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  • Writer's pictureWayne Shelton

Faithful Shepherds

1 Peter 5:1-4 (focal v2)

When I discuss ministry with fellow pastors, many agree that much of what we learned in seminary did not prepare us well for the role of pastor in contemporary times. Most of my education, for which I am grateful, focused on handling Scripture, understanding theological ideas, appreciating the history of Christianity, and also communicating through preaching and teaching.

But churches apparently do not expect their pastors to be resident theologians, counselors, or even teachers. Modern-day pastors are expected to be motivational speakers with managerial skills akin to those of American business professionals. I have attended gatherings on leadership in the church which featured plenty of presentations from the business and political worlds, while studies from Scripture were absent or minimal.

Additionally, the current tendency is to laud as successful those who manage with what approaches a dictatorship. Servant-leadership, though often discussed, does not win out among our models of successful ministry. Large numbers of the bottom line (‘buildings, buck and bodies’) is what determines success.

However, the picture that Peter gives of church leadership is contrary to these contemporary models and offers a rebuke to the autocrats. Elders, notes Peter, must be shepherds who follow the example of Jesus Christ. Elders are summoned to shepherd God’s sheep.

Now, ‘it is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep,’ wrote W. Phillip Keller. ‘The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways…. Sheep do not ‘just take care of themselves’ as some might suppose. They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.’

For example, God has created most animals with an uncanny instinct to find their way home. But if sheep stray into unfamiliar territory, they become completely disoriented and cannot find their way back home, as in the Lord’s poignant parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). Sheep need a shepherd to guide them, provide for them, protect them, and sometimes also to rescue them from harm.

Sheep spend most of their time eating and drinking. But if they become lost, they are helpless to find adequate food and water. Left to themselves, sheep will indiscriminately eat both healthful and poisonous plants, or overgraze and ruin their own pasture. And they need to be led to water that is not impure and stagnant, not too hot or too cold, and water that is not moving too rapidly. That is why the psalmist refers to ‘quiet waters’ in Ps. 23:2.

Sheep are much in need of other assistance as well. Because their wool secretes a large volume of oily lanolin that permeates their fleece, much dirt, grass, and wind-blown debris clings to it. Since they have no ability to clean themselves, they remain soiled until the shepherd shears them. Between shearings that dirty, sticky accumulation must be cut away from under their tails or they cannot eliminate waste and become sick and even die. Because sheep also are naturally passive and virtually defenseless against predators, and when attacked their only recourse is to flee in panic, the shepherd must be continually on guard to defend and rescue the sheep from attack.

It is not surprising, then, that Jesus likened the disoriented, confused, unclean, and spiritually lost crowds to flocks of sheep without shepherds (Matt. 9:36; Mk 6:34). They could not feed themselves spiritually and had no one to lead and protect them. The prophet Isaiah also compared humanity’s lost condition to that of stray sheep, ‘All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way’ (Isa. 53:6).

All the preceding imagery about sheep and shepherds was familiar to the people in the first century’s agrarian society, but perhaps we are less familiar with the imagery. Certainly, Peter understood the imagery when he called believers ‘the flock of God’ and summoned elders to ‘shepherd’ them. Since even believers are prone to wandering, taking in what is bad for them, becoming unclean and highly vulnerable, the demand for shepherds who are faithful and responsible is compelling. And when the church is under severe pressure, as it was in Peter’s day, it is in even greater need of strong, godly, effective shepherds.

This Lord’s Day we will look at how Peter describes the calling of the shepherd and the nature of his work. What are the issues in shepherding? Who must be shepherded? How must shepherding be done? Join us as we answer these questions and more this coming Lord’s Day from 1 Peter 5:1-4.

Grace and peace to you,

Pastor Wayne

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