Pastoral Ministry is difficult when it is unopposed. When challenged, it can call for the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon. The trials faced by pastors are numerous and navigating them requires steadfast faith and a profound understanding of God’s Word. In 1 Peter 5:1–11, we find valuable insights and guidance for those engaged in the sacred task of shepherding God’s flock.
The Apostle Peter, writing to the early Christians, exhorts the elders among them, identifying himself as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ. He urges them to shepherd the flock of God, exercising oversight willingly and not under compulsion. Their motivation should not be driven by shameful gain, but rather by eagerness to serve. Peter emphasizes the importance of leading by example and not domineering over those entrusted to their care. Peter has been there. Leading by bragging and blustering is not only ineffective in the presence of challenges. It is also counterproductive. And Peter should know. Perhaps, that is why his epistles are noteworthy for their tenderness, grace, and concern for Christ-like shepherding.
Let’s listen to Peter in 1 Peter 5:1-11:
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,1 not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;2 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. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. 8 be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This vital vector for identifying the challenges of pastoral ministry promises us at least three inevitable challenges in our ministries.
- The Roaring Lion: Spiritual Warfare and Temptation
I’m not a great hunter. I have nothing against it, but just never had the experience that cultivates passion. However, I have a considerable background in being hunted. I’m not alone. As pastors, we must acknowledge the timeless truth conveyed in 1 Peter 5:8, where it is written that the devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Just as Jesus spoke of this reality to John in the first century, it remains true today. The enemy of our souls seeks to devour those who would boldly proclaim the Word of the Lord (as revealed in Scripture). This opposition may not always manifest as a cataclysmic event, but can instead manifest through temptation, diversion, or manipulation. We must remain vigilant and steadfast, relying on the strength and guidance of God to overcome these challenges.
2. The Struggle Within: Battling Our Fallen Nature
Another significant challenge we face as pastors is the struggle within ourselves. From Peter’s call for humility to his specific message about toxic leadership, 1 Peter 5:1-11 assumes that a battle is raging—in the shepherd. We must acknowledge that even as we are being progressively sanctified, we still carry the residual effects of original sin. Our fallen nature continues to influence our thoughts, motivations, and actions until we are glorified before Almighty God, either through death or the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To overcome this ongoing battle, we must continue to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking Him actively in His Word, the sacraments, and prayer. Recognizing our sinfulness and confessing it before God is the vital first step in combatting the enemy’s efforts against us.
3. Navigating the World: Lost Sheep and Vicious Wolves
Suffering in ministry is not unusual. Since we minister after the pattern of the life of our Lord, we must expect it. We don’t look for it. We don’t like it. It is a nasty business. But it is real.
The world presents us with a dual challenge: lost sheep and vicious wolves. As shepherds, our responsibility is to welcome the lost and present them to the Lord Jesus for healing. However, we must also discern between lost sheep and those who seek to harm the flock. This pastoral undertaking requires prayer, fasting, and a collegial response. It is essential to maintain unity and seek the support and counsel of fellow ministers in navigating these challenges. By engaging in covered prayer and unity, we can guard the flock and protect them from those who seek to cause harm.
In the face of these formidable challenges, let us find hope and strength in the example set by our Savior. Jesus overcame all challenges on the cross, transforming instruments of torture into signs of salvation. The symbol of shame became the beacon of hope and resurrection. Through faith, we can live victoriously, trusting in the power of Christ to guide us on our journey.
We have a Savior who has overcome all challenges, and through Him, we can not only run the race but know that when we trip, He is there. Our challenges will never surpass His provision. Just ask Peter.
Dr. Michael A. Milton (PhD, University of Wales) is the Distinguished Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary where he also serves as the Director of Chaplain Ministries. The retired fourth presidency and chancellor of the RTS System, Dr. Milton founded and shepherded 3 churches (KS, GA, and NC), and was the senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. Mike Milton is a US Army Chaplain (Colonel) retired, and remains President of the D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership. Dr. Milton’s life verse is from Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” Or, as Mike puts it in the title of his autobiography, “What God Starts God Completes.”