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Every Sheep, A Shepherd

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What a powerful description! I know, when you first hear it, you probably think of Christ, and for good reason. He called Himself the “Good Shepherd,” after all, and He is called in our text today, the “Chief Shepherd.”

But, the Bible doesn’t just refer to Jesus as a shepherd; it also refers to us . . . you and me as shepherds. Read our text this morning: 1 Peter 5:1-4

The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.


Now when you hear that, you may immediately say, “See there! Those verses are talking to “elders” and since that means a pastor, this doesn’t apply to me. I’m not a shepherd. But I would say, “not so fast.” It could apply to you for a couple of reasons.

First, when Peter wrote this, the offices of the church had not been so firmly established. While it is true that he was addressing leaders here, there was not a hard fast line between the preacher and the people. That would come later, and, if I may say so, it was not necessarily a good thing when it happened!

But there’s another reason this could be talking to you. I believe that every believer, if they follow the path God has intended for them, will, at some level, eventually become a leader of some sort and in some fashion. Why else would we grow? You see, if I am to win and influence others to follow Christ, I will have to exhibit the very qualities that Peter talks about in this passage. Yes, if you are a Christian this morning, you need to listen because these words do apply to you!

But there’s another reason to listen. You see, not only do these verses apply to you, but, if you are involved in real ministry, these verses can really help you. You see, it is so easy to get discouraged when you’re in the sheep business. The Bible describes God’s people as sheep for a reason. Quite often sheep need guidance and they are often discouraging to work with. Only someone with a shepherd’s heart will stick with the job. These verses can encourage the one who has gotten so disgusted with the flock he wants to turn them into lamb chops and be done with it!


You see, Peter was writing to a group of people in this letter who knew what discouragement was. They were undergoing significant persecution and quitting may have seemed like an appealing option. He knows that people under this kind of pressure needed the intensive care of a shepherd, not the abusive instructions of a king. That’s why, in this paragraph of scripture, the main thought is found in verse 2 where he says, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.” So, he writes those leading the church and tells them to act like shepherds. In fact, he’s so adamant about it that he turns the noun into a verb. He doesn’t just tell them to be shepherds. He says, Shepherd your people! Pretty direct, isn’t it?

You may wonder what it means, though. Chances are, you, like I, have never had the experience of caring for sheep, physically at least. Why does Peter pick this picture and why should we be concerned about it? Well, I want to give you three reasons right from this passage. In the first place, you should be a shepherd:



I don’t believe that the concept of “shepherding” was something that Peter just “thunk up.” I believe he used it because he had experienced it. For one thing, he had, for many years by this time, been a “shepherd.” Now that wasn’t his job or career. No, he had been a fisherman. He did not keep physical sheep, he kept spiritual ones. He, in fact, calls himself a “fellow elder.” He looks at the leaders of these churches and says, “I’m one of you. I’m an elder too.”

But his affinity for shepherding goes beyond that and it is quite significant. The next thing he says is that he is “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” He had been with Jesus, and that experience was why I believe he mentions being a shepherd here. You see, he was able to be a shepherd to others because Jesus had been a shepherd to him.

Jesus was so gentle with Peter. He presented Him with truth. For 3.5 years Peter had followed along behind Him as he told parables, confronted demons, healed sick people and taught the people. That truth he heard had it’s impact, not because Peter was a good memorizer and could parrot back all the sayings of Christ. That truth had impact because Peter had been taught it by the life of Christ.

You see, it was Jesus the shepherd who, in the middle of the gale, came walking on the water to Peter. It was Jesus the Shepherd who so inspired the heart of Peter that, when He saw Him and knew it was Jesus, made his famous request: “Bid me walk to you on the water.” I don’t think the request surprised Jesus, actually. I think Jesus knew what Peter would asked and that’s why he came walking out in the first place: He wanted to teach Peter about faith. I think as much as Peter must have always celebrated that moment of letting go and trusting, Jesus celebrated it with him.

And this gentle, teaching Savior could also confront. Jesus wasn’t one to let His disciples walk around with spinach in their teeth and not tell them. He knew how to confront. When Peter tried to discourage Jesus from going to the cross, Jesus called him the devil and told him to stand aside.

