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Oct 13, 2013

Follow the Leader

Passage: 1 Peter 5:1-5

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Church: Disciples In Action

Keywords: leadership, elders, followership, submission, shepherding, overseeing


Leadership is a huge part of any healthy family, organization or nation. But that is only half the issue. Followership is the other half. This message looks at both sides of that coin from the passages of I Peter 5 and I Timothy 2-3.


Follow the Leader(s)

The Church: Disciples in Action

Week 5--October 13, 2013


There is a crisis of leadership today wherever you look. 

  • It’s not just in Washington, D.C. where elected “leaders” seem to be having severe difficulty figuring out both where and how to lead. 
  • It’s at virtually every level of leadership in the country. 
  • Corporations seem to be led by the almighty dollar rather than by the well-being of consumers. 
  • Colleges seem to be led by ivory-tower ideologues rather than professors of real truth. 
  • 50% of American boys will grow up in homes that are fatherless for one reason or another, most often because the men in their lives have chosen to stop leading. 

And the church?  What can we say about the crisis of leadership in the church?  A small but highly visible minority of church leaders are messing up so horrifically that a large number of former church-goers have stopped even doing that.  Whether it is abusive, unloving and domineering church leadership on one end of the spectrum or weak, ineffective and visionless leadership on the other end, church leadership seems to have fallen on hard times. 

            But before we jump too far into this issue of how God wants His church to both lead and follow, how about you talk with a couple of people around you about your own feelings about leadership…and followership?

Choose a couple of the following to dialogue about for a moment:

  • Which is harder for you, to lead or follow
  • Name one role of leadership you have.  What is challenging to you about that role?
  • Name one role of follower-ship you have.  What is challenging to you about that role?


Life is all about leadership.  From the Garden of Eden to the Great Tribulation, leadership and follower-ship have been and will continue to be at the core of the most important decisions.  Whether it is leading in a home or a business, leading among a group of friends or a group of nations, so much depends upon good leadership. 

            Equally, so much depends upon followership.  You can have the best leader in the universe on the scene, but if the citizens, or family members, or business employees or subjects don’t want to follow, all Armageddon will break loose.  Good leadership and good followership are two sides of the same coin. 


Many books have been written to and about church leadership.  Church history is filled with various structures in church leadership.  And the Scriptures are full of principles that apply to church leadership.  When it comes to the leadership of the church (and therefore any church), there is something everyone must ask: “How faithful a follower of Jesus Christ am I?” 

This is not a merely academic question.  It is intensely practical.  If the church has leaders who are humbly, faithfully following Christ’s leadership first in their lives in the whole scope of their lives, that church will not be abusive, controlling, manipulative, ineffective or powerless.  Equally, if every church participant is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, that church is going to be an amazing spiritual family that significantly impacts people and generations. 

            BUT, if either part of that equation is weak or missing, the church will be weak and missing too. 

Christ-like leaders + Christ-like laity = a transformational Church

That premise comes from both the history of the church and the explicit statements of the New Testament. 

In Colossians 2, Paul again focuses special attention on the metaphor of the church as “the body of Christ.”  He talks about some influential people in the Colossian church who were leading people astray by focusing upon supposed visions they had experienced and rigid lifestyles they wanted to impose on people.  In the middle of that conversation, he throws us a juicy bone about what we should instead be focusing on in church life.  Look at Col. 2:19—and [these people are] not holding fast to the Head,[and here’s the commentary about that Head] from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

Now we looked at that “knit together” concept a few weeks ago when we talked about the importance of close spiritual relationships with one another in the church.  But unless you have STRONG “joints and ligaments” in a body, all the “knitting together” in the world will not make a strong church.  “Holding fast” to the “Head,” Jesus Christ, IS the nourishment that every one of us needs to be anything of value to each other. 

  • Anytime any part of our body is cut off from our head…whenever the signals from our brain to our muscles and joints are interrupted or severed, we’ve got a problem, right?  That happens with spinal injuries, degenerative muscle diseases and damaged or severed limbs, right? 

