What is Biblical Shepherding?
Scripture: 1 Peter 5:1-5
A study of God’s design for shepherding the church from 1 Peter 5:1-5.
Good morning, Calvary. So, there are two questions that run through my mind when I think about a model for how we do church. And those two questions are, does it matter how we organize the church? And second, does it matter how we decide what we do as the church? And the answer to both of those questions entirely depends on our purpose for doing church. Why are we meeting as a church? What is our intent as a gathering of people? And if our purpose for being the church, for gathering as a church here, is to serve our own purposes and our own wants and needs and desires, then no, it really doesn’t matter how we organize the church or what we do as the church, as long as for the most part, our needs and our desires are being met. You know, music can just be about whatever excites us, and sermons can just be about making us feel good about who we are. But here at Calvary over the last couple of years with Dan Worthman, and going through the chat survey, and then again going through figuring out what our vision and our mission statement and our values are as a church, we’ve made a different decision here. We have decided that our purpose is about something other than ourselves and our own wants. In fact, our mission statement begins with the foundation of what we have decided church is all about, and our mission statement begins. “We exist to glorify God.” If that’s our purpose, if our purpose for church comes from who we do it for, rather than why we’re doing it for ourselves, then I would say that must also inform the answer to both of those questions. It must inform how we do what we do as a church. So, we’ve agreed at Calvary that this is not about us. This is about glorifying God and the God we claim we are glorifying has given us an instruction manual to tell us how He wants us to exist as his children, to tell us how he set up and establish the church. And we as a gathering of people, may have the freedom to gather in any way that we like. But if we’re truly gathering for the purpose of glorifying God, not for our sake, then I would suggest that the gathering of the people must be two things. First, it must be intentional, because if we’re truly trying to seek God’s purpose for us in glorifying Him, then what we do and how we do it matters. It’s important. It must be intentional because we at Calvary, we don’t want things to just happen here. We want reason and purpose behind what we do, not just change for the sake of change, but we do want change that brings Calvary closer and closer to lining up with what God has for us, what God wants us to be. And that brings us to the second thing. I believe it must be biblical, because if we are really trying to live out church God’s way, then we have to follow His pattern. And he has given us this book that gives us the instructions for who he is, what he’s done, and what it is that he sees for us as his church.
Now, your board and your pastors have no desire to lead this church in the direction of doing things for our own will and for our own purposes. We want a church that truly glorifies God in what we do and how we do it. And to that end, we’ve been working for a long time together, for years together, on trying to figure out a model for discipleship, a model for for how we do church. And we were really excited to put something before you to say, “hey, guys, this is what we’ve come up with”. But unfortunately, in the process of our excitement, we missed something. We missed that you guys were not sitting there with us in those meetings as we talked and prayed and studied about what we believe God has for us. So, we’ve taken this intentional pause in putting that plan into place as we do something that I think demonstrates our hearts as leaders. We have taken this pause because we want as many of you as possible to be able to be as excited as we are about moving forward with this new intentional and biblical plan for church, this comprehensive shepherding model. So, your leadership is behind this. We’re excited about this. And the leadership has decided that in many ways we want to give you as many opportunities to see what we’re doing and to understand it before we implement it. So, to that end, we have put together a web page that will be or soon be or is already available to you that contains a section of video FAQ answering some questions about the model. We have a side-by-side comparison on there of the original bylaws and constitution and those changes that that we’re suggesting that we vote on. It has a further resources section, kind of some of the things that we’ve studied, that we’d encourage you to look at. But we decided that wasn’t enough. As a board, we decided that it was really important that we teach from the Bible on what it means to be a church patterned after God’s will for His people. So, the board together has decided that that Kyle, Pastor Kyle and I, should teach over the next six weeks on some different important things that we believe are the biblical pattern for how we do church. Some of those things that you’re going to hear about in the weeks to come are today, we’re going to be talking about a biblical model for shepherding. And then you can expect to hear about the offices of deacons and elders, why membership is both biblical and important, how God thinks about authority and accountability, the role of teaching in the church, and finally, the small group structure and why we believe it is biblical and important to be part of a small group.
