by Dick Wamsley
Sometimes Christian leaders struggle with apparent conflicts in their roles. Like the two-faced image of the Roman god Janus, we feel pulled from opposing directions when deciding what action to take as elder, pastor, shepherd…
Peter, a recognized leader of the apostles in the infant church in Jerusalem, dealt with this conflicting pull. On the way to the Mount of Olives following the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me…,” to which Peter flatly, courageously, replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will,” (Matthew 26:30-33). Only moments later, around a fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house, Peter cowardly denied that he knew the Man being tried inside.
Peter also seemed conflicted in the calling Jesus issued to him on another occasion. Soon after Jesus began preaching, he saw Peter and his brother, Andrew, fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus simply said, “Come…” That was a calling to aggressively seek other disciples. Peter and Andrew immediately left the nets. Yet after the events of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and death, Peter went back to fishing. Following the resurrection, Jesus met Peter again at the Sea of Galilee, and questioned Peter three times about the sincerity of his love for Him, and Peter replied three times affirmatively. Jesus then told him to feed his lambs and take care of and feed his sheep – a call to be a shepherd (John 21:1-19).
We sometimes feel conflicted in our roles, but God’s expectations of us are always in line with his Word and in what He calls us to do. We just struggle in knowing how to best carry out His will. Perhaps moments like these are “tensions to manage” more than outright conflict in our calling.
First century church leaders often found themselves managing these competing tensions. The leaders of the church in Corinth were told by Paul to exercise needed discipline regarding the man among them “sleeping with his father’s wife.” Paul even advised them to “hand this man over to Satan, so the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord,” (1 Corinthians 5:1, 5). On the other hand, the apostle Peter wrote, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder … Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…” (1 Peter 5:1-2).
Christian leaders today must continue managing the very same dynamic tension. We must be compassionate shepherds, leading and feeding those placed in our care, reflecting Psalm 23, John 10, Ezekiel 34, and so on. At the same time, we take a firm stand against immoral cultural norms, against those who would teach what is not True, and against inappropriate behavior by other leaders. The tension is intensified when having to make decisions about a staff member who is loved, who also needs to be held accountable to those high standards.
Preachers find that they need to be strongly prophetic when proclaiming biblical moral standards, and in the very next moment pastoral when comforting and encouraging hurting people. Too often preachers hear complaints about prophetic preaching being “judgmental,” and in the same breath that his pastoral presence is “soft on sin.”
By the time Peter wrote his letters, (First and Second Peter), he seems to have learned a good sense of balance between these tensions.
In his first letter, he encouraged those suffering under persecution, and appealed to elders to shepherd God’s flock, (1 Peter 3:8-22, 5:2). Yet in his second letter he strongly condemned false teachers, (2 Peter 2:1-22). Having such a proper balance on both sides of our call to lead is key. That balance will help prevent short- and long-term consequences of favoring one over the other.
None of us can strike that balance perfectly all the time. Perhaps that is why Paul always insisted on a plurality of elders. And the next time you feel that your calling is driving conflict in or around you, take courage that you are in good company. Maybe it’s not full-on conflict in your calling, just a season of tension that, with the help of your Father and among brothers, will be managed well.