A T4G Sermon: Shepherd the Flock of God—Eight Questions for Pastors of God’s People
Each year I have attended or spoken at T4G, I have felt completely undeserving to even be in the room. This year, I stand here alone in a room, and I still don’t deserve to be here, particularly speaking to you on this text and this topic.
Mark, Lig, and Al asked me to preach from 1 Peter 5:1–4 with the title, “Shepherd the Flock of God”—and there are so many other pastors who should be preaching this sermon.
- I think about my childhood pastor, Don Bouldin, who went to be with the Lord this last year after decades of faithful pastoral ministry.
- I think about Jim Shaddix, my mentor and the man who faithfully pastored a flock of 150 people Sunday after Sunday during my time in seminary.
- I think about Cory Varden, a bi-vocational pastor who tirelessly works while shepherding God’s people in a traditional Baptist church.
- I think about Matt Pearson, who moved with his wife to live in a trailer on the church property in a small town to love, lead, marry, and bury saints in ways no one but God would ever see.
- I think about the new initiative through Radical to partner with indigenous pastors and missionaries on the front lines of the most urgent spiritual and physical need in the world. We are focusing initially on work in 12 countries including Somalia, Yemen, Bhutan, Aghanistan, and North Korea. The pastors in these places know far more about my topic than I do.
And on top of all of this, if I could be completely honest, I am in a season right now where I feel pretty insufficient as a pastor.
Without going into details, I have been convicted over recent days about ways I have not cared well for the church I serve. Preparing this message has only deepened that conviction, further uncovering areas for growth and needs for grace in my own sinful heart.
So now that I have totally undercut my credibility to preach this message, I will lean totally on God’s Word and God’s Spirit to do what I cannot—to speak to you, I pray, in a way that will serve you well as you shepherd the flock God has entrusted to you.
And in light of my own pastoral weakness, I am going to draw on a pastoral hero of mine from history.
His name is Charles Simeon, and over this last year I read Hugh Evan Hopkins’ biography entitled, Charles Simeon of Cambridge and I was moved by God’s grace in this man who pastored Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, for 54 years.
So here’s what I want to do. I want to read our text (1 Peter 5:1–4) and then, based on the text, I want to ask eight questions of every pastor who is listening right now.
If you are not a pastor or elder—maybe you’re a church leader in some other capacity, or a church member—and I hope you will be edified by anything that applies to you.
But my aim in the next few minutes is to speak specifically to pastors because, well, that’s who God is speaking to in this text. Along the way, I want to intersperse insights from Charles Simeon’s life and pastorate that I hope will be an encouragement to you.
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1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1–4)
This an appropriate passage during a pandemic.
In his commentary on 1 Peter, Tom Schreiner writes that this passage demonstrates “the type of shepherd leadership that is needed to assure the survival of the church in trying times.” The context of 1 Peter, of course, is persecution, not pandemic. But I believe many of the principles are the same. What type of pastoral leadership is needed in the church amidst trying times?
If you look back up in your Bible, Peter has just warned the church that God’s judgment is coming, and that God’s judgment begins at God’s house. Trials test the people of God, and the first to take the test are the elders, or pastors, in the church.
The background here is Ezekiel 9, when God tests his people, and he begins (Ezekiel 9:6) “with the elders who were before the house.” In view of trials on this earth and coming judgment for eternity, the church must be ready, starting with the elders who lead the church.
So the setup at the end of 1 Peter 4 provides a sober tone to 1 Peter 5. And it continues throughout the text we read.
Peter is saying to pastors, “The Chief Shepherd is coming back, and there will be a reckoning among all his under-shepherds. He will call every pastor and elder in the church to give an account and each of you should be ready.”
That’s part of why I’m drawn to Charles Simeon.
He was 23 years old, in the first year of his pastorate at Trinity Church, when he spoke clearly to his congregation about his accountability to Jesus for them. He said to people standing in the aisles one Sunday morning (I’ll explain more in a moment why they were standing):
Remember the nature of my office, and the care incumbent on me for the welfare of your immortal souls. Consider whatever may appear in my discourses harsh, earnest, or alarming, not as the effects of enthusiasm, but as the rational dictates of a heart impressed with a sense both of the value of the soul and the importance of eternity.
