Sunday, June 22, 2014

Be Shepherds of God's Flock: Nurturing Servant-Leaders

To the Elders and the Flock: Growing Leaders (1 Peter 5:1-4)

 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Do you remember at the Beijing Olympics, the United States had high hopes of winning the gold medal in the men’s and women’s 4x100-meter relay teams? They were talented, driven, ambitious and fast individuals. They had trained hard for many years. They came with blazing feet but the problem is not with their feet. The problem is with their hands. Both teams failed to win any medal. In fact, they were disqualified because they dropped their batons. On the surface, passing a baton does not seem very hard but it is heart breaking to hear it drop on the floor and to look back and find years of hope and hard work tumbling down the track.

The Christian life is like running a race… It is also a relay race – there’s no use being the fastest individual runner if we fail to pass the baton safely to the next runner. The apostle Paul told his young disciple Timothy: What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust it, pass it on to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Here are at least four generations of faithful hands passing the gospel baton entrusted to them: Paul, Timothy, faithful men, others. This is the standard operating procedure, their church planting strategy. They would preach the gospel in a city, made disciples, gather them in community and they would appoint elders for them in every church. They knew that without trained leaders, trustworthy shepherds to care for these new believers, they would have no chance… they would be left to the mercy of predators and false teachers.

That’s why one of our CDPC Puchong priorities this year is to encourage, to grow, and to develop servant-leaders in the church. Without a team of godly leaders grounded in the word, the health and ministry of the church suffers. The spiritual maturity of a church rarely goes higher that the quality of its leadership. If we don’t intentionally ensure that the gospel is entrusted into a new generation of faithful leaders who will in turn pass it on, the church is always just one generation away from extinction.  

The passage of Scripture today is taken from a letter written by another apostle, Peter. And it has for us some important lessons about Christian leadership. What sort of people should be leading our churches in these challenging times? How should Christian leadership be exercised in our community? It is applicable for all sorts of Christian service. If you are a worship leader and musician, you are shepherding God’s people to adore and praise God. The songs you choose and play can have the effect of feeding and comforting people with truth. If you are a covenant group leader or Sunday school teacher, you are pastor-ing the hearts of those under your care.

Here we see that Peter is specifically talking to the elders/leaders in the church as a fellow elder. He’s saying: “I’m not appealing to you as someone outside from you or on top of you. I am a fellow elder like you. We are in this together. Not only have I witnessed the suffering of Christ on the cross, I also bear witness to His sufferings in the midst of our present trials and difficulties. With you, I will also share in the glory to be revealed when He returns.” Peter speaks as someone who shares in their responsibilities, challenges and future hope.

And he is calling them to watch over God’s sheep… He is giving to them the same task that our Lord Jesus had given him. Do you remember how Jesus commissioned Peter to be a pastor in John 21:15-17? Peter must have felt so undeserving and unworthy for denying Jesus not once but 3 times. He deserted Jesus at his greatest moment of need. So he went back fishing and caught nothing. But the resurrected Christ restored him by asking him 3 times: “Simon Peter, do you love me?” You know Lord that I love you. Jesus answers: “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep”. The fruit of love, the outcome of loving Christ is the privilege to be a shepherd to care for God’s flock. In the same way, Peter now passes the baton to others: “Elders, be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them”…

So who are our elders/shepherds today? Pastor Wong, surely. Pastor Chia Wen. Pastor Meng. Elder Phil Dehart. Elder Kee Huat. Today’s message is especially relevant for us. But that does not mean that today’s text is only limited to 3-5 people. Whether you realize it or not, you are already exercising spiritual leadership as a parent, as a Sunday school teacher, as a ministry leader, as a covenant group leader or simply as a more experienced believer who has influence on a younger believer. So today’s message is loud and clear not only all of us because it shows us what Christian maturity looks like.

A shepherd’s heart grows out of love for Jesus. When you love Jesus, you will care for what the Chief Shepherd cares about. You will yearn to seek and save lost sheep. You will look out for people who have yet to commit to Christ and hope to guide them a step nearer to faith. Or you wonder: Who are the newcomers in church that need follow-up? You carry a burden: How is the spiritual growth of our people? Are they being grounded and growing in the Word? You care for them and look out for them. In some ways, all of us need to be pastoral caregivers. Our Lord asks us this morning: Do you love me? If you do, feed my sheep. Do you love me? Take care of my people.

And as a church (as God’s flock), we need to seriously look out for and identify servant-leaders. They don’t pop up out of nowhere. We need to affirm/recognize them, pray for them, support them, challenge and equip them. Surely we can elect them to be an elder at the next AGM meeting. Do you know to be an elder; a candidate needs to secure 2/3 of the members’ votes? So every vote counts. Conversations about finding a pastor in Puchong…

As you may know, the letter P is CDPC means that we are a Presbyterian church. Our church is structured in a way that we are not a one-man show. And we don’t decide everything by a congregational vote. It means that each local congregation is governed by a team of elders elected by its members. This team of elders is usually called the Session. Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the presbytery (ESP) and presbyteries can be grouped into a synod (the highest decision making body). Unfortunately, to be very frank, not many people want to be an elder in the local church. We are too busy with career and family priorities. Or we think that an elder must be elderly so we don’t qualify. Or we may believe that we are not good enough to meet the biblical requirements for an elder. The expectations we set may be too high. Whatever the reason, we do not have a Session of (at least two) elders. So this is a timely message for us to look into God’s word and consider what biblical leadership looks like.