Shepherding involved presenting truth, testing faith, confronting error and so much more. If you summed it all up, you might say this: Shepherding is loving! I know that because when the end came, John said this about Jesus:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.

Peter experienced that never ending love too. You remember that it was Peter who, after bragging about his love for Jesus, ended up betraying him. Do you remember what Jesus said to him before it ever happened? He said in Luke 22:31–32 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” That’s love! To know that the person whom you’ve poured your heart into is going to stab you in the back when you need them the most, yet you still reach out to them? That’s incredible love!

And it didn’t stop there. Perhaps the scene that shows what a shepherd Jesus was takes place over in John 21. There, the disciples have all gone out fishing. Jesus knows it and he goes to the edge of the lake and builds a fire. Then he calls out to the boys in the boat. “You caught anything?” They shout back, “No!” Then he says the words that immediately connects with their hearts. He says “Well, throw your nets on the other side of the boat.” Immediately the fish jump into the net so much that they couldn’t even bring it in.

Peter says, “Guys, That’s Jesus!” and his heart is so filled with love for his shepherd that he jumps in and swims to shore. (By the way, when you really shepherd someone and you show them this kind of love, if they really fall in love with Jesus they’ll have this kind of enthusiasm!). But that’s not the best part.

You remember what happens next, don’t you? They’re all sitting around the fire after supper and Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Peter do you love me?” You know, I had gotten so caught up in the different words Jesus uses for love or wondering whether the fact that Jesus asked Peter that question three times was because Peter had denied him three times that I missed something very significant. You see, I believe what is significant about this whole incident is the instruction that Jesus gives Peter. What does he tell him to do?

Well he uses two different Greek verbs here. In the first and the last instance, he uses the word “boske” which means “to cause to eat.” But the second time Jesus gives this instruction to Peter, he changes the word. He tells him the second time to “tend my sheep.” You know what that word is? It’s the Greek word, “poimaine” which is the same word Peter uses in 1 Peter 5:2 when he says, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.”

Jesus is telling Peter. “Hey, Peter, I called you from being a fisher of trout to fish for men; I taught you what I learned from my Father; I showed you my glory when I healed the sick and raised Lazarus; I picked you up out of the raging sea when your faith was weak, and I even loved you when you turned your back on me. Peter I have been your shepherd. Now its your turn! Shepherd my sheep!”

And that’s what God is calling all of us to do, whether you’re a pastor or not. Everyone of us who names the name of Jesus is to be intimately involved in the lives of others seeking to love them as Christ has loved us. It’s a work of grace from beginning to end because it shows what the power of God can do in broken pots like you and me. Our call is not to be professional teachers or flashy singers. Our call is not to be impressive organizers and “got-it-all-together” believers. It is to be shepherds: People who change spiritual diapers, blow adolescent noses, and get our hands dirty. Our calling is to be shepherds!


The truth is that, often, we want to be anything but a shepherd. And, by the way, that’s often what our people want to. In 1875, the following want add appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel

Wanted- A rector for St. James' Church. He must possess all Christian graces and a few worldly ones; must have such tact and disposition as will enable him to side with all parties in the parish an all points, giving offense to none; should possess a will of his own, but agree with all the vestry; must be socially inclined and of dignified manners--affable to all, neither running after the wealthy nor turning his back upon the poor; a man of high-low church tendencies preferred. Must be willing to preach first-class sermons and do first-class work on second-class compensation--salary should not be so much of an object as the desire to be a zealous laborer in the vineyard; should be able to convince all that they are miserable sinners without giving offense. Each sermon must be short, but complete in itself--full of old-fashioned theology in modern dress: deep but polished, and free from the eloquence peculiar to newly-graduated theologians; should be young enough to be enthusiastic, but possess judgment of one of ripe years and experience. Only he who possesses the above qualifications need apply.