So, diving right in with this shepherding image that the Bible use, we find that God follows this model of shepherding with both flocks that he has under his care. The Old Testament, partly seen in the passage that was read for us already, describes for us shepherds of Israel that God established over His nation. And He very clearly gave them instructions on how to create his temple, on how the shepherds were to lead the things that the people were supposed to do in response. And then again, in the New Testament, God establishes shepherds over His flock, the church, and He lays out instructions for the church through those shepherds. And those instructions are left behind for us as historical accounts and as letters written to the churches. And then we find that Peter, Peter is one of the first shepherds established in this way, and he was commissioned by Jesus to be a rock upon which the church was to be built. And then again, after Jesus rises from the dead, he speaks to Peter. And he asks him three times, “Peter, do you love me?”. And if Peter’s answer is yes, then Peter must take care of the sheep. He must feed the sheep. Now we see established from that authority, Peter extends that same command out to the next shepherds, the elders who will come after him. And this model was to continue forward each generation of elders picking up the mantle as the previous generation sets it down. So, my point for us today is this. I believe that God has laid out a biblical model of church shepherding that helps us, as the church, to grow into healthy churches by knowing, leading, feeding, and protecting the members.
We’re going to spend most of our time today examining Peter as he passes on this mantle, this role to the next generation. And we’re going to be in 1 Peter 5 verses 1-5. And Peter says, “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. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” So, Peter here has a plea for the church. It is explicitly calling out to elders with a task that he would like for them to fulfill. Yet, reading between the lines, and reading verse 5 here, we see it’s clear that this applies not just to the elders, but to the whole church. Well, Peter is describing, is the relationship, the way in which the body at the church is to interact, to relate to those who have been called to be elders. And when Peter says, I exhort, he’s not really just giving us one suggestion of how we might do church, if that’s how we feel like doing it, this is a strong word. This is Peter urging us, encouraging us as the church to follow this pattern. That the elders would live out this calling first from Jesus and then from Peter. And Peter here is not just some outside consultant brought in to make the church more efficient. Rather, Peter, right within here gives us credentials of why he has the authority to give us this exhortation.
First, we see that Peter is a fellow elder. He’s already living this out. He’s already living as an elder among his congregation, among his people. And he is doing the things that he’s about to ask us to do. He’s speaking to other elders as someone who is leading by example. This thing that I’m doing, I urge you, I encourage you, I exhort you, do it in the same way. Second, not only is Peter a fellow elder, but also, he’s a direct witness of the sufferings of Christ. So, he listens directly to Christ as he taught, as he brought the first members of the body in. And Peter was there to see not only what Jesus said, but how Jesus lived, how Jesus acted, as He led the flock that came to follow him. Before we mention briefly that Peter was commissioned twice by Jesus for this role, once before the cross, and once again he had to restore Peter after Peter fell away. And we’re going to look at that briefly here and found in John 21 starting in verse 15. And so they’re finding Jesus. He’s alive again. They’re excited, and Jesus pulls Peter aside and he’s restoring them to the relationship they had before. And it’s kind of interesting to see how Jesus restores this relationship. It’s not how I would go about it at all. He asks him three time, is Simon son of John, do you love me? And here Peter replies once and then twice. And then he’s hurt. A third time, he’s grieved, he says, because he’s said to him the third time, “do you love me?” And each time Peter says, “yes”. And Jesus’s response is, take care of my sheep, feed my flock, feed my sheep.
Now, this to me, would be the right place to stop. We’ve established, I’m bringing you back on as an elder, and here’s exactly what I want you to do. But Jesus doesn’t stop here. Instead of stopping, Jesus goes on to tell Peter how He is going to suffer and die. Says, when you are young, you walk, and you dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands. Another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go. And this, he said, to show, by what kind of death he was going to glorify God. Now, for me, I think I would much prefer to just focus on the positive. Yet Jesus is saying, look at how important, what it is that I’m asking you to do is. I’m telling you up to the point of your death, follow me. Up to the point when you will join me in suffering and glorifying me, follow me. And so, what we see here is that the Office of Elder for Peter, and for all of us as elders, was to be a temporary thing. We’re not here to serve forever as elder or as leader. That role we serve only one who is forever, the only one who is not temporary, but who is coming back to be both Shepherd and king forever. And what is Peter’s response to hearing this, to hearing that this is temporary and that a death that he doesn’t want is coming for him? Well, back in our passage, what does Peter say? He says, I am a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed. Not hey, now knowing that I’m going to die and suffer and it’s not going to be good, Jesus, I don’t want this. No, Peter says, this is amazing, I get to partake. I get to be a part of joining into the glory that Jesus has already experienced in that suffering for Jesus, suffering for God. So, Peter knows his own end is coming. He has seen the example of how to be a shepherd, and in that, from that, what is his command to the elders? Shepherd the flock of God. So, his focus is exactly the same as the one who came to him. Peter’s focus is to say, hey, I have to go soon. I’m moving on, but I don’t want to leave the church on shepherded. Just as Jesus, going back to the Father did not want to leave the church unshepherded.