Simeon knew that it is sober responsibility to shepherd people whom Jesus has purchased with his own blood. He described the pastor like the keeper of a lighthouse. He painted a vivid picture of a ship wrecked on a rocky shore with dead bodies floating and widows and orphans wailing. And when asked what happened, the keeper of the lighthouse responded, “I fell asleep.”
Simeon knew what every one of us as pastors needs to know. Life and death, Heaven and Hell for souls hang in the balance of how we carry out our calling—and we must not fall asleep.
And so this Word from God in 1 Peter beckons pastors, lighthouse keepers, to honestly, soberly, and humbly ask at least eight questions.
And I, going to phrase these as if God is asking these questions to each of us individually.
1. Do you love your ministry more than you love Jesus?
Peter writes, “So I exhort the elders among you,” and then listen to how he describes himself: “As a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.”
So he describes himself as a pastor, as an eyewitness of Jesus—using, by the way, the word from which we get “martyr”—and as a partaker in coming glory. And then he says in the one imperative of the passage: “shepherd the flock of God.”
So why this one command?
Well, do you remember Jesus’ last recorded conversation with Peter?
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 [Jesus] said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 [Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15–17)
Don’t forget. The call to lead the church flows from love for Christ. There is a direct relationship between loving the Son of God and shepherding the flock of God.
Instructions for leadership in the church are given to those with affection for the Lord of the church, and I fear we are prone to miss this.
You don’t even have to get past the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospels to hear of people who are performing miracles and driving out demons in Jesus’ name, and Jesus says, “I don’t even know you.”
Is that possible? Is it possible to have fruitful ministry for Jesus totally apart from personal intimacy with Jesus? It’s absolutely possible. It’s dangerously possible.
As an illustration from my own sinful heart, I can remember a long season in my life as a pastor—I don’t remember exactly how long, but it was long—when the church I was pastoring was growing. A lot of people were coming. And a lot of good ministry was happening. I had written a book, and a lot of people were reading it. And I started getting invited to preach in all kinds of different places. On the outside, it looked like the height of ministry.
But on the inside, my time alone with the Lord was inconsistent at best—the reality is, it was nonexistent most days.
Sure, I would prepare to preach a sermon, and I would pray in public. But I rarely prayed in private, and never read the Bible simply so that I might know and love God.
Now don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t lazy. I was working hard—staying up all night, many nights. There were a lot of things happening, a lot of good things happening in ministry.
But I was doing it all completely disconnected from intimacy with Jesus. That’s frightening to me. How “successful,” so to speak, I could be in ministry, while missing a heart for Jesus. I loved my ministry far more than I loved him.
What about you?
I’m guessing there are some of you listening right now who are right where I was. And God, in his kindness, right now is calling you back to himself.
Maybe the word you most need to hear right now from God is: I love you—and I long for intimacy with You.
Others might say, “I think I love Jesus more than I love my ministry,” and I do hope that’s the case. I want that to be the case in my life.
But this is where Simeon challenges me. Simeon was not a Christian when he went to Cambridge, but three days after he arrived there, the Provost told him he would have to attend the Lord’s Supper.
This frightened Simeon out of his mind. He knew enough about Christianity to know that you don’t take the Lord’s Supper if you don’t believe in Jesus—and you definitely don’t feign belief in Jesus.
This fear drove Simeon to reflection during Passion Week, and he wrote this in his journal:
As I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect—“That the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.” The thought came into my mind, What? May I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday morning, Easter-day, April 4, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, “Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord’s Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Savior.
Over 50 years later, Simeon would write, ““The light of God’s countenance then first visited me, and in his great mercy he has never withdrawn it from me.”
Simeon walked with God for the next 57 years, and here’s what I mean by “walked with God.”
One man who lived in Simeon’s quarters for a time wrote,
“[He] invariably arose every morning, though it was the winter season, at four o’clock; and, after lighting his fire, he devoted the first four hours of the day to private prayer and the devotional study of the Scriptures…Here was the secret of his great grace and spiritual strength. Deriving instruction from such a source, and seeking it with such diligence, he was comforted in all his trials and prepared for every duty.”
