Sunday, May 16, 2010

What sort of leaders? 1 Peter 5:1-4.

In the UK we have just had a change of leadership. Gone is the unpopular Gordon Brown; our new Prime Minister is David Cameron. Cameron has never held office before and has been trying to redefine the Conservative Party, which had acquired the name of the Nasty Party following the introduction of the Poll tax under Margaret Thatcher.

The electorate were unable to give Cameron a proper mandate and saddled him with a companion in power, Nick Clegg. Although they come from different parties, Cameron and Clegg are surprisingly alike. Both are very rich, both were privately educated at expensive schools and at Oxford/Cambridge University, both are 43 years old and both have very glamorous wives. Cameron is related to British Royalty, Clegg to European Nobility. One has a blue tie and one a yellow tie, but they could be Bill and Ben, the flowerpot men.

Perhaps it is significant, but in our studies in 1 Peter we have come to an end of our suffering and begun a section on leaders.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, 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.

Somebody said that we get the leaders we deserve. I suppose that if you let other people impose leaders on you, you deserve all you get, though some have little choice about it. In churches you have the option to go somewhere else, but you seldom have that choice in a country. However, many churches give the members a say in who comes as a leader, and here Peter, gives us some guidelines as to what we should look for in a leader.

He writes, not as a Bishop or Archbishop, still less as a Pope, but as a fellow elder. There is no hierarchy in the Christian church. Peter was an apostle. We learn in Acts that he had special powers to confer the Holy Spirit (remember how Simon Magus coveted them). He had been a witness to the suffering Christ (admittedly he had fled from the crucifixion, but the whole ministry of Jesus had been one of suffering). If anyone had a right to lord it over the other ministers in the early church, it was Peter; but he calls them fellow elders. This doesn't mean that our leaders should be elderly, but they should be mature believers - not young in the faith. Many of the disciples were young men and Jesus himself was not elderly. John the Apostle certainly lived to a ripe old age, but he began his ministry while young. The great preacher CH Spurgeon was hardly more than an infant when he began his ministry, but he had a remarkable maturity.

Leaders are not to be dictators. One of the great tragedies of the Christian church has been its attempt to ape secular leaders. Church leaders should not dress up in expensive uniforms or issue edicts from thrones. I hate the expression "My Lord Bishop". They are not Lords. We have one Lord and Savior, and him Christ Jesus. But if they are not to be dictators, they are not to be nannies either. We have got into a rut in the UK of expecting everything to be served up for us on a plate. The NIV has interpolated the idea of a servant here. The word occurs twice in verse 2 'serving as overseers' and 'eager to serve', but it is nowhere in the Greek. The ESB renders verse 2 more accurately as 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;

Leaders are indeed servants, but servants of God, as we are all to be. If we are to follow Jesus, we must certainly be willing to humble ourselves and wash each others feet, but we must balance the injunction to carry each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2) with Paul's determination not to be a burden to anyone (2 Corinthians 11:9). Some congregations see their minister as their personal servant. Paul left instructions that where possible people should make arrangements to carry their own burdens so as to not let the church be burdened with them (1 Timothy 5:16). There are enough really needful people.

Secondly, leaders must be shepherds or pastors. Scripture gives us so many examples of the pastoral role. The 23rd Psalm talks of leading and guiding, protecting and comforting, providing life-giving spiritual food and refreshing spiritual water. The parable of the shepherd talks of seeking the lost and fetching back the fallen. John's Gospel tells us that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

We need a shepherd. One of the worst fates to behold us would be to be as sheep without a shepherd. We would wander and stray into danger; we would be unprotected and prey to all sorts of devilish dangers.

Jude warns us against false leaders who might slip in amongst us. He calls them shepherds who feed only themselves. Alas there are such leaders in the church today; clouds without rain, autumn trees without fruit, wild waves of the sea, wandering stars. These men are grumblers and fault-finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

We need shepherds who feed the flock with sermons that teach the Scripture and who tend the lambs and sheep - and here I include small group leaders who are aware of every problem and difficulty of their own small collection of believers.

Thirdly we need overseers. In the Greek it is Epi-scopos; it is sometimes translated bishops, but we must avoid what that word has come to mean. It is not a hierarchical office. Leaders must be men of vision; people who see the big picture. Those who recognise context, who see where things are going; men of strategy. They must be aware of what is happening in the Christian world. Assuredly new movements arise and will arise. Sometimes there is something we can learn; oftentimes they are flawed and lead into error. The Lord gives discernment as one of the gifts of the Spirit and we must covet that gift for our leaders. Our leaders must be readers. They must know what is going on out there as well as what is happening in here.

How should our leaders do their work? First, willingly. We don't need pressed men. We must welcome good leaders and treat them well so that their work does not become a come a chore. They must have sufficient time off to refresh themselves in the Word. They must have someone that they can talk to and thrash out their problems. What a pleasure it is when coming to work is a pleasure. Our leaders are human, not demigods. We must pray for them and encourage them.

Second, eagerly. Our leaders should be full of zeal. When God chose someone to take the word to the gentiles, he didn't chose someone with the experience of being with Jesus throughout his ministry, he didn't choose someone who had witnessed the crucifixion or someone who had seen all the miracles or even someone who had imbibed the whole of the teaching of Jesus. He chose someone who was a man of zeal; Saul of Tarsus; someone who up until then had been in the enemy's camp. Zeal is irreplaceable. Have you had the experience of listening to the sermons of someone who is just going through the motions? Boring isn't it? Enthusiasm alone can lead people astray, but correct teaching without enthusiasm sends people to sleep.

Thirdly, our leaders must be examples to the flock. We look to them to see the fruits of the Spirit acted out. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Or as Peter puts it in his second letter: For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.

Why is it that our leaders lead? Verse 4 tells us. Our real leader is the Lord Jesus Christ and one day he will return. And when he returns we will receive a crown of glory. That is not a crown that will tarnish or fall apart. It is not a party hat that you get from a Christmas cracker. It is the imperishable, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

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