloved children of God. Jesus Christ, “the chief Shepherd,” has lived, died, risen, and ascended to bring all of His wandering sheep home. The Good Shepherd became a Lamb who was slain so that His lost sheep could rest in the security of His loving embrace. We should always be more impressed with what the Lord has done for us than what we are doing for Him, but we are prone to wander away from green pastures and quiet waters. We are tempted to try on other identities, and finding our meaning in serving the Lord is an alluring one. Oswald Chambers warns us, “Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for Him.” When the secondary becomes primary, we are on the road to idolatry. When serving Jesus supplants abiding in Jesus, the shift seems subtle, but it’s significant. We begin to see ourselves primarily as shepherds, not sheep, and the weight of ministry shifts from the Lord’s everlasting arms to our own fumbling hands. Defining ourselves as people who do this or that for the Lord may seem noble, but rejecting the identity we have in Christ and seeking to find it in our ministry performance is ultimately a picture of pride.
As we pray for our elders and deacons, we should also pray for every member of the body of Christ. We are all tempted to make secondary things primary, to find our life in good things, just not in Jesus. So may the Lord always remind us that we are sheep before we are shepherds. May we trust that Jesus Christ will continue to shepherd us until He returns to gather His flock. As we seek to feed others, will we remember that we ourselves are hungry? Augustine says, “I go to feed myself so that I can give you to eat. I am the servant, the bringer of food, not the master of the house. I lay out before you that from which I also draw my life.” Can we rejoice in the humbling reality that we are sheep whose lives are constantly dependent on the Shepherd?