FIRST PETER 5:1–4 PROVIDES as compelling a glimpse of Christian ministry as any passage in the New Testament.
The apostle Peter addresses elders, whom he also calls “overseers” and “shepherds,” i.e., pastors (see meditation for November 2). Indeed, he addresses them as fellow elders, rather than speaking to them as an apostle to elders. This does not prevent him from alluding to one of the factors that separates him from most other elders: unlike them, he was “a witness of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet. 5:1). But even here where he distinguishes his own experience from theirs, he does so in a way that points not to himself but to Christ and his sufferings.
These elders are exhorted to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under [their] care” (1 Pet. 5:2). Shepherds lead, nurture, heal, protect, discipline, feed, and care for their flocks. The task involves oversight: “serving as overseers,” Peter adds. Then Peter adds three clauses with the form “not this … but that,” all of which sum up Christian ministry in telling ways:
(1) “Not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Pet. 5:2): Mere duty will never suffice. Sad to say, ministers of the Gospel can feel trapped, “serving” simply because they feel they must, for they cannot let the side down, nor are they trained for anything else. At that point it is time either to change your heart, or get out of the ministry. There must be a heart willingness to serve this way, even in the midst of disappointment and suffering—even as our Master made his Father’s will his own.
(2) “Not greedy for money, but eager to serve” (1 Pet. 5:2): This is not a job that earns money by the hour or by the piece; nor is it a profession associated with a high tax bracket. Unfortunately, TV evangelists and some others have distorted the image. While churches sometimes treat their ministers with surly miserliness (“Lord, you keep them humble and we’ll keep them poor”), ministers can respond with a crass materialism that is no less unbecoming. In the best cases, the church is constantly generous, and the ministers care little for material possessions. Pastors ought to be motivated primarily by a desire to serve.
(3) “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3): Here there is a style of leadership that should eliminate the power hungry from the ministry (though, sadly, some such people do slip into positions from which they should be excluded). Pastors should be more concerned about being examples than about standing on their authority.
No minister is more than an under-shepherd. All must give an account to “the Chief Shepherd”—and he alone rewards his staff (1 Pet. 5:4).