Simeon’s ministry for Jesus flowed from Simeon’s intimacy with Jesus.
We are a busy people—you and me. There are emails to send, calls to make, sermons to write, meetings to run, people to contact, things to do. And before long, if we’re not careful, no matter we might say, it can easily start to look like we love our ministry more than we love our Master.
And God’s Word is pleading with us as pastors: don’t manufacture a heart for ministry and miss a heart for Jesus.
Do you love your ministry more than you love Jesus?
2. Are you content to care for the congregation God has entrusted to you?
Peter writes, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.”
The “flock of God” belongs to God. It is not your congregation—it is his congregation. It’s not your church, but his church that is among you, around you, entrusted to you.
The language later in verse 3 references “those in your charge.”
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight”—that’s one word in the original language, and it essentially means “to take care of” the flock.
The meaning here is crystal-clear and actually quite simple: God has entrusted certain people to you and me as pastors to care for them.
Yet if we are not careful, as pastors, we can so easily look past them, can’t we? Instead of being content to care for the congregation God has entrusted to us, we start to compare with congregations God has entrusted to others.
We look past our people to the larger church—or to the smaller church. We look out and see other churches that are younger—or older and more mature. We think, “I would like to pastor in the city—or in the country.” We think, “I would love to pastor a church with more money—or less problems.” We look at other churches with a sense of comparison that starts to cut in subtly perilous ways.
I think of times as a pastor when “my church” was growing and all kinds of good things were happening, and I began to experience a sinful sense of elation as I thought about how I was the leader of that church.
Or I think of times as a pastor when “my church” wasn’t growing and not much was happening, and I’d hear reports of all that another church was doing, and instead of immediately having joy over what was happening in that church, I could sense myself starting to justify why it wasn’t happening in our church.
Or I can even start to criticize, if even in just in my own mind, all the things that are wrong with that other church, coming up with a list of unbiblical reasons why they are experiencing growth. I think this way without even realizing I’m doing it!
And just in case you’re thinking, “Well, you’re pastor of a large church. Certainly you don’t struggle with comparison.” Don’t be fooled. Prideful comparison is dangerously pervasive, and the ecstasy of crowds only increases it.
Jonathan Edwards said, “Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christianity. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. It is the main source of all the mischief the devil introduces, to clog and hinder the work of God.”
I get caught up in comparison—in even a sick sense of competition—that robs me of the contentment I should have to care for the congregation God has entrusted to me.
Maybe I’m alone, but maybe I’m not. So to the extent with which you ever struggle with comparison or competition that threatens your care for your congregation, let us learn from Simeon’s example.
Upon his ordination as a deacon, he preached during the summer months for Christopher Atkinson at St. Edwards Church. The parish for which he was responsible was pretty small, comprised primarily of all the local butchers.
But he went door-to-door, caring for each of those individual souls. Not long thereafter, to the amazement of most everyone, including Simeon himself at 23-years-old, he was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Church in the heart of Cambridge University.
It was a dream job—until it wasn’t. Week one, the people in the church didn’t want Simeon. They wanted the former pastor’s assistant curate, John Hammond, and they made that clear. Simeon said he would step down, but the bishop in charge of the appointment said that even if Simeon stepped aside, Hammond would still not be appointed, so Simeon remained. And the congregation revolted.
Every Sunday morning for the service, parishioners not only refused to attend, but they locked their pews so that no one could sit in them. Simeon set up seats in the aisles at his own expense, but the churchwardens threw them outside.
They did this not for one week, or two, or three—not for a month, or two, or three. They did this for 10 years—such that every Sunday morning for 10 years, Simeon could only preach to people standing in the aisles or sitting in obscure corners of the room. Ten years!
Then there was a Sunday afternoon service that was under the purview of the parishioners, but they wouldn’t let Simeon preach it. Instead, they paid John Hammond twice the salary Simeon to preach the Sunday afternoon sermon. This went on for five years, at which time Hammond stepped down and the people asked someone else to take Hammond’s place for the next seven years—twelve years total that Simeon was kept out of the Sunday afternoon service.
So Simeon tried to start a Sunday evening service, and many people came week one. Until the churchwardens decided they were going to shut it down. They locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone in. They told Simeon he has “no right to go into the church whenever he thinks fit.”