That is, in fact, the reality of any group of God’s people come together as the church.  We are really only as strong together as we are connected to Christ individually.  The more leaders and people are all getting their instructions from Christ, the healthier the church will be.  The more everyone is taking direction from Christ the Head, the better the church experience will be for everyone. 

            In one of the other passages in which Paul uses that image of Christ as Head of the church, he tells us this:

“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”  (Ephesians 5:24). 

The clear implication there is that the church is to submit to Jesus in everything.  IF wives are called to do that with imperfect husbands, certainly members of the Body of Christ are called to do that with Jesus.  “Submit…in everything.”  Isn’t that what every Christ-follower is trying to do our whole lives—learning to submit to Christ in every thought, every word, every reaction, every plan, every dream, every relationship?  It is certainly what Jesus did and does in relationship to the Father.

            It’s beautiful when a body does that—every muscle taking its cue from the head, working together to accomplish extraordinary feats.  [Athletes]  It’s tragic when it doesn’t.  [Parkinson’s disease, spinal chord injury patients, etc.]. 

            That’s one reason we keep encouraging each other to develop that very personal walk with Christ where we’re hearing from Him and communicating with Him.  That is the foundation of truly healthy churches—as many people as possible as often as possible and as deeply as possible truly connected to Christ relationally. 

Don’t expect church to be something you aren’t.  Don’t demand that the people around you be something you aren’t requiring of yourself.  And don’t get too up tight with the church about things that may frustrate you in your own life and heart.  Church life will be as healthy as is the connection we each maintain with Christ.  That’s the reality of healthy followership.


Peter instructs us about the kind of divine leadership we all need from Christ in I Peter 2.  In so doing, he uses a couple of the same terms that he will use 3 chapters later for human leadership in the church.  So turn there this morning as we look at church leadership through the heart of the Apostle Peter.  He tells us in I Peter 2:25, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 


First, if we’re not constantly looking to and experiencing Jesus as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, no amount of human shepherding and overseeing will satisfy.  The need is too great as is the human limitations of church leaders.  When it comes to shepherding, we all need the biggest and best dose from God himself. And if we haven’t learned to be satisfied with His shepherding, I don’t think we’ll be content with even the best church shepherds.  

            Jesus told us what his shepherding was like in John 10.  Some of the characteristics of His shepherding  involve him knowing us by name, protecting us from Satan who seeks to devour us as a roaring lion or spiritual wolf, leading us out into green pastures, restoring our soul, going before us wherever we go in life and never leaving us.  If a human church shepherd does half of that, I’d consider him a great leader!

            Peter uses that same term “shepherd” as a command to church leaders in I Peter 5:1ff.  Here’s what he says:

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: shepherd the flock of God that is among you….”  That word “elder” is the Greek term from which Presbyterian churches get their name (presbuteros).  It’s used over 60 times in the N.T. and is used of both church elders/leaders in what we think was an official office of elder as well as not-so-positively Jewish “elders” who did nothing but crucify Jesus and persecute his followers. 

            By the way, this passage would seem to indicate that Peter simply saw himself as a “fellow elder”, one among many, not head of some huge universal catholic church.

            Anyway, his call to other elders in the church was to first and foremost “shepherd” the flock of God. Obviously, this metaphor is borrowed from the work of Jesus himself with us as Chief Shepherd of the church. So whatever church leaders do to take care of the body of Christ had better look a whole lot like what Jesus did and does to care for His church.

Notice, too, this flock is not under the elders; it’s among them.  Big difference. I know some church leaders who think everything is from them down.  That is the kind of church leadership that is driving people away from Christ and the Bride He loves.  Beware of church leaders who prefer to beat the sheep rather than lead them.  (Jesus reserved the beating for the thieves, robbers and wolves—the “rod”.  He used the “staff” to guide, rescue and snatch sheep from danger.)