So, what does this earthly shepherding look like? How do the elders live this out properly? You know, as your leaders here at Calvary, we’ve spent a great deal of time trying to make sure we understand clearly what it is that Jesus is asking of us, both through Peter here and in the rest of Scripture. And when we presented our Church Shepherd model to you, we presented four things that we believe are the categories of shepherding that Jesus and Peter here focus on. And all four categories can be found right here in this passage from Peter. So, the first word that we took from Peter here is to know the flock. Peter’s plea is for the elders to shepherd the flock of God. But not just in general, not the whole flock, rather the elders are to specifically shepherd the flock of God that is among them. Shepherd the flock of God that is among you. In the weeks ahead, Pastor Kyle is going to take us through recognizing both elders and recognizing the flock, how it is that we know who is the flock among us. But Peter’s words here give us this idea that we as elders should know who the flock is that we are to care for. And also, the idea here is that the flock should know who the elders among them are. So, this is something that, according to Peter, is already identified, something that’s already known. And when it is known, then the elders that are called are to care for that specific flock. The important thing for this message is that we understand that the shepherds have a specific charge of flock for whom they are responsible. And once they know who to shepherd, then they must know how to live this out. What is the role of an elder in shepherding the flock among them? And Peter’s words here contain three ideas that we believe relate directly to leading, feeding, and protecting that flock. I’m going to take them a bit out of order from the passage, but I believe the order we understand them matters, which I will get to in just a little bit.
The next one in the list we presented is lead, and biblical leadership is about going first, about sacrificing personal desire for the best interests of another. This kind of leadership is about elders leading by example, being examples to the flock. And this means not only that our words are the right words, but that the things that we say and teach as leaders are lived out to be clearly seen by the body. If I was up here today teaching to you about honesty and integrity, and yet you all knew that I deliberately cheated on my taxes every year in my business, I would not be right. I would not be fit for the role of a leader in that position. I should be asked to step down or step aside until my actions, who I was as a believer, living out God’s Word, lined up with what I was saying and teaching from that word. I would be a hypocrite if I was up here teaching one thing, saying one thing, and clearly living something else. And this is not simply about making mistakes. Your elders, your leaders, your pastors, were humans too. We need people to shepherd us. We need those around us to help us to maintain that. We make mistakes. We slip off of the path of what we should be doing. And so, we need each other. We need the other elders. We need our spouses. We need you as the body to come around us to help us, to encourage us, to pray for us, so that we can continue to live out God’s model, both in what we say and in what we do. And it means these things, it means these things, because ultimately, we are not supposed to be leading in the direction we want to go. Not leading according to our will as humans, but rather leading in the direction that God wants us to go. And my heart here as a leader is that your current and future leaders would be that for you, that we would be part of a body that would speak and live in such a way that Christ would be glorified. And we could genuinely say, as your leaders, follow me as I follow Christ. And if we lead in that way, if we lead this way, then we show by our actions and our words that our leading can be trusted. And if that trust is established, then what we bring to the table for the next word becomes something that the body among us can also trust.
The next word that we find in Peter’s exhortation is to feed. And we actually find the negative of his words, that our role, is not to be for shameful gain, but eagerly. Well, eagerly what? Eagerly, the opposite of shameful gain, which would be honorable, praiseworthy gain. That is, we as elders, as leaders, are eagerly seeking gain that is beneficial to the body among us. We’re to be bringing something to the table that helps the body of Christ to grow in the right direction, and we are to be seeking the benefit of that body. Now, in our time of study and prayer, your elders, your leaders, have come to understand this as seeking the right spiritual food so that is not about our gain as elders, but the positive growth of the body in the direction that God would have us grow together. And that to me is exactly what praiseworthy gain would be all about. Gain that glorifies God by the raising up of his people in the way and in the direction that he desires. But we as your leaders, we take this role very seriously. And we have to. We have to take it seriously because if we didn’t, if this wasn’t about Christ’s glory, if it wasn’t about praiseworthy gain for the flock, and not gain for ourselves, then we wouldn’t be worthy to be your leaders, because we would not be leading in God’s way.
