I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. – 1 Peter 5:1b-3 (NRSV)
My wife used to work as a shepherd. And I don’t mean that in a metaphorical or religious sense. I mean she was a literal herder of 300 actual sheep.
As a dyed-in-the-wool city slicker, I had no idea just how eventful working on a farm could be. There were hailstorms, veterinarian visits, lambing issues, neighbor disputes. A lot would happen! But the stories I remember most all centered around one particular sheep: Lucy.
Whenever the flock would go busting out of the sheepfold to wander into the neighbor’s apple orchard, invariably it was Lucy who was leading the charge. Whenever the guard dogs would sound an alarm over the appearance of coyotes, the flock would look to Lucy for how to find safety. Whatever kind of sway my wife and her shepherd’s crook had over the flock, it paled in comparison to the power of Lucy. As Lucy went, so went the flock.
Shepherding has not changed all that much since the early church. And the church hasn’t changed that much, either, come to mention it. Churches still look to trusted members to decide which way the church should go and how to navigate danger. Any pastor worth their salt knows that whatever authority they might have in a church, it pales in comparison to the power of example of a well-respected member.
The apostle Peter knew it too. Real authority in the church can belong to anyone. Even you.
O Great High Shepherd, help me lead your people by power of example.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.