Speaking of this, it is very interesting that this same word for shepherd as a verb appears 3 times in the book of Revelation.  There it is translated “rule”.  And in every case it is Jesus’ who is ruling “with a rod of iron” (2:27; 12:5; 19:15).  His first coming was as a humble, shepherd whom they crucified.  His second coming will be as a mighty, fearsome ruler who they will obey

Jesus told a parable in Luke 12:42ff about poor leadership.  The master, while leaving on a journey for a while, “put in charge of his servants” one of his managers “to give them their food allowance at the proper time.”  (A pretty clear reference to church leaders, wouldn’t you say?)  The one who did just that was put in charge of the Master’s possessions when the master returned.  The one who abused, beat and used what was given him for the care of the other servants for his own desires, was, “cut to pieces” and assigned a place with unbelievers. 

Which makes me glad I’m not a T.V. preacher…or a cult leader like Jim Jones…or a bunch of other people who, through the ages have seen church leadership as a means to enrich themselves or lord it over other people.  Jesus really cares how people called to shepherd his Bride actually treat her. 

ILL:  Heard about one church that claimed to have a healing ministry.  But you couldn’t come into the service without first paying at least $20.  And if you didn’t get healed…well, it was because you didn’t have enough faith!

But here’s the point.  If you compare this with a similar parable in Luke 19 about the 10 minas/coins given to the nobleman’s servants before he left on a journey, one thing is constant:  How we shepherd people and resources left in our care WILL have impact on the role we play when Jesus comes a second time. 

So a real spiritual leader will be a real spiritual shepherd.  Let’s keep reading what Peter says.  I Peter 5:2—“…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…. Sorry, we have to stop again. 

The Greek behind this English command is episkopeo.  Guess what form of church government is named after that one?  Sure, Episcopal.  But while we may think of a rather hierarchical form of leadership with this word, in the N.T. it focused much more on the care and concern the “elder” had for the wellbeing of people. 

Church leaders are to be, above all else, concerned about the welfare and souls of people…even in their “oversight” role.  Nowhere are they presented in the N.T. as great strategists, massive visionaries, or tremendous administrators. They are to be caretakers of people’s souls. 

Perhaps this is why the gathering of the church in any city was usually in house-churches.  I mean, how many people can one shepherd look after?  Jesus did 12.  I might hope to do the same. 

In other passages where we are told the Apostles appointed elders in different towns and cities (Titus 1:5—Crete; Ac. 14:23 –Lystra, Iconium and Antioch) and thus different churches, I personally think that they were appointing house church leaders or pastors.  That makes passages like 1st Timothy 3 make a lot more sense with the rather strong emphasis it puts upon an elder being able to “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4).  Paul says that if a man can’t do that at the family level well, he certainly can’t do it at the larger church level.  And how evident that would be if church met in his home every week, perhaps multiple times a week.  It become pretty evident whether a man is a good overseer of his family when you spend much time in someone’s home, right? 


Speaking of this passage in I Timothy 3, I find it interesting that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, spends a whole lot more time talking about the kind of person an elder/ overseer is to be before his wife, his family and his surrounding community of unbelievers than the kind of skills, abilities or gifts he is to have.  About the only clear gift or ability he must have that relates directly to the ministry of the church is to be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2b).  And the title of “overseer” implies some sort of ability to manage the care of other people. That gets reinforced in 1 Tim. 5:17 when Paul says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” 

That word “direct” in this verse is the very same word used 3 times in I Timothy 3:4,5,12 to speak of elders and deacons needing to “manage” their own families or households well. 

            Brothers and sisters, this is why I cringe at what Satan is doing to the Christian family.  THE most important role a husband or father has in life is managing his family well.  But it is one of the last roles our culture will applaud a man for. It is one of the first roles a wife will often criticize her husband in.   

            And while I’m on a soap box J… managing, directing or leading looks like a barrel of monkeys…until you actually try and do it. 

  • Until you’ve tried to lead a family, you have no idea how hard it can be. 
  • Until you’ve tried to lead a team, you have no idea how difficult it is. 
  • Until you’ve tried to lead a business or company or organization, you have no idea how hard it is. 
  • Until you’ve tried to lead a church, you have no idea how difficult it is. 
  • Until you’ve tried to lead a city or state or nation, you have NO idea how hard it is.