And each of those three areas I’ve mentioned so far: knowing, leading, and feeding, are each areas of slowly building up trust with the body. And if we don’t have that trust, then there’s no way that we can even possibly do the last area that Peter describes. But if we are living these out God’s way, then we can step in and we can guide and protect the church as Peter commands exercising oversight. And this is a serious matter because we read this last area as the role of protecting the church, and it is vital for the Church of God to be protected. But unless we demonstrate that we are worthy to be in that role for you, we’re not going to be effective at protecting either. Now, this protection is necessary because even in the earliest days of the church, there were already men and women who were leading the church of God in ways that were not what God intended or wanted for His people. And we see, even by the time of the writing of Revelation, that Jesus is already writing back to the churches with corrections for how they have gone astray from what it is that he wants for them, and in giving them a path back to how he wants them to live as the church. So, from this, Peter is telling us as elders, it is our job to make sure that things are not going the wrong direction, that things are not veering off from the path that God has laid out for us, Making sure that the things that are being taught to our children are accurate and biblical and true. Making sure that people are not bringing in false ideas and things that will corrupt how we see God or how we see the church. And these are not easy things to have to do. It’s not easy to to sit down with someone and show them their sin or show them their error. It’s not easy to say no to someone who’s excited about doing something. It’s not easy to go against the flow when a tide begins to move in the wrong direction. And that is why this role of elder has to be a serious role. It has to be taken as seriously as Peter describes, because it is so easy for it to go wrong. If the wrong people, the wrong reasons, the wrong motivations take over these roles. it’s really fast, amazingly fast, how quickly the church gets off track. And that’s why Peter, in this passage, doesn’t just give us the positive. He runs through the whole thing, giving us the negatives as well. What we should be watching out for as a flock, as elders, what elders are not supposed to be and do, and what things other elders and the flock should be looking out for.
1 Peter says it has to be a role that is fulfilled willingly, not under compulsion. This means that the church should not raise up leaders who are not feeling the call of God on their lives to be leaders within the church. If someone is not interested in the role, they’re not going to be invested with their whole selves in leading the church of God in his way. This is service, freely given from the heart, not out of obligation or fear or someone pushing us into this role. Second, someone can willingly be part of the role, but for the wrong reasons. As we talked about briefly, this role is not for shameful gain. No one should become an elder because of what they are going to get out of it personally. And I’ve been in situations in other churches where I have seen leaders who are leaders there simply because there’s nowhere else in society where they would have the ability to become a leader. And yet somehow, they’ve been raised up in the church. If you are seeking power and authority, then this is not the role for you. If you think you’re going to be able to influence the church to follow your will for the church, then this is not the role for you. This role is entirely about God’s best for his flock, His way. Third, Peter says the leadership of an elder is not to be domineering, and this can be either someone who’s in the role for the right reasons but execute it wrongly, or someone who is in this position for shameful gain, seeking that power, that domineering ability for their own sake. And this domineering is a position of pride, arrogantly asserting your own will over another. Stepping into a situation without care for the people that you are dealing with, but instead with the desire to show your own wisdom, or to assert your will or your power. Instead, correction and leadership by an elder in the church must be done with compassion and understanding. We don’t just rush into a situation and start telling people how they are wrong and what they need to be doing. The elder, according to Peter, must first lead by example; being in control of their own walk, living that out to the best of their ability, and seek to bring people along with that. And if there are still direct issues that need to be dealt with, then the elders together with compassion and understanding, must step in and speak into the lives of those involved, as they eagerly seek the gain of all parties. None of this about asserting power, but about the best for the church, and then for the individuals involved.
