The Need for Pastoral Care

1 Peter 5:1-4

Why is it difficult to follow Christ through suffering. Following Christ through suffering is difficult not only because the suffering itself is difficult, but because we– as people – are difficult, too. That’s why Scripture – from early Old Testament to New – frequently describes people as sheep, even those of us who follow Christ.

Sheep are notoriously difficult creatures:

  • They spook and panic easily.
  • They need the support of a flock to defend themselves.
  • When sheep are uneasy or afraid, they are difficult to manage, and react with a “fight or flights” response.
  • They require regular care to provide them with the food, rest, and water they need.
  • Sometimes this care requires firm but necessary correction, as when sheep wander in the wrong direction, follow a stubborn sheep, eat the wrong food, drink the wrong water, or get too comfortable when they’re lying down, flipping over and dying if the shepherd doesn’t intervene.

Throughout their lives, they require the constant, intentional care of a shepherd who guides, intervenes, protects, and serves them in love. To survive and thrive, they need the fellowship of a flock and a shepherd’s leadership and care.

As followers of Christ, we are the same way. To survive and thrive as we follow Christ through suffering, we need the fellowship of our church and a pastor’s shepherding care.
As American Christians, we tend to view ourselves as more independent than we are or should be. This is due to a variety of factors, including the following two primary ones:

  • A generally self-sufficient mindset; we rely on ourselves far more than on each other.
  • Disillusionment due to instances of abusive, failed, and neglectful pastors.

That’s why Peter, after providing in-depth teaching about following Christ through suffering, turns attention to the responsibility and role of elders in the church. At first, this next section (1 Pet 5:1-4) may seem like an awkward, disconnected jump from one subject to another, but it actually flows naturally from what Peter has been teaching. How? Because following Christ through suffering requires shepherding care.

In this section, Peter instructs pastors to lead (or more specifically to feed) followers of Christ through suffering and to do so in a Christlike and godly way.

First, Peter describes the task of shepherding care. He teaches that:

God assigns this shepherding task to elders in a church.

“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.”

The first thing we should notice as we read these verses is that Peter speaks to “the elders who are among you.” Because Peter uses the plural elders, he raises the question of whether Peter envisions multiple churches, each having one pastor, or one or more churches, each having multiple pastors.

While Scripture never specifically says “a church should have one elder” or “a church should have multiple elders,” the evidence we observe – both grammatical and descriptive – leans heavily in the direction of churches having multiple elders. Said another way, while it is not wrong for a church to have only one elder – sometimes that may be the only possibility – it is ideal and preferrable for a church to have more than one – a plurality of elders. I could offer a variety of reasons for why this is preferrable from a organizational, philosophical, practical, or social standpoint, but for now, I’ll simply acknowledge what Scripture says about this arrangement. As pastor and professor of NT and theology, Thomas Schreiner, says:

It is … likely that elders functioned as a plurality in the churches since the term is always plural, and Acts 14:23 says elders were appointed “for them in each church.”

Further, the elders who visited the sick in James were plural (Jam 5:14), but the elders who visited were almost certainly from one local church.

Next, notice how Peter describes himself as a “fellow elder” rather than an apostle (he was also an apostle). As an apostle, Peter was one of a relatively small group of men whom Christ had personally commissioned and sent out after his resurrection to lay the doctrinal foundation for the church on his behalf.

The role of “apostle” was not a perpetuating role, meaning that apostles have not continued to function within the church once the original apostles died, since only they had seen and been sent out by the resurrected Christ.

Now that we have the inspired Scripture, provided by apostles, we have all the instruction we need to carry follow Christ (1 Tim 3:14-16). Pastors, however, are a continuing, perpetuating role given to every church to provide necessary spiritual care and guidance to God’s people.

That Peter calls himself an elder rather than an apostle shows both humility (since he could have easily invoked being an apostle to add authority to instructions) and empathy (since he acknowledges that he could also understand the challenges of being a pastor).

Peter refers to the “suffering” theme here again, to when he says that he was a witness to the sufferings of Christ. This means that he observed Christ’s suffering firsthand and understood that not only did to follow Christ mean that we, too, must also suffer as Christ did, but those who serve as pastors in the church for Christ must suffer in a special way, as Christ did for all of us.

Peter didn’t just look back, though, at the sufferings of Christ as something he and we – esp. fellow pastors – must experience, he looked forward also to participating in Christ’s future victories, his final and ultimate triumphs. He acknowledges this yet again in v. 4.

As the hymn written by Esther Kerr Rusthoi wrote in the early 1900s, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus, life’s trials will seem so small, when we see him. One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrows will erase. It will be worth it all, when we see Christ.”

Now, perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been using elder and pastor interchangeably. I’m doing so on purpose because the NT indicates that these two terms, and one other, all refer to the same function and role in the church. This happens to be one of two key passages that indicates this (also Acts 20).