I’m so glad that God is the one we have to please, not man. And God says, “I have one thing I want you to do: Shepherd the flock of God. But what does that mean exactly? What does it really mean when I am told to “Shepherd” the flock


Well, in the first place, when I understand that I am called to be a shepherd, I realize that MINISTRY IS ABOUT TEAMS, NOT STARS. You see that when Peter describes himself as a “fellow-elder.” He’s saying, “Listen! There’s nothing special about me. I’m a fellow elder. How unlike us! We’re so prone to look to an individual pastor or leader as the person who is responsible for success. We look at Saddleback and think “Rick Warren;” We look at Willow Creek and think, “Bill Hybels;” We look at Northpoint and think “Andy Stanley.” Now, regardless of whether you love or hate these guys, the truth is that none of their ministries are one man shows, nor should they be. Ministry done biblically; Churches where shepherding occurs will always be about teams not stars.

And then MINISTRY IS ABOUT SHEEP, NOT SHEPHERDS! Believe it or not many pastors have huge egos! Their lives are measured in the number of speaking invitations they receive or buildings they build. That’s so unbiblical! Ministry is about sheep not shepherds.

Nothing follows and promotes this concept better than our discipleship process here. It allows not just pastors, but all those who are genuinely committed to pour their own lives into the lives of others. Nothing puts the focus on the sheep quite like discipleship. But that’s only natural really. It’s what you’d actually expect. After all, that’s the way Jesus did it! Ministry is about sheep, not shepherds.

But last, MINISTRY IS ABOUT GRACE, NOT ABILITY. This really is the most exciting part. Maybe you’ve been sitting back and saying, “I could never get up and preach a message,” or “I could never have it together enough to sing a solo.” And, quite honestly, you might be right! But I must tell you, it really doesn’t matter. Whether you can preach or sing, I tell you that you CAN absolutely be a shepherd for someone else. I know that because that is what Jesus told you to do when He gave us His great commission, and if He’s called you to do it, He’ll make a way for it to happen, because ministry is about grace not ability.



Peter doesn’t just describe the call to be a shepherd, he goes on to describe for them the attitude with which we are to carry out this calling. In v 2, he says that we are to serve, “not by compulsion, but willingly. Literally, it is “not out of obligation, but serving without being forced.” The idea is that the shepherd of God’s flock is the shepherd not because God tracked him down, tackled him and forced him against his will to take the task. This shepherding thing is a “want to,” not a “have to.”

For years of my life I didn’t get that. I still remember hearing my mom talking about obligation. It went something like this. Because of my bitterness against the ministry, I grew up determined that I would not do some things. In fact, there were two things I said I would not do. I said I would never live in Eastern North Carolina; and I said I would never, under any circumstances, be a pastor. My mother, whenever she would hear me say that would always say, “You’d better be careful what you say, son.” Implicit in her warning was this: “God will always make you do what you don’t want to do, just to show you who’s the boss.” My attitude was, “Well God will have to write it in the sky and then drag me kicking and screaming to eastern NC, cause I ain’t going.”

Does God have a sense of humor or what? I never imagined that I could actually enjoy the ministry and learn to love Eastern N.C. but I have. You see, shepherding isn’t a matter of obligation. It’s a want to not a have to. A shepherd has a real willingness to do what God calls him to do.


What is ministry to you? Are you teaching that class, or preaching that message, or singing that song because you obligated yourself to do it? Well, even though I may appreciate the fact that you are willing to follow through on your commitment, obligation is not the motivation of a true servant of God.


And I can hear what some of you might be saying right now. “That’s great, Rusty! I know what I’m going to do. Since I’m not supposed to shepherd out of guilt or obligation, I’ll just quit, because I surely don’t want to keep the nursery, or teach teenagers.” Well, if you take that away from this passage, you are, quite frankly, listening to the enemy of your soul! That idea smells like smoke!

Your wicked heart (and mine by the way), left to its own devices, will never want to do what God wants us to do. No way! If you’re waiting for the desire of your flesh to drive you to serve, forget it! It ain’t happening!

“Well,” you might say, “now I’m confused. You just finished telling me that we are to be willing servants. Now you’re telling me that I will never want to do what God calls me to do. How, then, am I supposed to pull this off?”

That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. Shepherding is a supernatural endeavor. It is something that God must work in you and through you to accomplish. This simply means that the real shepherd must be a person who stays dynamically connected to God through prayer and is constantly seeking His power and His filling. Willingness flows out of that! Shepherding then becomes a want to, not a have to. It’s a matter of Spirit-inspired willingness.