And why does Peter give us these negatives? Why does Peter just not say, here’s what you should be and that’s it? Well, Peter knows exactly how this can go wrong because it’s happened before. The passage we had read for us, Ezekiel 34, a little go really brings out what Peter knows about how shepherding can go wrong. Since we had it read for us, I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but I just want us to notice a few things. What does God say to his prophet about the shepherds? Does he say, hey, if you get the chance, thank those shepherds for taking the role for me. Not quite. Prophesy against. What? Against, speak my words, the words of the Lord Almighty, against his shepherds, that he set up. What did they do? Why is God speaking against them? They took care of themselves on the backs of the sheep they were to care for. But they didn’t feed the sheep. They didn’t seek the gain of the weak, the sick or the injured. They didn’t protect the flock. They didn’t seek to bring back the lost. They were harsh. They were domineering. And the shepherds ruled over them with force, and the flock scattered. They wandered around with no one to protect them. And without a shepherd, they became food for the wild beasts. And listen to what God says is his response to the shepherds for their failing. Behold, I am against the shepherds. God comes back and takes the roll away from them, not just takes it away, but now is actively against them and what they represent. No wonder Peter is so quick to warn us, to warn the church about what this is to look like when it’s done God’s way, and to warn us what it looks like when it’s not. Because if your elders accept this role and fail to live it out God’s way, God’s not going to just let it slide.
In a couple of weeks, we’re going to be talking a little bit more about authority and accountability when I’m back with you again. But here’s a preview. God is a God of justice and abused authority doesn’t fit in his kingdom. And he is not going to let it slide. But if we do live it out God’s way, if we do this the way God wants his leaders to lead in the church, he is just as just with reward as he is with punishment. If your elders live this out God’s way, then he says to them, 1 Peter 5:4, “and when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”. Wow. If the church and your elders live this out correctly, then we join with Peter as partakers in the glory that is going to be revealed. And that means something very interesting for the future of the church. Now, as elders, as fellow elders with Peter, and as partakers in the glory that is going to be revealed, we can also join with Peter having the credentials to pass on to the next generation of elders this way of life. So that even when your current elders are gone, when they have set down that mantle and moved on to be a part of that glory, the church of God at Calvary will continue to succeed. As it patterns itself after His will for both the flock and the elders in the way in which your current elders pass it on.
The role of the elder is not something to be taken lightly. But even though we clearly see that people have failed in the past and Peter warns that it can go wrong, God continues to establish his people with this idea of shepherds. So, knowing this, both what can go wrong, as well as seeing God still establish his church in this way, what do we do as the church to live this out God’s way today? And second, how do we become a church that is set up, as God describes through Peter, a church that is successful in living this out as God intends? Well, we’re back to the title of the series. This only works if we’re following biblical truth and seeking to live it out intentionally.
So, for the elders among you, for myself, for the rest of the board, and for your pastors, we are to shepherd in this way, not our own way, not seeking to fulfill our own will or our own desires but seeking to fulfill God’s will for His people here at Calvary. I won’t speak to my own self, but I can tell you, working with each of your board members and with the pastors here at Calvary, to a man, they do their best to live and serve you in this way every day. Not one among them, to my experience, is in this role for the wrong reasons. These guys have huge hearts for God and for his church, especially for those of you who call Calvary home. Day in and day out, they are praying for you, sacrificing for you, and desiring the best for you. You know, I think we’re pretty lucky to have such a team who really deliberately seeks to be intentional and biblical in how they lead. And I consider myself pretty blessed to be among them, to work with these gentlemen, to see their hearts for you and for God. And when you have elders who shepherd in this way, when your leadership is biblical and intentional and is striving to live these things out, then what does the flock do? What does the body do? Those who are in this church but not called to be elders at this time, should be subject to those God has established as His elders. The body must recognize that God’s established order is for their best and to willingly partake in it. At Calvary this means now saying yes to moving forward with a biblical model of how we do church. It means saying yes to being part of the body here at Calvary, part of those who seek to live this way and to serve God in this way. It means being part of those who help to recognize and establish the next generation of leaders in the church. And it means when your elders, when your elders are leading God’s way, that you would listen to them and follow them as they follow Christ.
Finally, Peter says we are both elders and flock to remember that this is not about one being better or higher than another. It’s not about one being weaker. It is about God giving both of us the grace we need to live out the role He has for us, as we put on humility toward one another. The humility of doing church God’s way. And why? Why should we do this? Why should we put on humility toward one another? Why should we even seek to live out church God’s way? Because all of this is under the mighty hand of God. So that at the proper time, in the right way and in the right time, He, not your leaders, not ourselves, He can exalt you. That’s pretty powerful to think that these roles, this church that we live out is not about us. It’s not about what we desire or what we want, but it’s about seeking what God wants, His best for us, so that He can exalt us. Please come back. Join us the weeks ahead as we continue in this series of looking at what it looks like, what it means to live out a church in God’s way. In the meantime, I would just ask that you would pray for your leadership, and that you would pray for this body as we seek to move Calvary in God’s direction.