Special Study: Membership and Leadership in the Church

READ 1 Peter 4:10-11 & 5:1-5

In a time where the church is seen as increasingly irrelevant and, in some cases, extreme, church membership and leadership may be two of the most important areas where the church can demonstrate a counterculture, yet compelling, picture of the gospel. These are two areas that – if we get wrong – will only further marginalize and distance the church from its neighbors BUT - if we get these two things right – they have the power to persuade people that the gospel might be worth listening to. Peter shows us that how gospel brings into a being 1) a beautiful and attractive community of grace and 2) a revolutionary yet appealing approach to leadership that is found nowhere else.



The gospel calls us to make three important shifts in order for us to be a part of building communities of grace in our specific churches.

1) From Consumers to Stewards:

Peter writes, “As each has received a gift, use it… as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Membership in a church community begins with the conviction that we each have been given a gift or gifts from God to use to build & strengthen the community. God chooses to use people to deliver His empowering favor & strength (ie his grace) to other people. Stewardship (in the original language - oikonomia) is an economic term used to describe a household manager entrusted to manage the resources of the owner. Instead of approaching church as church shoppers (How can this church meet my needs?) we need to approach church as stewards (How can I use my gifts to help this church’s ministry & mission?).

2) From Competitors/Comparers to Servants:

From a very early age, we are taught to use our gifts to compete, compare, to gain advantage over others, to get attention – to win. Peters says it should be different in the church – we are to use our gifts to “serve one another." Competition and comparison in community are the antithesis and opposite of grace. Grace implies that we are equally broken, sinful and in need of God’s strength and salvation and that we are all equally valuable and significant to God. Competing and comparing breaks down relationships – everything is about winning. But a servant says, “I’m not here to find a way to win at your expense; I’m here to help you win at my expense.” A serving community models the gospel – Jesus lost everything (that was rightfully his) so we would win everything in Him (that we don’t deserve).

3) From Concealors to Sharers:

Many people are comfortable with and even excited by the idea of receiving gifts to use in meaningful service to build a community but the idea of sharing our needs, struggles and asking for help is another matter.  The word Peter uses for God’s “varied or manifold” grace (poikiles) is same he used earlier in the letter to refer to the “various” trails we experience in life (1:6). Peter means for us to see the connection. God’s varied grace meet us in our various trails– as we share our need for help and give our gospel community the opportunity to pour grace into our brokenness, pain and need.  



In 1 Peter 5:1-5, Peter turns his attention to the leaders of the church. In using the metaphor of a shepherd tending a flock, Peter is undoubtedly drawing on his own call to leadership in the church by Jesus. At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Peter to feed his lambs and tend his sheep.

This metaphor also utilizes the shepherd leadership of Jesus Himself, the “Chief Shepherd” who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11), as the model for leadership in the church. Leadership in the church must always mirror and follow the leadership of Jesus, not whatever models are current and dominant in the culture models. When Jesus’ model is followed, the church portrays a leadership style that is found nowhere else.

1) The Team

If anyone had the right to claim the top of the organizational chart in the church – it was Peter! He was the leader of the 12 disciples. He was the clear leader of the early church. He was told by Jesus – “Your name is Peter (rock) and on this rock I’ll build my church." But Peter does not pull rank but says “I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder.” There could be no clearer or stronger way Peter could tell us that leadership in the church is meant to be team leadership. Gospel leadership is not about building yourself up – it’s about building a team that shares leadership.

2) The Job Description

Peter uses three “titles” interchangeably for the leadership role in the church – elder, shepherd, overseer. These are 3 different ways of looking at the same role.  He then highlights three areas that leaders can damage and harm others – leading out of duty and burden, leading for shameful gain (financial gain or self-promotion) and leading with a domineering and overbearing style. When church leaders fall into any one of these things, they do permanent spiritual damage and drive people away from the gospel.

In contrast, a leader in the church should be a joyful, eager example of the cruciform life (suffering to glory). A good shepherd always never tells the sheep to go anywhere he hasn’t been and is willing to lay down his life for the well-being of the flock. This job description of the leader is not to tell people what to do but to show them how to live in grace.

3) The Uniform

In v5, Peter addresses everyone in the church -“all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In his commentary on 1 Peter, Douglas Harink says, “the verb 'clothe itself' appears to derive from a word probably identifying a garment or apron a slave tied over other garments in order to perform certain menial tasks.” This has special application to the leaders of the church. You should be able to pick out the leaders by the uniform they are wearing – they should be the ones wearing the apron of humility. This means leaders in the church lead with an awareness of their need, weakness, fragility, limits and own sinfulness. Church leaders know it is possible that God would actually oppose our church/community. If we become a community of ungrace (pride and self righteousness), we can expect God to be absent. Only to a humble person/community can God pour out us grace. So leaders in the church must always live in and lead from a posture of humility.


1.     What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?

2.     In her book, Living into Community, theologian Christine Pohl writes, “The ways we’ve been formed by church and culture have not given the skills or virtues we need to be part of the very communities we long for and try to create. While we might want community, it is often community on our terms, with easy entrances and exits, lots of choice and support, and minimal responsibilities. Mixed together this is not a promising recipe for strong or lasting communities.”

Do you agree? How have you seen this affecting your own approach to church? What do you think are the most important parts of the “recipe” for building a strong and lasting community?

3.     How are you tempted to approach church as a consumer? Do you have a sense of the gift or gifts God has given you to steward to help build into the ministry and mission of the church?

4.     A servant says, “I’m not here to find a way to win at your expense; I’m here to help you win at my expense.” How might this impact your approach to church?

5.     Do you struggle with concealing your needs and struggles? Why do we have a difficult time making our needs knowing to our church community? Have you experienced God’s grace strengthening you through others after you’ve shared a need or a struggle?

6.     Why do you think there is a growing distrust and suspicion about church leadership? What is your experience with healthy and unhealthy leadership in the church?

7.     Which of the 3 aspects listed above regarding church leadership is most important to you? Why?

8.     Peter essentially says the church is doomed to fail without humility. Why is humility so crucial? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?” What would it look like for church leaders to lead with this attitude? What difference would it make? What difference would it make for the people you lead (at work, in the family, etc)?