Notice how here in our passage, Peter uses terminology for being an elder, for shepherding, and for being an overseer.

Elder refers to those whom a congregation has recognized as the spiritual leaders of the church and emphasizes that these men lead by exemplary behavior. This term does not necessarily refer to men who are recognized this way informally but to those whom the congregation has officially recognized as such – therefore agreeing to follow their guidance and leadership as a church.

Shepherd refers to these same men, not to different men, and to the same office, position, and role within the church, not a different one. It is the same word from which we get the word pastor. This word emphasizes how elders must not only lead by example, but they must do and say the things which a congregation needs to guide and lead them forward in following Christ, both as individual believers (the sheep) and as a congregation (the flock). This function requires elders to care for the members of a church just as shepherd cares for the sheep in a flock. He must be present and spend time with them, build close relationships with them, know them individually, provide them with correction, encouragement, and guidance in their spiritual lives, and make necessary personal sacrifices to keep them spiritually healthy and moving in the right direction.

Overseer also refers to these same men – the elders/pastors – and is a third term that describes this role. This term is the word for bishop and emphasizes the administrative responsibilities of being an elder/pastor. In secular, Gentile, Roman usage, this term referred to men who were assigned as senior, governing political officials who were responsible to manage and oversee groups of people from a political and social standpoint. This term was used by the early church to describe the pastoral, elder role, emphasizing the administrative nature of this role.

So, there are two official “positions” in the church. The first role is the one we’re talking about here, the role of spiritual leadership and guidance. You can call it the role of elder, pastor, and overseer. These are one and the same role. The other is the role of deacon, which we are not talking about today because it is not mentioned in this passage – but this is a separate role of providing necessary service to the church in hands-on, material ways, such as building maintenance, financial functions, shut-in and widow care, etc. Deacons are not elders, but elders are pastors and overseers (Phil 1:1):

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons

So, can you see the importance of a church needing more than one elder (pastor/overseer)? Just as a growing church needs more than one deacon to care for the growing material needs of the church, so a growing church needs more than one pastor (elder/overseer) to shepherd and administrate the growing spiritual needs and relationships within the church.

Having considered the task of shepherding care, now let’s look to this passage to consider next the scope of shepherding care. Not only does God assign this shepherding task to elders in a church and God assigns this shepherding task to elders in a church.

Every follower of Christ needs to be shepherded.

From this passage, we can see that every follower of Christ needs to be cared for by shepherds whom God has delegated to care for them and who are devoted to caring for and guiding them spiritually. Let me emphasize that no follower of Christ is exempt from this need. As I’ve noted before, we as independent, self-sufficient American Christians don’t necessarily like to be shepherded.

We’re glad to be shepherded when we’re in the hospital or encounter some sort of traumatic difficulty in life, and we want a pastor to perform our marriage ceremonies and funerals and pray for us. And we want our pastors to provide us with organized church programs and an interesting sermon on Sundays.

But beyond these things, we’re just not too keen to have pastors who will get personally involved in our lives, giving us proactive counsel, guidance, and even correction along the way. Sometimes we refer to this aspect of pastoral care as “stepping on toes” or “rocking the boat,” and we don’t like that. Yet, this is exactly what we need sometimes.

Here’s how the writer of Hebrews told church members to respond to the shepherding care of their pastors (Heb 13:17):

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

From this we see that we should take seriously the spiritual guidance that our pastors provide for us. We also see that we need to be warned to do so as this is not our natural inclination, for we tend to be resistant to responding this way.

Furthermore, here’s what Paul told Timothy to do in his shepherding role (2 Tim 4:1-4):

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

From this we not only see once again that followers of Christ will find it challenging to take seriously the shepherding care their pastors provide, but that pastors are supposed to provide such care and guidance regardless and should – here’s a key point – do so based upon the clear teaching of the Word of God, not their own personal whims and desires.

Notice that God personally places people under pastoral care. Peter describes churches as “the flock of God” and “those entrusted to you.” This reveals to us that every congregation belongs to God – not to the pastors – but also that God himself deliberately and personally delegates the care – his care – of church members to specific pastors whom he designates. Notice the following instructions by Paul (Acts 20:28), which (a) also uses all three terms for the pastoral role as Peter does here and (b) reveals that each church ultimately belongs to God:

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

Now, to be “shepherded” includes factors like home visits, hospital visits, being prayed for, receiving personal encouragement and mentorship, building relationships, hearing spiritual correction, receiving advice, and more – all that a pastor does to meet your spiritual needs must be guided by and rooted in Scripture.