So get the picture. For the first ten years of his pastorate, Simeon preached to a room full of empty pews in the morning, for the first twelve years he was forbidden to preach in the afternoon, and in all this time he was locked out of the church on Sunday nights.
How do you shepherd that flock . . . for 54 years?
When Simeon was asked that question, he answered, “In this state of things I saw no remedy but faith and patience. The passage of Scripture which subdue and controlled my mind was 2 Timothy 2:24.” What does 2 Timothy 2:24 say? “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.”
God, make us all content to care well for the congregation You have entrusted to us.
3. Is pastoring a job for you to perform or a passion for you to fulfill?
Peter writes, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly.”
So according to our text, it is possible to shepherd God’s people out of a sense of duty that lacks desire. It is possible to see pastoral ministry as a job to perform instead of a passion to fulfill. I’m guessing any pastor has faced this temptation at some point. I’m guessing many pastors are experiencing this emotion at this point.
For so many different reasons, we can start to see different facets of pastoral ministry as activities we have to do instead of opportunities we want to take. And God is warning us here in his Word: be careful. Don’t begrudge any of the work God has called you to.
The care of souls is critically important, and by God’s Spirit, he supernaturally equips you for it and compels you in it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
I think about Monday mornings, that moment when you wake up and you realize that it’s time to start all over again, beginning with preparation for preaching. If we’re not careful, even preaching can start to become a job to perform instead of a passion to fulfill.
May it not be so, Peter says.
Hopkins, Simeon’s biographer, writes,
The modern parson is sometimes heard complaining of the fatigue of preaching weekly to the same congregation. Before ten years have passed he will start talking about being ‘preached out’ and needing a move. Such an idea would have been anathema to Charles Simeon. His remarkable achievement, unparalleled by any other local incumbent before or since, was to hold the attention of undergraduates and townsfolk alike preaching [multiple times every week] for over 50 years.
Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:16, Simeon couldn’t help but to preach God’s Word. Woe to me if I don’t!
In 1807, after 25 years of pastoring, his health started to fail, and his voice was struggling to the point where some Sundays he spoke in a whisper. These physical struggles continued for the next thirteen years, until he was 60 years old, yet he still kept preaching.
On one particular Sunday during that period, a visiting pastor was so struck by Simeon’s passion for his people. He said,
Never shall I forget one remarkable instance which I myself witnessed, of his affectionate concern for the souls entrusted to him. He was preaching upon those striking words: ‘All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people’ (Rom. 10:20-21). And after having urged all his hearers to accept the proffered mercy, he reminded them that there were those present to whom he had preached Christ for more than thirty years, but they continued indifferent to a Savior’s love; and pursuing this train of expostulation for some time, he at length became quite overpowered by his feeling, and he sank down in the pulpit and burst into a flood of tears, and few who were present could refrain from weeping with him.
Not long after that, not 40 years into pastoral ministry, he made a special note in his pocket Bible right next to Jeremiah 20: 9: “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
O pastors, do we weep over the people to whom we preach? Even as we preach? As we look in their faces, do we long for their salvation with fervor? Is pastoring a job for you to perform or a passion for you to fulfill?
4. Are you pridefully concerned about what others think about you or humbly consumed by what God has called you to?
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.”
“As God would have you.” Not as the world would have you. Not as others would have you. But as God would have you. Literally, according to God.
Do you notice how pride lies underneath so much in this passage? The propensity in all of us to desire the praise of others, or even to please ourselves. And it’s so subtle in pastoral ministry that we’ll miss it if we’re not vigilant.
At least I have to be. Even as I was preparing this sermon, I kept thinking, “What will people think of me when I preach?” Will they think this sermon was good? Will they think this sermon was bad? What will this person or that person think?
That was my thought process in a sermon where I am pleading with people not to be concerned about what others think about you. How frustrating is that?
And it’s not just preaching. It’s praying. Like, I can stand in front of a group of people and pray, and actually be concerned about what others are thinking about me as I’m praying. How sick is that? My heart swims in a sea that prioritizes myself, even in the most holy things I do!
