In our recent series on Pillars of a Healthy Church, we spent two weeks discussing Elders/Pastors/Overseers, their qualifications and their function in the local church. As I continued reflecting on the text we covered in 1 Peter 5, an implication of what Peter says in verse 4 stood out to me. Peter says this in 1 Peter 5:4, And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
In context, Peter is speaking a promise to elders who lead well that when Jesus returns, they will be given a great reward. This is to help Peter’s readers, especially here the leaders, persevere in their suffering. However, I want to tease out an implication of Peter calling Jesus the “chief Shepherd” here and how it relates to the authority of pastors.
Jesus being the Chief Shepherd is a reminder that while pastors are given authority and responsibility in the local church, they as undershepherds are accountable to the Chief Shepherd. They do not, in an ultimate sense, own the sheep. Elders–undershepherds are to treat the flock entrusted to them in the way that the Chief Shepherd commands and exemplified in His own life. They should exude the same gentleness and care for their sheep that Jesus Himself showed in His earthly ministry. Elders must (and have the right to) pursue those sheep that wander off out of love for them, which at times will mean saying and doing hard things. To use Paul’s words to the Ephesian Elders, pastors are to pay careful attention to themselves and to the flock, the flock which Christ obtained with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
The reality that pastors are undershepherds, subordinates of the Chief Shepherd, should lead them to humility. It should result in them serving Jesus’ sheep, not seeking to be served, as they lead the church. It should lead to them using their authority in godly ways–neither shrinking back from the truth that they do in fact have authority, nor lording their authority over the sheep in domineering ways (Mk. 10:42, 1 Pt. 5:3). The Pastor Richard Baxter, in his classic book The Reformed Pastor, says: “The whole course of our ministry must be carried on in a tender love to our people. We must let them see that nothing pleases us but what profits them…We must remember that pastors are not lords but fathers and therefore must be affectionate to their people as to their own children.”
And for you all as members, let me say this: Church, your pastors don’t own you, Jesus does. But your Chief Shepherd has given to you undershepherds to help shepherd your soul in this life in order to help you make it to final glory. Our desire is to present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28). So I ask, pray for your elders as we seek to pay careful attention to the flock, and that we would do so with humility and diligence, so that our Chief Shepherd will be honored. And pray for yourselves and the rest of the church, that there would be mutual love and affection for your undershepherds. May we be a church where the Chief Shepherd is honored both by our leaders and our members as we await His appearing.