Reading: 1 Peter Chapter 5: 1-7
Today’s passage was penned by the apostle Peter whose purpose was to offer comfort, counsel and encouragement to a scattered and exiled church who were suffering persecution for their faith. We smile when we realise who it is that writes to a group of church leaders. Few of the disciples knew the experience of failure and humiliation quite like Peter.
Thirty years before on a Galilean beach Peter was forever changed when he heard again the call of God and was commissioned (by the Risen Christ) to feed his lambs, tend his sheep and feed his sheep again. In the end Jesus said to Peter (he says to all of us), “if you love me I can use a man like you!”
I am sure that these words of advice are relevant to every one of us. Peter is worth listening to because he can truly give a testimony to the humbling grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Today (too) Joanne has been commissioned - as a deacon, and our deacons have been rededicated. For them and for all of us, the apostle Peter writes these words… (1 Peter 5:1-7)
We acknowledge that every person in the Church of Jesus Christ is called to be a disciple, including (and especially) those who lead.
So, what does this new Peter have to say to those in leadership? What’s so special about our leaders?
Our LEADERS ARE CALLED – BY GOD:
Not one of our leaders has put themselves forward. They have answered the call God has placed upon their lives - and it is the Spirit who has led them forward. They haven’t come because they must but because they are willing (and eager) as God wants them to be. They have not answered this call so they can have glory from their fellows; or money; any influence they do have is only to achieve God’s purposes, and never to promote personal agendas.
Their motivation is pleasing God: 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. (1 Thess 2:6)
“…There was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord that he had little heart for. The man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader…” (Quote A.W. Tozer)
Time and again Peter uses words like “elect” or “called” or “chosen” to describe leaders. God doesn’t call the qualified – he qualifies the called. Their call has been tested by the church.
The word of God states clearly that the authority given to you as leaders comes from God Himself, and therefore being a church leader is a serious business:
Hebrews 13:17 is plain: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as people who must give an account. Obey them so that their work may be a joy, not a burden.”
The writer to the Hebrews urges the church to pray for the leaders.
OUR LEADERS ARE CALLED TO BE SERVANTS:
They are special because they are SERVANTS. In the church there is nothing degrading about service. The Greek word, “diakonos” means servant. Serving others is at the centre of Christian faith. The ancient Greeks used to ask, “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone? Surely a real man should only serve his own desires with boldness and cleverness!” Servant is still a dirty word.
Remember we worship the Servant King, who came “not to be served but to serve and offer his life as a ransom for many.”(Mark 10:45)
Christ’s example influenced those who dared to follow Him; in particular His women knew how Jesus felt about servanthood, Mark 15:41. We are most like God when we minister to Him by serving others. Jesus told us not to lord it over one another! The best leaders (ministers/servants) are the best followers: we serve him best when, like Him, we are servants.
Not everyone is called to leadership, but we are all called to humble service: clothe yourself with humility; humble yourself under God’s mighty hand! (The priesthood of all believers); as Baptists we believe in all-person ministry and in leaders who serve with humility and lightly wear the clothing of authority…
OUR LEADERS ARE CALLED TO BE SHEPHERDS:
Notice how Peter gives the leaders exactly the same commission (exactly) as Jesus had given him over breakfast on the beach. (John 21: 15-17)
Jesus gave this command to shepherd as an imperative. By their very nature shepherds do a number of things in exercising oversight: they lead (guide, direct, guard) (Mt. 2:6), but they never drive their sheep; they are told to feed my lambs; they are told to feed my lambs; they are to guard their sheep…the sheep (you!) are that precious!
They are SHEPHERDS: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
We make little or no distinction between biblical elders and deacons. Our deacons are overseers. They have been called and commissioned to a significant office in which they serve and support and protect. The Pastor and deacons are under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd of the Sheep – the Good Shepherd
OUR LEADERS ARE CALLED TO BE SHARERS:
We have probably all watched geese flying south for the winter, and noticed how they take up a “V” shaped formation. We are told that as each goose flaps its wings, this creates uplift for the bird following behind. In this formation the flock has 71% more flying range than if every bird flew solo.
Sharing a common direction and purpose and because of the uplift created, the flock reach their destination more quickly and fresher…it is harder to achieve things alone…
When one goose is tired it is replaced by another bird that flies at point. These migrations are demanding; sharing leadership and being dependent on each other gives each bird, not only the chance to lead, but also a chance to rest. The geese honk loudly from behind, and these are calls of encouragement. Encourage one another! Uplift!
Still more beautiful is the caring instinct of the geese: if one bird is sick and can’t fly, then two others will go to ground with the injured bird and stay with it until it recovers or dies. Let us stand by one another when the flying goes well and when it doesn’t!
Peter has become a great leader, but he is also now a great team-player; no longer a one-man band. He encourages these leaders to work together, and Peter sounds remarkably like the Lord who commissioned him all those years before. Peter has truly become a servant leader.
Leadership is a great privilege and responsibility. And we will be held to account by the living God Himself. Much is expected of those to whom much is entrusted and God is hard on those who neglect His flock…
What can our deacons expect in return for their (sometimes years/decades) of quiet, faithful service? Rapturous applause? Unlikely. High visibility? Not normally.
Their reward is higher than any human accolade:
“Those who have served well as deacons will gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” (v. 13):
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears you will receive a crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:4)
So let us give thanks today for our deacons. We will obey them (as scripture dictates); we will pray for them; we will help ensure in this way that their God-given call is not a burden but a joy…
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.
If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.