The good news is the Bible has a number of texts on what a pastor’s authority should look like. Let me point to just one of them: 1 Peter 5, where Peter is instructing “the elders among you,” and he says, “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.”
So it’s not about what I’m getting out of this that can gratify and please my flesh, but I shepherd eagerly because I want to love these sheep in some form or fashion. And then listen to this: “Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you’ll receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Move backward here for a second to verse four. There is an unfading crown. There’s something I’m going after, but it’s not something in the here and now that I’m going after. It’s an unfading crown of glory that I’m going after. I’m looking for payment later, whereas now I’m called to willingly, eagerly submit myself for these sheep’s good. I’m not domineering. Instead, I’m being an example.
Let’s think about that phrase. What is the authority of a pastor? The authority of the pastor is to teach and give oversight to the flock by being an example to the flock. And what’s the submission that the congregation is called to?
Well, thinking of Hebrews 13:7, the author of Hebrew says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Being examples to the flock, in Peter’s words, “consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith.” So my authority as an elder is predicated on and depends upon my being an example of righteousness and love and holiness.
Give of Yourself
Here’s what it looks like to continue to trust Christ when my wife gets a cancer diagnosis. This is what it looks like to follow Christ when I have a rebellious teenager. This is what it looks like to follow Christ when you’re making a lot of money or when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. This is what it looks like to follow Christ when you’re tempted to be afraid of sharing the gospel because you know you might lose your job, but you’re going to go ahead and share the gospel anyway.
How does Jesus rule? How does Jesus exercise authority? By giving his life as a ransom for many.
So what is the submission of a member? Well, it’s the submitting to watching my life and imitating my faith. And I’m inviting; I’m not domineering. I’m being an example to the flock in all of those different domains of life, which means I am pouring myself out for Christ’s sake and their sake. It’s a different kind of picture, isn’t it?
It makes you think back to the chief shepherd, the Son of Man who came not to be served, but serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Don’t be like the Gentiles, he says, who lord it over them. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
How does Jesus rule? How does Jesus exercise authority? By giving his life as a ransom for many. That’s an act of rule. He is exercising authority. He is being a priest there, but he’s also being a king there. And he’s being a king by going to the cross, paying for their penalty, ransoming a people to himself in conquering sin and death.
He is ruling in that amazing act by spending himself. So, mother, father, parent, husband, office manager, airline pilot, military officer, are you giving yourself? Are you spending yourself for the good of those you are leading?
And in the pastoral domain, it’s specifically by being an example for the flock: This is what God says. Let me teach you his word. He says, We’re to do this, congregation. Now watch me. Do it as I do it. Follow after me.
I think that’s a picture of beautiful humility that I need to live into and ask God to enable me to do. And that is what keeps me from abusing my flock—my congregation—as I’m living by being an example.
Jonathan Leeman is the author of Authority: How Godly Rule Protects the Vulnerable, Strengthens Communities, and Promotes Human Flourishing.
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