Peter knew for his readers to live a good life, they needed good leaders. He wrote to their elders saying, ““be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;” (1 Peter 5:2) To better understand Peter’s use of this image it is helpful to recall how after Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus reinstated him asking Peter do you love me? And when Peter affirmed this Jesus said, Feed my lambs and take care of my sheep (John 21:15–17). Here we have Jesus the Good Shepherd inviting his friend back into pastoral ministry by inviting him, like a shepherd, to care for the flock.
As Peter reflected on the difficulties in the early church, understanding the pressures upon the elders of his day, he spoke to them in echoes of Jesus words, “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5:2) Every minister needs to approach the work of ministry with willingness. Ministry or eldership isn’t a path towards power, wealth or status. Ministers need to be careful because each of these temptations can divert them from the path of humble service. Peter calls upon elders to be willing and eager to serve, and also to be an example to the flock.
In my ministry I have felt my spirit checked and humbled by the judgement of the shepherds in Ezekiel. The words are sobering. “You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.” (Ezekiel 34:3–4) This is followed by words of judgement where God promises to rescue the flock Ezekiel 34:10. Why is God so angry? Because he loves the flock so much and to see them abused breaks his heart. Clearly God holds the shepherds accountable for their actions. God promises, “I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down.” (Ezekiel 34:15) The words of the prophet Isaiah gives us further insight, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11)
Peter knew full well that Jesus was God come among us, the Good Shepherd who fulfils the Old Testament prophecy and so he says, cast … all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:7). This is the wonderful truth of the gospel, God cares for you! From eternity to eternity, God cares for you. Of all the love you or I have ever know, God loves us most. Our heavenly Father sent his son to leave us a message, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). These are the words of the Good Shepherd from his heart to yours.
What difference does this make to us? We learn about shepherd leadership which God has modelled for us in Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd. God expects Christian leaders to be shepherd leaders who willingly care for the flock, not to take advantage of them, but to serve them. This links us to all God has said about leadership from Genesis to Revelation. Knowing even in eternity, Jesus, … “the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; “he will lead them to springs of living water.” “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’” (Revelation 7:17). Especially in these current days we do well to remember to cast our cares on him, to find our peace and rest in him and to know at the end of the age, whatever sorrow we have faced the Good Shepherd will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
What do you make of God’s warning through Ezekiel to the shepherds of Israel?
What aspects of shepherd leadership do you recall from your knowledge of Jesus?
How might you explain shepherd leadership to a new Christian?
Thinking of all this what should we look for in a leader?
Rev John Malcolm