“God’s Heart For Leadership” is a series of blogs where we explore biblical leadership principles. Each installment has a short bit of exposition on a section of scripture followed by a “Teach It” section that will have teaching and activity suggestions for you to use with your leadership students.
1 Peter 5:1-3
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.
A Good Shepherd Is…
Of all the word pictures that are used in the bible for leadership, the shepherd is one of the most instructive for the Christian leader today. And here in 1 Peter 5 it finds it’s epitome. Many other places in scripture you’ll find examples of the bad shepherds that were leading God’s people, but in this passage we get see what to do balanced by what not to do. Nowhere else do we get such a clear picture of a leader that serves those he leads, along with the leader’s motivation and Modus Operandi.
Peter starts this scripture with an interesting statement. He begins by stating that he is a fellow elder (overseer, elders could be pastors or could be any of the governing body of the local church). This may not seem like such a big deal until we remember that Peter is also an Apostle. He walked with Jesus, and was one of three that Jesus let in close. Peter was a fellow elder, but he was so much more. So why is that a big deal? Because Peter was practicing was he was about to preach.
Peter starts his exhortation by telling leaders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” In itself this isn’t an extraordinary statement, because that’s exactly what leaders are supposed to do, but there are several very extraordinary things about the way that Peter says this that should get our attention.
First, Peter uses the term “shepherd.” It’s a term that most of his readers would have implicitly understood in that day. These days, many of us don’t know shepherds, or have any knowledge of them beyond what we’ve studied in church. There are many interesting things about shepherds that have direct bearing on how a leader should lead:
A Shepherd is a Guard
Shepherds had many jobs, but one of their most important was to guard. Sheep are rather helpless animals, and are easy prey for a stalking predator. One of a shepherds chief jobs was to secure his charges and keep them safe. In the same way, a Christian leader seeks to secure the safety of those he leads through exhortation, oversight, and sometimes discipline. There are many predators in the world that would have a believer as a tasty snack, but it’s our job to keep our flock safe.
A Shepherd is a Guide
Because sheep tend to wander aimlessly, a shepherd became a champion at guiding sheep. He would guide them toward food, water, and shelter; moving from pasture to pasture as food and water became scarce. A Christian leader also needs to become an expert at moving people from one goal to the next. We aren’t leaders for the sake of leadership, God has given us a goal to keep in sight and guide people toward it. So many of us are leaders for the sake of being leaders; an effective leader always has a goal in sight and is pressing toward it.
A Shepherd Lives with the Sheep
I think Peter alluded to this aspect of shepherding when he said “among you.” Shepherds don’t ever leave the sheep. They live with, eat with, bath with, and smell like, the sheep. They don’t have the option of a corner office where they communicate with the sheep by email; they live and lead from among them. This may just be the most important thing to learn about being a Christian leader: we lead from among those we lead. We aren’t special, don’t get to segregate ourselves from the “little people,” or lead from on high (which Peter is about to address); we live among those people we lead. Christian leaders are in constant contact with them; they are created family.
Next, Peter talks about “exercising oversight.” This idea probably isn’t new to you, the term “overseer” is used throughout the NT to talk about Christian leaders. The idea behind an overseer is that we aren’t micromanagers. The shepherd doesn’t tell the sheep what tuft of grass he should eat from; the shepherd gives parameters and shepherds the flock if they leave those parameters. We need to remember that those we lead don’t necessarily need to hear from us about their calling everyday; they’ve heard already from God. What they do need is shepherding: vision, planning, and support, service, and occasionally, herding.
Peter continues by telling Christian leaders what kind of heart we should have in our work. The attitude you carry with you as a leader shows through by the way you lead, how you treat the people you lead, and what you ultimately care about. Peter mentions that we should be “willing” and “eager.” Willing and eager come out of our hearts, straight from the Holy Spirit. Willing and eager aren’t something that you can fake, and it’s not something that you can learn; either your heart’s in the people you lead and the goal that you’re leading towards, or it’s not.
I think that’s why Peter is adamant that you shouldn’t be leading under compulsion or for what you’ll get out of it. Our heart is quickly revealed if we are motivated either way. In those cases, you lose influence quickly, and everyone suffers. Secular leaders are often motivated by compulsion (climbing the ladder) and by gain (a paycheck, lifestyle, and power) but we can’t be. We have one motivation, and that’s Jesus. He supplies the vision, the gifting, and the opportunity; and we live to serve Him and bring Him fame. That’s the kind of motivation that makes for willing and eager.
Finally, Peter echoes an idea that Jesus talked about in Matthew 20. He exhorts his “fellow elders” not to domineer those people that they lead, but instead be an example. You remember Jesus telling his disciples that domination was a mark of gentile leaders, and that they shouldn’t have any part of that, right? Well Peter was on hand for that, and the message seemed to have sank in. Instead of domineering, says Peter, we should be an example. In other words, Christian leaders don’t lead from the back, driving people with fear and discipline, but from the front, with service and example. We practice what we preach, and as often as possible, practice before we preach.
It’s just a few short sentences, but within this small passage is the blueprint for living life as a Christian leader. It’s obviously easier to say than to do, and it takes a lifetime to get right. But if we build our students around this verse, constantly coming back to it, reminding them of Peter’s words, and prayerfully ask God to give them the strength to live their lives by it’s words, we’ll see a young generation of Christian leaders ready to give their lives in the serving of God and of others.
Reading and Meditating Suggestions
1 Peter 5:1-3
Q. The idea of leadership being like shepherding has some positive and negative images that it brings to mind. What are some positive images that weren’t mentioned in the reading above? What are some negative images that it conjures in your mind?
Q. Why do you think that Peter didn’t mention the fact that he was an apostle, but identified more with the idea of an elder?
A. He was practicing what he preached: that you shouldn’t lord it over the people that you lead, but lead from among them and by example.
Q. Why do you think God’s way of leadership is different from many other methods of leadership?
A. God’s idea of leadership keeps it’s practitioners people focused and God focused. Other methods of leadership focus on money, growth, and self.
Q. How can viewing leadership as shepherding help both leaders and those they lead?
A. For the leader, leadership as shepherding keeps you accountable to both God and the people you lead. Pride can’t get in, because you lead from the front. For those you lead, it’s better because you feel ownership in whatever you’re doing. Your boss isn’t a tyrant, and you feel pride in knowing you are all working towards God’s Kingdom.
Q. How can the shepherding paradigm help you lead better?
Q. How is the Shepherding method of leadership more difficult than other, more secular forms of leadership?
A. Many forms of leadership look on those you lead as under you, and it’s easy to look at them as tools for the job that you are doing. A Shepherding model doesn’t allow you to take that view, and in fact, leading by example and from among those you lead is time consuming, difficult work. A Christian leader doesn’t get to back out of the hard work just because they’re the boss.