So who are these elders? We can look at it in terms of their roles and their characters. In the NT, the words translated as elders are presbuterious/presbyterians or overseers/bishops (episkopous) are interchangeable. They refer to people who do the work of pastoring (shepherding God’s flock). To be an elder is to be someone who provides spiritual care and manages the church’s affairs. What do they do? They feed God’s people on the green pastures of God’s Word. They make sure there are both milk for the newborn believers (1 Peter 2:2) and solid meat for the mature (Hebrew 5:11-14). Week in week out, they clarify the gospel for both believers and unbelievers.

Sheep need to be led, not just fed. That means the shepherds must be out in front so that the sheep can see and follow them. They need to model what discipleship looks like and guide and equip believers for spiritual growth and service to others.

A faithful shepherd is always on guard, always on the watch against wolves and put himself on the line for the sake of the flock. These wolves can come in the form of false teachers who twist the truth for selfish gains. That’s why one of the criteria for being an elder is someone who “can encourage others in sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”.

Ok to feed, to lead and to protect are the roles of an elder… but his relational character is also crucial. The Bible sets the bar high so that the witness of the church in holiness and in doctrine is preserved. Texts: 1Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9: “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children are faithful and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

We don’t have time to go in detail here, but you get the sense that the primary characteristic of the elder/bishop/pastor/overseer is that his life constantly reflects biblical values and integrity. Most of these virtues - to be faithful to your wife, not violent or lose temper easily, to be self controlled and holy – are expected of all Christians. It’s nothing special, in one sense. You have to walk the talk, basically. You may listen to these requirements and despair. If we take them to extreme, none of us would qualify except Jesus. Who among us is blameless and above reproach? But that’s not what it means. None of us is perfect so we should not expect our leaders to walk on water. There will always be room for growth and times when he may fall short. It just means that we can observe these qualities in the elder to such a degree that they stand out as prominent and consistent patterns of his life. It means that the elder’s lifestyle is such that, generally speaking, no one can rightfully accuse him of conduct that is unbefitting a mature believer.  

So in a nutshell, an elder is walking the talk, self-controlled and gentle in character yet firm and rooted in doctrine and lifestyle to feed, lead and protect God’s flock. Whoa, no joke man being an elder/pastor. Let’s be frank here. By now, some of us may start to wonder, “OK. Who in their right mind will want this job? Why would I want to take this responsibility upon my shoulders when I have the option to just sit back, relax and mind my own business? No amount of pay or pleading can force me to take on this role.” No wonder it’s hard to find a few good men to be an elder.

Which brings us back to our Scripture passage today… Look at verse 2: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them— not because you must, not because you are forced to or grudgingly but voluntarily, gladly, out of your own choice, because you are willing. Why? Because that is what God wants you to be. That’s point no 1. Shepherd God’s flock not grudgingly but joyfully. It is not God’s will that we should be sluggish, feet dragging or unconcerned about the well being of His people. This is not to say we cannot take a break from ministry or prioritize our schedule. We can feel comfortable to say no, when there is good reason to do so. But there is also a kind of reluctant “Aiya… please don’t ask me. Ask someone else to do it!” attitude towards ministry that reflects badly on the One we are serving. If we do it out of coercion, as if being forced or pestered to do it, it is really a denial that serving God and His people is a joy. That the Lord we love should now invite us to be part of what He is doing in people’s lives. It is a privilege that we don’t deserve. That’s why it’s not God’s will that we drag our feet as if serving Him is the worst possible job in the world. Peter is warning us against tidak-apathy… he is challenging our obsession with comfort, ease and leisure when it comes to the Kingdom. Not everyone is called to be an elder but all of us can be a spiritual care giver. And honestly, some of us here are gifted and qualified to be an elder. This word is for you too this morning: Take the initiative, come off the bench, step up and be in the game not because you have to, but because you want to. Be willing.
Point No.2: Look at verse 2b “Be shepherds of God’s flock not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” Peter warns the elders/the servant-leaders/all of us: Don’t do ministry out of greed. Don’t serve the King motivated by lust for money. There was a movie called Leap of Faith in which Steve Martin played the role of a fake faith healer who claimed to receive divine revelation about who is having what kind of diseases during a healing rally. But it’s actually all a trick. His colleagues would talk to the audience in advance, gather personal details, ask about their health and then feed him the information through a radio transmitter.  The tragedy though is this: The movie is actually based on a real case of fraud exposed with the help of a radio scanner. They were caught communicating over the radio: “Way over to the other side of the other balcony is Josephine Parino.” Then the so-called healer asks the worshippers: “Who’s Josephine?” “Parino”. Then the lady identifies herself. “She’s got cancer of the stomach”. It’s like a game show.
Sad but true, ‘godliness’ can often be turned into a means of shameful profit. When Christians are fooled into supporting self-proclaimed TV prophets anointed and appointed to make us healthy and wealthy, the only people getting millions of dollars to buy mansions and drive private jets are the conmen themselves. There’s a word for this: It’s called fleecing the sheep. Instead of caring for the sheep, they are taking advantage of God’s flock for selfish gains. Peter says: Don’t do ministry motivated by money, rather do it with enthusiasm. Love what you do in ministry. Be eager to see God’s name lifted up. Do you find joy in your work/ministry in seeing lives transformed by the gospel? Can you honestly say it is more blessed to give than to receive? I thank God for all the leaders we have in CDPC. They may not be the slick and flashy ones or the smooth talking ones. But in their sincere, unassuming and quiet ways, they are eager to serve God’s flock.  