Go back to I Timothy 2 (you know, that passage right before all those qualities in I Timothy 3 for church leaders).  Is it any wonder God tells the church to PRAY for everyone in authority?  He goes on to say that the very saving of souls depends upon it.  Who would have thought there was any connection between prayer for “all those in authority” (2:2) and the salvation of souls?

            Then Paul speaks to women, first about how their behavior should be towards male leaders in the church.  In the process, he makes some profound and timeless observations about marriage, particularly about the “First Marriage” and how Eve’s disregard for Adam’s God-given leadership in their marriage produced all kinds of fallout no one but God ever anticipated. 

And he connects those two realms—the marriage dynamic of male leadership and female followership with the church dynamic (2:15). 

            Then God directs Paul to talk about the kind of leadership the church needs (after addressing the kind of followership husbands need).  The church needs men who lead, manage and govern well in their homes.  But it also needs women who exercise godly “followership.”


WOMEN:  Can I say something here?  (I’m going to anyway.  J)  When you criticize or silence or push back at or undercut the leadership of your man in your home, you are not only doing damage to your family and your own soul; you’re also doing damage to the church. 

While the challenge in marriage for men is to step up to the plate, role up our sleeves and actually get in the game of family leadership in every way possible, the challenge for women in marriage is to let the man lead

  • When he suggests things need changing at home, listen! 
  • When he points out a dynamic in the family that he doesn’t think is healthy, take a breath and listen! 
  • When he indicates he thinks something is out of whack in your relationship with him, ask God for the grace to listen.  Pray about it.  And applaud him for being bold enough to risk your wrath!

Now of course, MEN, if you’re ruling the home with an autocratic, critical, demanding, non-serving hand and heart, you’ve got your own serious problems.  If your wife tells you you are crushing her spirit and squeezing the life out of her, you better listen…and fast!  God has no patience for abusive men in marriages any more than he does for abusive men in the church, the Bride of His Son Jesus.


I have a deep-seated suspicion that one of the central reasons there is a crisis of leadership in the American family & the church is because far too many women have drunk the cultural Cool-Aid of feminism and egalitarianism when it comes to marriage and family leadership. Satan knows that if he can get the woman to wear the pants in the family, getting the man to abdicate leadership is all that much easier. 

            And if the truth were told about the divorce culture in America, I think the ugly secret that would emerge is that it is women far more than men who are walking away from marriages, yes Christian marriages too. 

ILL:  A new little statistical fact that just came out this week that betrays what I think no one is willing to study when it comes to divorce was this:  when it comes to “gay civil unions”, guess who is splitting up twice as frequently?  Gay male couples or lesbian female couples?  (Lesbian women…according to a government statistic.)  I’m pretty confident that if we were able to statistically measure who it is in marriages that pushes more for divorce, the same would be true in heterosexual marriages. 


And while I’m on a roll being counter-cultural, I’m guessing that what I’ve just been talking about may be making a lot of you women at best edgy and at worst downright angry

  • Yes, I know there are a lot of men who are jerks and have abused male leadership as husbands or fathers or even church leaders.
  • Yes, men fail at leading just as much as women fail at following. 

But it is impossible to talk about good leadership in the church without talking about male leadership in the church.  And it is impossible to talk about male leadership in the church without talking about good male leadership in the home. 


[Open it up for QUESTIONS at this point.  J]]


So if you didn’t catch it by now, let me clarify what I think the Bible clearly teaches about church leadership.

1.)    Consistently the Bible presents the teaching and ruling or managing leaders of the church as menNowhere in the N.T. do we see any woman functioning as an overseer/elder/teaching-pastor…nowhere!  Nowhere is an elder referred to as a woman or addressed in the feminine gender.  Why?  I believe it has to do with headship in marriage and in the church. 

