Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
‘God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.’
1 Peter 5:1-5
Observation: Peter tells fellow elders to "tend the flock of God". Even the word "pastor" relates to shepherding. The metaphor of a leader as a "shepherd" and the people as "sheep" goes all the way back to the Old Testament, in which a king is often described as "Shepherd" of the people. As Peter points out, though, the "chief shepherd"--the only true king--is Jesus, and those of us who he tasks to temporarily look after his sheep, following his standing orders, are asked to do so willingly. No one should be made a leader under compulsion.
Application: When I think about "compulsion," I am reminded of the classic 1980's movie, Goonies, which we showed our kids for the first time last week. I'm thinking of the scene when "Chunk" (my gosh, I'd forgotten how insensitive this movie was) is forced by criminals, under threat of losing a few fingers, to "spill his guts" about where his friends are--but once he gets going, he goes ahead and confesses to every single bad thing he's ever done. In that scene, compulsion works all too well.
But in my experience, compulsion almost never works with leadership. It's been an ongoing theme in my ministry that you absolutely can not attract effective leaders, planners, givers, and invested disciples by compulsion. Being Chicken Little and proclaiming "the sky will fall" if we don't get you on Council, or teaching Sunday School, or heading up this committee we're convinced we need to have, will get unenthusiastic leaders who will burn out very quickly indeed, because they don't feel called to the role. Willing leaders, on the other hand--the folks who come with good ideas and are willing to make them happen, the folks who have special gifts and know what they are--will bring energy into a ministry, even as they work harder than they would on something they feel less passionate about. Desperate, need-based pleas are a recipe for burn-out. Listening to folks, getting to know what they love to do, and helping them do it, creates committed leaders.
And here's where I get to the "be examples for the flock" part. Part of what convicts me in this scripture is that I tend to do a lot of parts of Christian leadership out of a sense of obligation, rather than because I'm excited about and gifted in those areas. Part of that just comes with the territory of being a full-time, professional church leader. We just sometimes have to do the stuff nobody else wants to do. But if I'm taking on leadership work that someone else in the congregation might love to do, if I had the foresight to ask them ahead of time, then I'm setting a horrible example. And even in the stuff that I love to do, and gives me a lot of energy, if I'm not discipling somebody else who loves to do it as well, the question of whether I'm doing this for "personal gain", getting your kicks by keeping a job to yourself that others might love to learn, comes up. It's a struggle. I'm nowhere near where I want to be (and where I feel called to be) on any of this.
Prayer: Lord, lead us by your example, and help us to lead others--not because we feel obligated, but because we feel called, equipped and empowered. Amen.