Don Carson once said: “The worst situation in the local church occurs when the church adopts the attitude, "Lord, you keep (the pastor) humble and we’ll keep him poor," and the minister adopts the attitude, "I’m going to get every cent I can out of this selfish congregation; they have no idea how much I do for them." The best situation occurs where the congregation sees itself in the privileged position of supporting someone in the ministry generously so that he is free to get on with the work of the ministry, and the minister for his part doesn’t give a rip – in a sense, he is above all that.” Point 2: Don’t do ministry out of greed, but out of eagerness to serve”.

Third point is this: Don’t lead out of pride, lead by example. Look at verse 3:Shepherd God’s flocknot lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Peter warns the elders against the love for power and prestige. Don’t be a petty tyrant, craving for command and control. Don’t boss around: “Do as I say not as I do. Don’t ask questions. Listen, listen, listen. When I talk, you listen. How dare you touch the Lord’s anointed?” For some of us, leadership gives us a high when we call the shots and show our authority. We like to feel needed. We crave the praise, admiration and the dependence of others. This craving for power may be expressed with domineering “My way of the highway”. Or more subtly, we may manipulate others with disguised pain of a wounded hero. Pride means we rely on our strength and feel the world stops spinning when we are not around.
What’s the antidote for pride? First and foremost, you lead by example. Whether you are an elder or not modeling godliness for others is central to your discipleship as a Christian. Like it or not, we will set a good example or a bad example. People will look at their leaders’ example and that shapes their idea of what spiritual maturity looks like. What will CDPC be known for in our community ten years from now? Do we model holiness in lifestyle, gentleness in speech, selflessness in relationship, soundness in doctrine? Will our young people and our children be encouraged to imitate and think of godliness in this way? Or do we model greed, quarrelsome speech or selfishness? If so, should we be surprised when they turn out exactly like that one day?
Don’t exalt yourself: “Do as I say, not as I do”. Rather, lead by example: Follow me as I follow Christ. How we live will make a much bigger, more lasting impact than anything we might say. 
That’s a lot to handle, I know. It’s a challenge for all of us. Where do we find help to serve God’s people willingly, joyfully and humbly? We need hope. We need motivation.
This is what Peter gives us in verse 4: "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." Ministry is not an end in itself. We do ministry to prepare the whole people of God for Christ’s return. We are not in this church business to get praise for ourselves, but to bring praise, glory and pleasure to God. One day, Jesus the chief shepherd shall return to reward all who serve Him and His people.
The choices we make today depend on what we believe about the future. Who invests more money: the person who believes that share prices will go up or the person who doesn’t care if it does? Who changes the world: the person who believes what he/she does in life will echo through eternity or the person who thinks “you only go around once, so why not enjoy it”? C. S. Lewis wrote: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” Mere Christianity

If you think leadership is too burdensome, think of the day when our Chief Shepherd will crown us with His love. If you think giving pastoral care to others is hard, think of the day when our Great Pastor will return and lead us home. The wealth we gather in this world will fade but not the glory that we will receive from our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have loved me and cared for those whom I love.” Only one life that soon will pass, only what’s done for Christ will last. Therefore we long for His return. The proper reward for faithfulness and fruitfulness in service is that He grants us ability and authority to serve him in greater ways, in unimaginable ways in His kingdom.

Being a spiritual care giver is a high calling. It’s not easy. The only reason we do it is because the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not be in want. We lay down our pride because Jesus is our Chief Shepherd. We are just under shepherds. We do it willingly because out of love, He risked his own life to seek us, His lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:4-7). We care for others because our Lord is moved with compassion for the people for they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36). We lay down our greed in the things that will perish because His reward will never fade away. Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10). Because we have such a great Shepherd, we could shepherd others. And He is calling us this morning: Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Do you love me? Take care of my lambs.  


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