Two previous local-church-related posts have received much attention in recent weeks:
Today and tomorrow we will take a brief look at just three of the duties of pastors toward the members of their flock and one reward that awaits them at the Lord’s coming. There are many more (maybe a future article), but these two posts will concentrate on one key passage of Scripture: 1 Pet 5:1-5.
Spiritual leadership is serious business reserved for serious men. It is serious business because these men keep watch over souls “as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17). The knowledge of a future day of accountability, when the ministry of teaching shepherds will be judged by Christ, the Lord of the church, should cause every minister to approach his God-given responsibility with great zeal and sobriety. This is a proper and biblical motivation for faithful service, as Peter’s charge to his fellow elders clearly indicates: “… 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; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Pet 5:1–4
Three characteristics – The call to church shepherds is to exercise “oversight.” Shepherds do not take authority that belongs to another, but they exercise their God-given responsibility as His overseers. This local-church oversight belongs not to the majority, but to certain qualified spiritual leaders who are appointed by God to watch over His sheep. Peter gives three characteristics of this ministry. Here we find a description of what spiritual oversight should look like in God’s church.
1. Not under compulsion, but voluntarily - First, the ministry of shepherding should flow from a willing heart, “voluntarily” rather than because of outward “compulsion.” Church shepherds must be in their position “according to the will of God.” In other words, they must be men who are not forced into leadership by some outside source such as family or friends, or simply because no one else will do it, but because they are inwardly convinced that it is God’s calling. This, of course, does not negate the importance of having their calling and giftedness confirmed by others, but the fact remains that shepherds must lead willingly because of a desire to serve God and His people. Christ is the perfect example of voluntary service that flows from humility of mind (Phil 2:5-8).
Christ was not pressured to serve. Yes, it was the Father’s will that He should take upon Himself human flesh and die as a substitute for our sins (Heb. 10:5), but His ministry was no less voluntary. He served on His own accord. Likewise, spiritual leaders must be men who are thrust into leadership by an inner “Holy Spirit compulsion.” They must shepherd the flock because they desire the work (1 Tim. 3:1). Louis Barbieri comments, “Because the position of shepherd includes problems as well as joys, the one who labors simply under a human call will soon quit the flock. The faithful shepherd is one who has responded with a willing heart to God’s call to the job of shepherding.”
2. Not for sordid gain, but with eagerness - Second, the ministry of church oversight should be performed with enthusiasm for the work itself rather than with a carnal motive for financial gain at the expense of others. “Sordid gain” refers to a fondness for dishonest gain, that is, to go about something “greedily.” This was certainly a problem among the leaders in Judah: “from the least even to the greatest everyone is greedy for gain; from the prophet even to the priest everyone practices deceit” (Jer. 8:10). Titus 1:7 insists that a church overseer be “not fond of sordid gain.” The implication is clear. A leader who is truly called by God is not driven by love for money, but is motivated by an inner zeal to do His work. However, this does not prohibit proper remuneration for ministers of the gospel. In fact, Paul writes, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:17–18). A faithful shepherd is worthy of financial support, but this compensation must not be what ultimately drives him.
Tomorrow, we will look at the third duty of church shepherds and one glorious reward.