The Role of Undershepherd
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV)
Those who find themselves in the position of Elder/Pastor (I believe those two terms should be synonymous, but I will leave that for another time) within the local church have been given a great responsibility. Because it is such a great responsibility, God has not left us without instruction on what this responsibility should look like, and how it should be carried out.
The beginning of 1 Peter 5 gives very clear instructions on what it looks like to teach and care for the flock that God has entrusted to each Elder/Pastor. Peter writes to these churches that are enduring great suffering, and he tells the elders among the people that they must shepherd the people and exercise oversight.
The word shepherd in verse 2 is a verb, meaning that Peter is calling Elders/Pastors to do the work of shepherding, not just retain the title of shepherd. The work of shepherding and overseeing the flock is not an easy task for a pastor. It means you look inward on your flock to nurture those who are in need, build up the strength of your flock by sound teaching and discipleship, all the while looking to the outside to determine the dangers that are close at hand, as Satan is ready to attack the flock at any moment.
Here Peter also gives elders and pastors the instructions on how to carry out this shepherding and oversight – he does not leave us to wonder how, or in what way we ought to do this job. It is a job that should be done willingly and eagerly, it should not be a responsibility that you take on because you feel coerced to into it. This is a responsibility that is embraced willingly and eagerly because of a love for the flock and a love for Christ.
Furthermore, this responsibility should not be carried out for personal gain. Don’t get me wrong, if you are a pastor, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being paid for your work as a pastor. However, if money is the reason that you do this work, you are in it for the wrong reason, and you need to repent. If you are truly an Elder or Pastor, you will carry out your responsibilities whether you are paid or not. This is what God has called you to do, and money does not determine your calling.
Lastly, Peter tells the elders that they must not exercise the responsibility of being a shepherd in a domineering fashion. As an Elder/Pastor, we are called to be humble and to be an example to the flock. Does it mean we are perfect? No, it means that we do our best to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ. We look to him as our Saviour and our King, and as a shepherd of our flock, we look to him for the ultimate example on how to be a good shepherd.
Think back if you will to your elementary school days. I can remember times when the teacher would leave the room for some time (maybe half an hour), and he would give the responsibility of the classroom to one child during his absence. That student had the responsibility to oversee the class, be responsible, and report back to the teacher upon the teachers return. Now, there was nothing inherently special about the student that was chosen to be responsible, the choice was solely left to the teacher’s discretion. The student left in charge was no better than any of the other students, but he had been given a task and would be called to an account upon the teacher's return.
For those of us who have been given the responsibility of shepherding God’s flock, we must understand that we are no better than any of the flock, for we are merely sheep ourselves who have been given the responsibility to do the work of shepherding. We look to Christ, the chief Shepherd, to teach us what it means to shepherd the flock that He has paid for with His blood. This is not just a light responsibility, and on our own, we do not have the capacity to carry this out, but through His power, He gives us the ability and the strength to do what He has called us to do – being an undershepherd, under Christ, among the flock.
The Apostle John gives us an account of what Jesus meant when He called Himself a shepherd. Jesus speaks these words in John 10:11-15, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
We look to Christ not only as the example of what it means to shepherd, to nourish and protect the flock, but we also look to Him as the very reason that we shepherd the flock. Christ has died for all who are in the flock – He has paid for us, and we are His. I want to care for the flock the best that I can, nurturing and protecting them because I know that Jesus is coming back, just like my elementary school teacher did. We as elders will then have to give an account for the flock (Heb. 13:17). This reality is sobering, driving us closer to Christ as we realize we cannot do it on our own. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God makes the responsibility and tasks of shepherding possible.