At the end of September I had the honor of speaking at the installation of my good friend, Mickey Klink, as head pastor of Hope Evangelical Free Church in Rosco, Illinois. The following is the text of my talk and I thought I would share it in this venue as it might possibly serve as encouragement for others who are about to embark on the journey of pastoral ministry. (I’ve shared this with Mickey’s permission):
Preaching from 1 Peter 5:1-4:
It has been said that “One example is worth a thousand arguments.” In difficult times, we don’t need dictators and arguments. We need leaders who will show us what to do by the example of their lives. What kind of leader will you be, Mickey?
The big idea of verses one through four of 1 Peter 5 is that Christ himself shepherds his flock through the elders, through his under-shepherds. Mickey, you’re not the Shepherd, you are an under-shepherd. The calling you have received, the very office into which you are installed this day is one which you cannot do on your own, yet you have been called to it nonetheless.
Here in 1 Peter 5:1-4, as a leader and “fellow elder” you are called to shepherd the sheep and oversee them well, but as one in the care and under the authority of the Chief Shepherd. So, what does it mean to shepherd and oversee as one in the care of the Chief Shepherd?
First, shepherd as one shepherded by Christ.
There is only one command in this passage: Look at 5:2: The NIV says “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” literally, “shepherd the sheep among you!” Not just “be” a shepherd, but do the work of shepherding!
The imagery of “shepherding” is richly biblical, permeating Israel’s Scriptures.
Israel is God’s flock and God himself is their shepherd (Ps. 23:1-4; 28:9). Peter knows this as he understands both himself and the elders to whom he speaks as “fellow elders” or “under-shepherds.” The Chief Shepherd in verse 4 identifies Jesus as the true shepherd by whom God’s scattered people have been re-gathered and restored. Thus, the call to shepherd is first a call to be shepherded. Peter realized that authorization as an under-shepherd comes from Christ himself—shepherding the sheep, Mickey, means you first must be shepherded by the Chief Shepherd himself.
You will remember well that unforgettable breakfast Jesus served his disciples by the Sea of Galilee recorded in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus made the breakfast and all the disciples ate the meal he made and Peter himself was there.
John mentions a small detail that it was a “charcoal fire” on which Jesus cooked the fish (21:9). The only other time this particular word is used in the entire Bible is in John 18:18. The last time Peter stood in front of a “charcoal fire” it was the night he betrayed Jesus as he was tried before the officials.
This little detail of the fire draws together both moments in Peter’s life. “The first forms a setting for Peter’s denial and the second for his reinstatement; the first concerns the darkness of an evil night and the second the morning of new possibilities.” (Borchert, 329).
At the second “charcoal fire” Jesus examined Peter about his love for him. And in John 21:15 Jesus asks Peter: “…do you love me more than these?”
Now this cannot mean: “do you love me more than you love these other disciples of mine?” And it is unlikely that Jesus is asking Peter: “do you love me more than fishing, more than your vocation?”
Rather, Jesus is asking: “Peter, do you (really) love me more than these other disciples love me?” “Do you love me more than they love me?” This is an implicit rebuke recalling the claim Peter made the night he betrayed Jesus. You see, it was Peter who confidently said: “I will lay down my life for you” (Jn 13:37-38). In Mark’s Gospel Peter says: “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29).
What lead to the denial at the first fire was Peter’s confidence in his own devotion, confidence in his great loyalty, his unwavering love of Jesus. Peter claimed that though others fall away, he would not and look where it got him.
Mickey, be careful of finding confidence in your own devotion, in you own loyalty, or in your own unwavering love of Christ. Like Peter, placing confidence in your own devotion or faith is a fickle thing! For Peter, it was not his great faith, but Christ’s faithfulness, not his undying loyalty to Jesus, but Jesus’ faithful love toward Peter that resorted and sustained him.
So, brother, how do you do this?
First, don’t forget what is it like not to believe in Jesus. Never forget what it is like to deny Christ. The memory of your brokenness, remembering the sting of being lost in sin and rebellion is a constant reminder to run to Christ—to depend on the Chief Shepherd as you are called to shepherd others. Recalling the memory of your brokenness, what it’s like not to believe, also softens your words toward non-believers, makes you compassionate with skeptics, and witnesses to the fact that you need the same Gospel you preach to others.