When I was a teenager, a mentor of mine challenged me to pick a life verse—a verse that I wanted to mark my life. I chose John 3:30—John the Baptist saying about Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
But the reality is that verse does not mark my life. Like, I think the first part does. I want Jesus to become greater. I really believe that I want to exalt Jesus. But my impulse is to take that last phrase and say, “He must become greater . . . and I wouldn’t mind becoming greater, too.”
And I have to fight in prayer and thought all the time to say, “No, I want to become less. God, please make me less!” You greater, me less. I so want that verse to be my life! But the struggle continues.
And this is where Simeon’s counsel is spot on. He said, “The three lessons which a minister has to learn are: 1. Humility. 2. Humility. 3. Humility.” Hopkins describes how Simeon was constantly learning this, particularly in those early years at Holy Trinity.
This once self-assertive man found himself totally rejected by those he tried to lead. No one would even walk next to him on the Cambridge campus. People threw stones at him through the windows of the church. People threw dirt and rotten eggs on his face and clothes. Harder to take than even that, they smeared him with rumors that questioned his character.
So in those early years of the church, we was prone to self-pity—and then, when the circumstances changed, he was prone to self-praise. He came to know the danger of man’s applause. He once said,
If anything laudatory be mentioned about me or about my sermons, I entreat from my inmost soul that I may not have it repeated to me: let me to go heaven as the vilest sinner in the universe. . . . Satan himself could not be a greater curse to me than the person who would dare to breathe a word upon that subject commendatory of me or anything I have done.
That may seem to some like an over-reaction, but he was zealous to keep his eyes fixed on Jesus as his Judge. He said,
The ministers of Christ are generally either unduly exalted or undeservedly depreciated by those around them: but they should discharge their duties with fidelity, without any regard to the opinions of men, and approve themselves to him who will judge them righteously in the last day.
Are you pridefully concerned about what others think about you or humbly consumed by what God has called you to? Let us shepherd the flock as God would have us.
5. Are you driven by what you get in ministry or by what you give in ministry?
Are you driven by what you get in ministry or by what you give in ministry?
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . . not for shameful gain, but eagerly.”
“Not for shameful gain”—certainly a warning against greed in the pastor, or the misuse of money, just as we see in the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. We know this doesn’t mean that the church doesn’t financially provide for various elders. We see a clear pattern in Scripture of support for leaders among God’s people.
Yet the context here certainly seems broader than money alone when it is contrasted with “eagerly”—a poignant word that portrays a zeal to serve others over above oneself.
And it seems like the point is this: a pastor is driven not to get, but to give. The posture of a pastor is to serve, and not be served.
Simeon beautifully illustrates this picture of selfless ministry. He lived a simple life, capping his salary at the same amount most of his life and giving away everything above that for people in need from Cambridge to India, and other places in between. His brother left him a fortune, but he turned it all down. Simeon ended up selling volumes of his sermons, but all his royalties were owned by various societies representing different ministry causes.
He said, “If God be honored and my fellow creatures benefited, it is all I want.” One friend remarked that Simeon had “a noble indifference to money.”
But his eagerness went beyond his money. He poured his life into raising up other ministers. He couldn’t bear to see so many men going out to pastor churches who had no training in preaching or understanding of what it means to care for souls. So he made himself as accessible to as many of them as he possibly could.
Hopkins’ biography has an entire chapter devoted to telling all that those ministers did as a result of Simeon’s influence in their lives. Hopkins writes, “In the saga of Simeon there is a long roll of honor of really remarkable Christian men who owed their conversion and progress in the Christian faith to the life and witness of the Old Apostle of King’s and Holy Trinity Church.”
Carus Wilson, Robert Housman (was the first undergraduate whom Simeon led to Christ at Cambridge; he later became minister of St. Anne’s Church for 42 years), George Hodson (who became Archdeacon of Stafford), Thomas Lloyd, Henry and John Venn, Thomas Sowerby, Matthew Preston, Charles Perry, Patrick Bronte. The list goes on and on all the way to his last curate, William Carus, who took Simeon’s place at Holy Trinity.