But it’s also a matter of service. Peter continues, 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; This verse speaks tells us very simply that, when it comes to being a shepherd, it’s about what you give, not what you get. Evidently, even in this early point in the life of the church, men had charlatans were around. Certain “preachers” were manipulating the people through the gospel in order to enrich themselves. Peter says those aren’t really shepherds because real shepherds have an attitude of giving.

Listen! You know as well as I do that being a pastor, especially in most baptist churches is not a great career move if you want to be rich. Thank God, most churches are doing better about paying their pastors . . . and I did say most. Many still do not and I want you to know this morning that churches who do not provide for the servant of God will answer for that in the judgment. I am so thankful that this church has always provided well for me and my family. I truly thank you!

But the man who goes after income and not after ministry is not someone who needs to be in the ministry. Don’t head for seminary thinking that, somehow, you’re going to get a plush office, a nice parsonage, a church car to drive. Most places are not that way, and, even if they were, the person who enters the ministry looking for that is in the wrong job! Instead, the man of God is to be “eager.” Notice we are first told to be willing, then we are told to be eager. Eager is a stronger word that implies a lot more desire than even the first word. Here’s the idea: Instead of entering the ministry desiring a well-remunerated career, we are to enter ministry desiring, indeed being eager to be shepherds.


So what are you looking for out of ministry? You see, money is not the only improper motivation for ministry. Some people serve for power. They get a rush from being on the Trustee board and making decisions. They love the position of it and they love the power.

Others serve for compliments. They want the pat on the back and the “atta-boys” that go along with serving. Now, don’t get me wrong. All of us like to get good feedback from what we do. But we have to guard our hearts. It is so easy to begin to serve because of what we get instead of what we give. You see service must be our motivation; willingness must be our inspiration


But not only is our attitude to be one of willingness and service, it is to be one of reverence. Peter says nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; Now when you hear that, you might wonder, “How does that depict an attitude of reverence?”

Well, this speaks to reverence because of the humility required. Peter first says that we are not to be “lords” over those to whom we minister. The idea is that we are not to rub the faces of those we oversee in the truth of our own authority.


I can draw a picture of this from the NFL. Just a few weeks ago, Philadelphia was playing New York. New York came out on fire and jumped to a big lead. I’m sure the Giants were feeling confident that they would win. But then there was an amazing comeback, and the Eagles ties the score. New York got the ball and couldn’t move it. They were forced to punt with just seconds left in the Game. The Eagles player fielded the ball and ran it all the way back.

Now here’s the part that illustrates our principle. When he got to about the five yard line, and it was evident that he was going to score, he didn’t just run into the endzone. No! He held up the ball and ran parallel to the goal line to prolong the agony and rub the faces of the NY giants in it.


That’s “lording” it over others, and that’s what Peter says we are not to do. Instead, he says we are to set examples for others to follow. Isn’t that great! Instead of forcing others to do what we are unwilling to do because “we’re in charge” and “we call the shots,” we are willing to get our hands dirty. If a ditch needs to be dug, we grab the shovel first. We lead by example.

But where does the reverence part come in? Well, Peter tells us there that we are not to be lords over those (watch this phrase!) who are entrusted to us. The work is kleron and speaks of:

It is often translated “share” or “portion” and is found frequently in the Greek translation of the OT to refer to what God had ordained, apportioned, and distributed.

Here’s what Peter is saying: The reason we are to have humility and not lord our authority over others is because the “others” we are in authority over do not belong to us, they belong to God. He has simply entrusted us with them, and, by the way, He is going to require us to give an account for them. Which just means that, if I got half a lick of sense as a leader, I will handle the flock God has assigned to me with great reverence, not with great arrogance. They don’t belong to me, they belong to God. You can sum it up like this. When you serve in any kind of position fo authority in God’s church, you are not an executive, you’re an example.


So let me ask you: do you reverence your calling? Are you focused on your position or on your service? Can you be in charge without everyone having to know it? Do you feel threatened when someone “underneath” you questions you? Do you genuinely value the people who work beside you? Can you let them succeed without having to step into the spotlight with them or even robbing their praise from others?

And how do you accomplish the tasks God gives you to do? Do you use guilt? Do you try to force it? Do you manipulate? Do you run from the menial jobs, or do you lead by example?


