Pastoring the People You Have
I have been meditating on 1 Peter in my own private devotions for sometime now. This is a habit I began last year. Rather than rushing through a book, I’ve been taking books and just spending days and weeks and months on the same passages to get familiar with them. Next year I plan on reading thru the Bible in a year so I’ll spend less time on each passage. Nevertheless, this has been a good practice for me, because it allows me to see things in the text I wouldn’t normally see.
Such is the case with 1 Peter 5. This is written directly to pastors. And it’s pretty personal and direct. He begins in verse 1 by addressing the elders “among you.” He’s speaking to specific churches in northern Asia Minor and their leaders. Then we see a phrase that we are often tempted to skip past. He says, “shepherd the flock among you.” Isn’t it interesting that Peter says to shepherd the people among your flock?
As I meditated on this, I realized this is something that we pastors often struggle with, if we were to be honest. Especially young pastors like myself (who I believe Peter is primarily addressing). Young pastors are often ambitious to grow the church. This is good. God wants His church to grow, both spiritually and numerically. Those who say growth is bad haven’t read the book of Acts.
However, we’re sometimes so focused on growth and how many people we wish showed up on Sunday, that we forget to shepherd the people we actually, whose souls God has entrusted to our care. This is a great temptation of mine. In fact, often on Sundays I’ll get discouraged by who is not there, rather than serving the people who are.
Peter says, essentially, “Shepherd the people you have.” Then he goes in in the rest of the chapter to talk about leadership, humility, and anxiety. I used to think those verses were just good verses for the congregation, which they are. But in this context, I think Peter might be saying to the young pastor, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and he’ll exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6) to the pastor who sweats the size of his audience and battles the pride that tells him he isn’t significant unless his church is large. Pastor the people you have and let God give the increase. We tend to put all of our creative energy and time into the people we don’t yet have and take for granted those who faithfully come. We are kindest and most loving to potential members in hopes of adding more people to the membership rolls. But what if we actually put our strength into “our own flock?” This is a sobering reminder for pastors, I think.
I also think he’s specifically telling pastors, “Cast your cares and anxieties on Him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7) Pastors battle anxiety and insecurity perhaps more than any other because we’re constantly faced with our inadequacies. We’re measuring ourselves up against other guys who seem more successful. We wonder what buttons we can push to grow the church larger. And Peter says, “lay this on the Lord, pray, be faithful with what you’ve got and you’ll find that Jesus cares for your fears.”
Then he issues a warning about the devil, seeking to devour. Again, when read in the context of Peter’s address to young pastors, this makes a lot of sense. Not to sound apocalyptic, but pastors are the special targets of Satan and it’s the downhill flow of pride that makes us vulnerable. Satan uses the power of our position to fill us with pride. We begin to think we’re above the rules. Or we get lonely and anxious and prone to sin. Peter encourages us to remember that we’re simply God’s messengers. We’re to be faithful with the people we have. Stay humble and watch out for the devil.
These are lessons I’m learning myself as a young pastor, the very sins I struggle with. So reading 1 Peter gives me the tools and the confidence in Christ I need to effectively pastor my people.