2.)    The qualifications of character given in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for church leaders all have to do with actual, present, maturity, NOT past sins or failures.  (This speaks especially to the issue of divorce that some think is a disqualifier under “husband of one wife”.  NONE of the other qualifiers look at past performance.  Why would this one, especially something like divorce that may not have been the man’s desire at all?)


So let’s finish up this little chat about church leadership.  J

Back to I Peter 5:2 and the call to church leaders to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers… not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Notice the contrasts here:

      NOT                                   BUT

      under compulsion                    willingly, as God would….

      for shameful gain                    eagerly

      domineering over those in       being examples to the flock

         your charge


Men, here are the attitudes and motivations that should be moving us to leadership, whether that be in our homes or in the church.


1.)    …“under compulsion”—has the sense of being coerced, coaxed, guilted if you will into leadership.  Sounds like the way too many men are motivated to do too many things in their families.  God designed us to want to lead willingly.  It’s what “God would have you do.”  God wired men to lead.  Don’t let the enemy convince you otherwise.  That IS the male temptation.  We love to lead in sports, at work, on the freeway, on the battlefield, in government.  So why is it so hard to get men to lead 1.) at home, and 2.) in the church?  The only logical explanation I think is that BOTH are THE spiritual battlefields of the centuries.

2.)    NOT…for shameful gain.  Other ways to translate the Greek word here (only used once in the N.T.) would be “sordid gain,” or “disgraceful or improper gain”.  It could refer to doing ministry as a means to wealth.  Moody students, if you are planning on making money through ministry, don’t!  You may make a living but you should never be doing it to make a certain standard of living.  And you better find a wife, guys, for whom having money is definitely not one of her love languages or satisfaction factors. When you’re tempted to start feeling sorry for yourself because of the clunker you’re driving or the cracker jacks house you’re living in, just compare it with what Jesus modeled in ministry…and you’ll come away feeling fabulously rich every time.

3.)    NOT…domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.  Men, if this were the practice of every one of us in our homes, there would be far fewer frustrated and empty wives.  Jesus used this term “domineering” to talk about how Gentile rulers “lord it over” people. 

Isn’t that what is so frustrating with our own government right now—demanding that you and I do things and pay for things they exempt themselves from.  I don’t know about you, but it makes me furious to have people who are supposed to be serving the people living like kings at our expense and the expense of the futures of our children and grandchildren.  That’s what domineering, abusive, “lord-it-over-someone” leadership is like. 

Peter says the solution to that kind of leadership is living like God wants the flock to live, as “examples” of the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.  His life was a “serving” life, not a “lording it over” life.  He gave His life so others could have life.  He never took the life or wealth or energies or power or position of others so He could have life. 


When I was in my formative years as a teenager, I got to see first-hand what that kind of leadership in a marriage and in a church looks like.  I got to grow up spiritually under the leadership of two very humble, gifted, quiet, sacrificial, strong, servant-type men. 

One I got to see in a marriage—my father. 

The other I got to see in a church—Pastor Ed Underhill. 

Both of them could be found cleaning toilets and vacuuming hallways at odd hours of the day or night.  Both could be found weeding flower beds and trimming bushes on their days off.  Both could be seen enduring unjust criticism, vicious tongues, spiteful, angry people.  Both were men who served as examples to me and many others of the sacrificial, unconditional love of Jesus Christ. 

            Neither drew huge crowds or published books or spoke on some preaching circuit.  Neither have buildings or organizations named after them.  Neither of them did what they did motivated by the money.  Neither was demanding nor took offense easily at the barbs of other people. 

Both had very gracious, humble, kind, gentle and thankful hearts.  And I would gladly follow either of them to the ends of the earth or into battle against the gates of hell itself. 

WHY?  Because they were real leaders, leaders by example, leaders compelled by the passion of God at work within them.  They were the kind of leaders God says should be leading His church.  They were the kindsof leaders their wives and children said were the best leaders in their homes.  Those were the kinds of church leaders God promised this to: And when the chief Shepherd appears, [they] will receive the unfading crown of glory.