And those were just the men who stayed in England. There were those whom Simeon mobilized to go overseas, namely to India. These were days when the Church of England was resistant to global missions, trying to convince William Carey not to go to India.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland carried a resolution affirming that “to spread abroad among barbarians and heathen natives the knowledge of the gospel seems to be highly preposterous, in so far as it anticipates, nay even reverses, the order of Nature.”
Warren Hastings had made it a fundamental rule of policy “to discourage missionary efforts.”
And in the middle of all of this, Simeon was 29 years old, six years into pastoring, still locked out of the church on Sunday nights, forbidden to preach on Sunday afternoons, and preaching to empty pews on Sunday mornings. He obviously had enough problems to focus on, but he knew the need for the gospel among the nations.
So he started raising up and sending out missionaries.
David Brown, Daniel Corrie, Claudius Buchanan, Henry Martyn, one of the most famous missionaries to India in history who translated the NT into Urdu and Persian and oversaw its translation into Arabic. All these missionaries started under Simeon’s tutelage. It was said that for a period of about 40 years, most all the missionaries who went to India from England were recommended by Charles Simeon.
He focused on more than India. Through persistent work in partnership with William Wilberforce, he started “The Society for Missions to Africa and the East,” which later became known as “The Church Missionary Society.” People went out from Simeon’s care to proclaim Christ in Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.
To pastors who said there were enough problems in England to take care of, he wrote,
What would have been the state of the whole world if the same mind had been in Christ that is in us? It may be said perhaps, Why are we to waste our strength upon the heathen? Is there not scope for the labors of all at home? I answer, It is well for us that the Apostles did not argue thus.
Simeon urged his church to pray that they would be “the means of diffusing life and salvation to the remotest corners of the globe.” Hopkins wrote that Simeon spent “restless effort buying up every opportunity that came his way for the spread of God’s kingdom overseas.”
I ask you, pastor: are you spending restless effort buying up every opportunity that comes your way for the spread of God’s kingdom overseas? Is your church a means of diffusing life and salvation to the remotest corners of the globe?
The opportunity is before us, pastors, the resources are among us, pastors, to take the gospel to every people group on the planet. The question is: will we be driven by what we can get in ministry or will we be driven by what we can give in ministry?
6. Is your leadership based on intimidation of others?
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . . not domineering over those in your charge.”
Jesus’ words to His disciples are surely in the backdrop here:
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42–44)
The leaders in the church are the servants of the church, Jesus says. There is no place in pastoral ministry for a sense of entitlement, as if we have earned what has only been given by God’s grace. There is no place in pastoral ministry for an air of superiority, as if we are not the vilest of sinners were it not for God’s mercy. There is no place in pastoral ministry for oppression or coercion. There is no place in pastoral ministry for personal pressure, sexual provocation, or political plotting. There is no place in pastoral ministry for unrighteous anger or any kind of temper.
In telling the story of Charles Simeon, it’s easy to highlight his strengths and ignore his weaknesses. But he was obviously not perfect, and he had a bad habit of getting angry about small things.
One day at a Mr. Hankinson’s house, Simeon got so irritated with how a man was stoking the fire that he swatted that man on the back to make him stop. Later that same day, the same man made another mistake, and Simeon lost his temper with him.
Hankinson wrote a letter as if it was from this other man, and he put it in Simeon’s bag for him to find later. The letter said he could not see how a man who preached and prayed so well could be so angry and have a temper about such trivial matters. The letter was signed, “John Softly.”
Simeon responded directly to the man with a note that said, “To John Softly, from Charles, Proud and Irritable. I most cordially thank you, my dear friend, for your kind and seasonable reproof.” Then Simeon wrote to Mr. Hankinson and said, “I hope, my dearest brother, that when you find your soul nigh to God, you will remember one who so greatly needs all the help he can get.”
“Not domineering over those in your charge.”
Is your leadership based on intimidation of others?
7. Is your life worthy of imitation by others?
Is your life worthy of imitation by others?
“Shepherd the flock of God . . . not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
We immediately think of Paul saying to the church at Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Or to the Philippian Christians: “Brothers, join in imitating me. . . . What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 3:17; 4:9).
What a statement. Whatever you have learned, received, heard, or seen in me—you do that, and it will go well for you. The people of God will not be what they cannot see, which means they need to see the life of Jesus in their pastors and elders.