Many of you in this church serve so consistently and quietly that you rarely get any praise. It touches my heart every time I see some of our faithful ladies arriving early to work in the nursery or coming out during the work to clean toys, put up bulletin boards and set up their rooms.

The other week a team of our men stood out in the parking lot in the freezing cold and even in the rain and helped people park for the Christmas Theater. What an awesome group! I was impressed! You know what else impressed me. When I drove in the lot, there was a couple of our staff members out there in their coats and their ear muffs, leading by example!

Your attitude is to be one of willingness: It’s a want to, not a have to; Your attitude is to be one of service: It’s about what you give, not about what you get; and your attitude is to be one of reverence: You are an example, not an executive.

You see, if you’re to really serve God the way He calls you to serve, you will be a shepherd. Shepherding describes your calling and it defines your attitude. But there’s one more reason. You must be a shepherd



V4 gives a tremendous promise to all who humble themselves and become shepherds. It says, and when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Following the example of our Chief Shepherd, we are told that we will receive a wonderful crown one day. It’s going to be given to those who, themselves, become shepherds and tend God’s flock!


So where does that leave us? Well, let me give you three quick summary statements and an illustration and I’m done:

First, it’s not enough to know this, we must practice it. Specifically, what I mean is this: Shepherding is not about the masses or the material, it’s about the individual. Yes, I want numbers in the church, but we will not reach the masses by focusing on the masses, nor will we see changed lives because we add more square footage to our buildings. Shepherding is about reaching out individually to influence others for Christ. It’s not enough to know it, we must do it!

Second, it’s not enough to do it, we must inspire it. What I mean is, we must build into those we disciple and shepherd a hunger to shepherd and disciple others. If pastors are the only shepherds in the church, the church will never grow. What we must have is an army of shepherds who can care for sheep!

Third, it’s not enough to inspire it, we must focus on it. What I mean is that the ministry must be built to encourage these kinds of relationships. Budgets must align with it. Time management must prioritize it. We don’t have the time, nor the resources for diffused efforts. We must focus our attention on the strategy Jesus demonstrated and the strategy Peter commanded. We must shepherd the flock of God! Why? Because shepherding describes our calling; shepherding defines our attitude; and shepherding decides our reward.


The reason I am so excited about this is because I have seen it work. It was just before Christmas of 2008 when I looked at my office phone and realized I had a message. I dialed in and listened. On the other end of the line there was a voice that said, “Hello, This is Gordon. I’d like to come by and talk to you.” I called him back and he stopped by. As I usually do in first conversations like that, I presented the gospel. Gordon bowed his head and asked Christ to be His Savior.

There was only one problem. Gordon wasn’t from the south. He was from Vermont. While he had gone to church some as a much smaller child, he had very little church background that he really connected with. I knew that if he didn’t have some shepherding, he’d be picked off very quickly.

It just so happened that earlier in that summer we had added a man to our staff to do hispanic ministry. His name was Doug Rogers and he had planted several churches in Mexico. He had planted those churches by engaging in the best kind of shepherding: one-on-one discipleship. We had just launched this approach a couple of weeks earlier in our church, so I decided that Gordon would be my first guinea pig. To make a long story short, it has been my privilege to meet with Gordon on a regular basis for the last 2 years and take him through disicpleship. He has grown by leaps and bounds. It has been so exciting to watch. And there has been fruit.

He got excited about his faith and started telling his dad that he needed to take discipleship too. As a result I had the opportunity to pray with his dad and then disciple him. Gordon has begun to serve in the church. He reads and studies the Bible on his own and is actively looking for someone whom he can disciple as well.

I am thankful for the change that God has made in his life, but I am also thankful for the change that God has brought in me. You know for years I did ministry with a vague sense of failure. I would see people pray to receive Christ and then watch them fade in their commitment. I knew I wasn’t getting the job done, but I really didn’t know what to do about it. I was a frustrated shepherd. But since I have gotten involved in life-on-life discipleship, I have this strong sense that this is what ministry really is all about. It’s what I should have been doing all along.

And the reason is not that I have found some new method or fad to temporarily excite me about ministry. It’s because I truly believe that this is what the Bible means when it commands me and you to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.” Which just leads me to this question: Are you a shepherd?

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