Peter’s moment of restoration recalled the moment of denial. As Peter commanded “fellow elders” to shepherd the sheep, surely he had in mind his own commission from Jesus, which included both his denying past and his restored present. Remember what it’s like not to believe.
Second, because you are constantly in need of grace, preach the gospel to yourself daily.
In the midst of remembering your sin and preaching the gospel to yourself, do not become overwhelmed by your brokenness. Spurgeon once noted: “You cannot sin so much as God can forgive. If it comes to a pitched battle between sin and grace, you shall not be so bad as God shall be good. I will prove it to you. You can only sin as a man, but God can forgive as a God. You sin as a finite creature, but the Lord forgives as the infinite Creator.”
Mickey, as you “shepherd the sheep” remember that you must do so as one under the care of the Chief Shepherd. Be an example in gospel-dependency, quick to see your own brokenness and quick to run to Christ.
Second, oversee the flock with character.
Peter further describes how under-shepherds are to “shepherd the flock” telling them to oversee those in their care with three contrasts (verses 2-3): not out of compulsion, but willingly; not for personal gain, but freely; not lording it over them, but by being an example.
While overseeing the church, “elders” are called to exercise leadership over the flock as Christ does—with grace and care, not as if forced, but willingly, according to God.
Mickey, never serve the church out of a sense of debt or duty, but rather out of a full heart for God. Being compelled to serve out of a sense of duty often leads to bitterness and resentment toward those you shepherd, thus “duty” alone is never sufficient for a calling to ministry.
Be a “willing” servant, Mickey, coming to offer yourself for others not out of duty, but out of delightful freedom. “Freely” in 5:2 is the same word Paul uses when appealing to Philemon to release his former slave, now fellow-believer, Onesimus. Paul knew he could never force or coerce Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery, because if forced to comply, Philemon would always think of Onesimus as a slave, never a brother.
In the same way, freely serve as a shepherd, loving the sheep, not embittered against them.
Peter wants the elders to oversee not for personal gain, but freely. Though this might seem an odd contrast, the idea is to serve freely, to contribute to the needs of others without calculation.
Calculated shepherding always measures how much time you give to each member of the congregation, or carefully measures out how much slack you allow someone in relationship, or carefully counts how many times someone is late to a meeting, or how many times someone fails in a ministry project.
Calculated shepherding quietly takes stock of indebtedness such that those to whom you give yourself, those to whom you preach, council, or love end up owing something in return.
Edmund Clowney notes: “Peter sets eagerness to serve over against a mercenary interest in church office….”
Remember, you have been restored by Christ, you have all you need in him, though you were once poor, now you are wealthy beyond measure in Christ. Christ is not calculating in his pouring himself out for you, Mickey! As you have richly received Christ, serve with eagerness.
Peter’s final antithesis contrasts “high-handedness” with “leading by example.” In a play on words, Peter acknowledges that the Lord watches over the flock, but does not lord it over the flock. Overseeing them not as domineering, but being role models for the flock.
Mickey, your leadership is realized in the embodiment of the character of Christ which Peter describes in these terms:
who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth; who, when he was insulted, did not insult in return; while suffering did not threaten, but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly; who, himself, bore our sins in his body on the tree, in order that, once we have died to sins, we might live to righteousness; by whose wounds you are healed … (2:22-23).
It is Christ, it is our beautiful Savior, the Suffering Servant, the Chief Shepherd—He is the one who bears the shepherding duties, you, Mickey as an under-shepherd must hide in Christ, remain in Christ, be surrounded by and surrendered to Christ so you serve willingly, eagerly, and as an example to the flock—even to the point of suffering.
These things will always be too great for you—you have already failed! But thanks be to God, that in Christ Jesus you are his under-shepherd!
Let me close with the words of Charles Spurgeon to a fellow minister in London:
“We are, in a certain sense, [like]…tools, and therefore must keep ourselves in order. If I want to preach the gospel, I can only use my own voice; therefore I must train my vocal powers. I can only think with my own brains, and feel with my own heart, and therefore I must educate my intellectual and emotional faculties. I can only weep and agonize for souls in my own renewed nature; therefore I must watchfully maintain the tenderness which is in Christ Jesus. It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself, for book, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war. … How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument … a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. … It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God!”
Christ himself shepherds his flock through the elders, through his under-shepherds, through you, Mickey. Remain in Christ as you shepherd the sheep.