Isn’t this why the majority of qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are character qualifications that are essentially expected of every follower of Jesus? Elders and pastors are to lead the church in such a way that members see the life of Christ in them.
So let us each ask the question: “If the church I lead imitates my life, what will my church look like?” Let us each examine our hearts, inquiring, “What in my life is not worthy of imitation, and how can I change by God’s grace for their good?”
I’ve mentioned William Wilberforce, Charles Simeon’s contemporary, who worked to abolish the slave trade in Parliament. Wilberforce once recorded in his journal: “Simeon with us—his heart glowing with the love of Christ. How full he is of love, and of a desire to promote the spiritual benefit of others. Oh, that I might copy him as he Christ.”
That’s high commendation, and critical for a pastor. John Thornton once wrote to Simeon, saying, “Watch continually over your own spirit, and do all in love; we must grow downwards in humility to soar heavenward. I should recommend your having a watchful eye over yourself, for generally speaking as is the minister so are the people.”
As is the minister, so are the people.
Is your life worthy of imitation?
8. Does the way you pastor make no sense on this earth and total sense in eternity?
I phrase this last question this way because of how our text ends: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
The thrust of this command to “shepherd the flock of God” hinges on the coming of the Chief Shepherd with a crown of glory. This charge to pastoral ministry only makes sense in the light of eternity. In other words, if this world is all there is, then to use Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 15, live it up.
This is the way of worldly leadership. There’s no need to care for souls. Compete to be better than others and do whatever you have to do to be better in order to promote yourself, climb the ladder, and achieve standing in others’ eyes. And gain all you can along the way—for you. Be confident in yourself, and cavalier with others.
And here’s the danger—don’t miss it. If we’re not careful, we can take the principles of worldly leadership and apply them to our lives as pastors. We can compete to be better than each other, and do whatever works along the way in a church world where pragmatism reigns.
We can promote ourselves, climb the ladder, and achieve standing in others’ eyes, only we will use the name of Christ to do it. And we can gain all we can along the way for our maximum benefit in this world.
And God is saying to us right now: Don’t do it. This world is not the end. This world is passing away. This world and all its crowns are fading.
But the King is coming. The Chief Shepherd of the Church is on the way. And He will reckon, and he will reward. Are you ready? Am I ready?
As I think about these questions, I wonder, “Who of us is? What pastor among us is not prone to pride? What pastor among us is worthy of perfect imitation? What pastor among us doesn’t grow weary in this work or falter in shepherding the flock?”
None of us is a perfect shepherd, but that’s the point. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and he is the Overseer of our souls, too. He who humbled himself in a life worthy of total imitation, and with patient love for sinners, gave his life for our salvation and for the salvation of those we lead.
So let us look to him. Let us all look to him in these days of pandemic and in every other day to come. Let us look to him exclusively. Let us trust in him completely. Let us become more like him continually. Let us love him wholeheartedly. And let us long for the day when he will come back with a crown of unfading glory for all who are eagerly waiting for him, laboring with him like lighthouse keepers caring for souls.
In September 1836, Charles Simeon preached on 2 Kings 10:16—“Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.”
It was a fitting last sermon from he who had once said that two things matter most: “One is to enjoy God in everything; the other is to enjoy everything in God.” A month later, in October 1836, as he lay on his bed, dying, someone asked him, “What are you thinking about?”
Simeon answered, “I don’t think now; I just enjoy.”
Finally, on November 13, 1836, on a Sunday when chapel bells were ringing across the Cambridge University campus, Charles Simeon exhaled his last breath in this world.
And for every year since then, on November 13, people gather together in King’s College Chapel and pray the following prayer:
Almighty and everlasting God, who by thy holy servant, Charles Simeon, didst mold the lives of many that they might go forth and teach others also; mercifully grant that as through evil report and good report he ceased not to preach thy saving Word, so may we never be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord, who with Thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth one God world without end.
O God, I pray for every pastor listening right now, that you would help each of us to shepherd your flock among us, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as you would have us; not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in our charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, may we receive his unfading crown of glory. In his name we pray, Amen.
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Editor’s note: This lightly edited sermon manuscript is being printed here by permission of Together for the Gospel and Radical. You can watch it here.