Either a pastor is (a) doing what Scripture tells him to do for you or (b) he is telling you what Scripture is telling you to do for Christ. To “shepherd” means to “feed” the sheep, and a shepherd feeds the sheep through the Word of God. Why is this important? I’ll practice what I’m telling you here by simply offering (or feeding you) you three reasons from the teaching ministry of Christ himself:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)

From this we see that as followers of Christ, and knowing that Christ himself is the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 and the Chief Shepherd (which Peter says here), we need to hear the Word of God and have the Word of God carefully and faithfully explained and fed to us through preaching, teaching, and counseling.

Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” (Luke 4:4)

From this we see that we not only need to be fed physical food but we need to fed spiritual food as well, and it is not good enough to read the Bible by ourselves. We need to be taught and ministered the Word by shepherds who care for our souls.

“Jesus said to him [Peter], ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:17)

From this we see that Christ told Peter to do precisely (a) what he is doing right here in this letter called 1 Peter and (b) what Peter is telling and teaching other elders/pastors to do – to feed Christ’s sheep the very words and teachings of Christ, explaining it, arguing for it, defending it, and applying it to our lives.

No matter how long you’ve followed Christ, you need to receive spiritual care from pastors who are teaching and applying the Word of God both to your life individually and to your church family as a whole.

All of this said, we have two more statements to make today. Not only does God assign shepherding care to the elders/pastors of each church and not only does God expect every follower of Christ to be shepherd, but…

Every elder needs to shepherd with the right mentality.

In the passage before us, Peter describes the mindset of a biblical, faithful, godly pastor, giving three important expectations and qualifications which focus not on the task or scope of shepherding care, but on the proper mindset of shepherding care.

First, pastors should never serve because they were coerced or felt obligated to do so. They should only do so if they have first received a strong desire for this work (1 Tim 3:1).

This is a faithful saying: if a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.

To be a pastor/elder/overseer in a church is not easy work. Doing so will introduce new and unique challenges to your life which may be properly called suffering, as Christ suffered to care for us (see Jam 3:1). If you think suffering for following Christ is tough, then try leading followers through suffering as a pastor – that adds new and unique challenges of suffering to your life on top of that!

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

Second, pastors should never serve as a means to get wealthy or as a way to pocket funds unethically. This assumes that pastors should be paid for their work whenever possible, for pastoring well requires the ability to devote oneself wholeheartedly to the work (1 Tim 5:17-18):

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

This said, pastors should not serve out of a motivation to get rich but out of a pure desire to serve Christ and the people of God because they truly care about Christ and the people of God, regardless of their financial accomplishments.

Third, pastors should never serve as a means to become acknowledged, powerful, and prestigious. Though pastors need to make decisions as they lead – and sometimes these decisions will require courage and a willingness to be misunderstood or opposed – they need to do so in a humble, servant-minded way, as Christ taught (Mark 10:42-45).

Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Pastors in the church should let their Christlike example of practicing what they preach be the key factor that influences people and upholds their teaching rather than relying on bullying tactics and forceful behavior and personality to get the job done or gain compliance. They should rely on the Word of God and practice – as Peter will discuss in later verses – the principle of mutual submission.

So, now that we have seen the task, the scope, and the motivation of shepherding care in the church, we will conclude by looking at the ultimate outcome of shepherding care.

Christ guarantees good shepherding will be rewarded.

To serve the church as a pastor is a challenging task indeed, but one that is eternally worthwhile. Peter assures all pastors everywhere that though there is no way to avoid the kind of challenges and suffering that pastors will experience in leading the church, there is also no way to avoid the ultimate outcome, which will be one of final and lasting triumph. Pastors who cared well for the church will be rewarded well by Christ with a crown of glory that does not fade away. They will be personally and permanently acknowledged by Christ as having done a good and noble work for Christ and this recognition by Christ will never end. What could be any better than this?

Embedded within this promise of a special, eternal reward is also a warning – reminding us that Christ himself is the Chief (or Arch, Top, Highest) Shepherd of both every church directly and all churches comprehensively, so we must conduct ourselves and practice shepherding care in close dependence upon Christ, conscientious faithfulness to Christ’s Word, and careful obedience to follow his example.

This also means that pastors must ultimately answer to Christ in all that they do. This means that they must not push their own personal agenda and will upon the church. This also means that they must not ultimately answer to the church itself when the Word of God teaches otherwise.

Do you have a biblical view of pastoral leadership in the church?

  • First, are there any men hearing this study in whose hearts God is placing a strong desire to be a shepherd in the church? Perhaps a younger man, perhaps an older man? If so, please let me know. I would be glad to speak with you and pray with you more about that.
  • Second, are you clear about the threefold description of the pastoral role within the church – how it is distinct from the role of a deacon and who necessary it is for providing spiritual care and leadership for the church family of which you are a part. And do you see the importance and value of your church being cared for by more multiple pastors not just one?
  • Third, are you gladly placing yourself in a church family and accepting the pastoral care which your church provides? What sort of sheep are you being within the flock of Christ?

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