Peter writes as an elder to fellow elders the following exhortation: “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: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
Peter gives one main exhortation: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.
Peter brackets this section of Scripture with references to Christ: His sufferings and as the chief Shepherd.
Peter concludes this exhortation with a promise (or condemnation if the negatives are more reflective in your ministry of exercising oversight because the chief Shepherd sees, knows and will return and judge): you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
In between, Peter states how elders are and are not to exercise oversight, (I reverse the way in which Peter writes this focusing on the positive, which is then followed by the negative):
- Willingly, as God would have you, not under compulsion.
- Eagerly, not for shameful gain.
- Being examples to the flock, not domineering over those in your charge.
Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, OK, focuses on the last one and lists the ways in which a pastor can sin against Christ and His redeemed people in the congregation by being domineering. He refers to such individuals as “pastoral bullies.”
A man can “domineer” or “lord it over” his flock by intimidating them into doing what he wants done by holding over their heads the prospect of loss of stature and position in the church.
A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with stern warnings of the discipline and judgment of God, even though there is no biblical basis for doing so.
A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with public exposure of their sin should they not conform to his will and knuckle under to his plans.
A pastor domineers whenever he uses the sheer force of his personality to overwhelm others and coerce their submission.
A pastor domineers whenever he uses slick verbiage or eloquence to humiliate people into feeling ignorant or less competent than they really are.
A pastor domineers whenever he presents himself as super-spiritual (his views came about only as the result of extensive prayer and fasting and seeking God. How could anyone then possibly disagree with him?).
A pastor domineers whenever he exploits the natural tendency people have to elevate their spiritual leaders above the average Christian. That is to say, many Christians mistakenly think that a pastor is closer to God and more in tune with the divine will. The pastor often takes advantage of this false belief to expand his power and influence.
A pastor domineers whenever he gains a following and support against all dissenters by guaranteeing those who stand with him that they will gain from it, either by being brought into his inner circle or by some form of promotion.
A pastor domineers by widening the alleged gap between “clergy” and “laity.” In other words, he reinforces in them the false belief that he has a degree of access to God which they don’t.
Related to the former is the way some pastors will make it appear that they hold sway or power over the extent to which average lay people can experience God’s grace. He presents himself in subtle (not overt) ways as the mediator between the grace of God and the average believer. In this way he can secure their loyalty for his agenda.
He domineers by building into people a greater loyalty to himself than to God. Or he makes it appear that not to support him is to work at cross purposes with God.
He domineers by teaching that he has a gift that enables him to understand Scripture in a way they cannot. They are led to believe they cannot trust their own interpretive conclusions and must yield at all times to his.
He domineers by short circuiting due process, by shutting down dialogue and discussion prematurely, by not giving all concerned an opportunity to voice their opinion.
He domineers by establishing an inviolable barrier between himself and the sheep. He either surrounds himself with staff who insulate him from contact with the people or withdraws from the daily affairs of the church in such a way that he is unavailable and unreachable.
Related to the above is the practice of some in creating a governmental structure in which the senior pastor is accountable to no one, or if he is accountable it is only to a small group of very close friends and fellow elders who stand to profit personally from his tenure as pastor.
He domineers by viewing the people as simply a means to the achieving of his own personal ends. Ministry is reduced to exploitation. The people exist to “serve his vision” rather than he and all the people together existing to serve the vision of the entire church.
He domineers by making people feel unsafe and insecure should they desire to voice an objection to his proposals and policies.
He domineers by convincing them, ever so subtly, that their spiritual welfare is dependent on his will. To cross him is to cross God!
He domineers by misinterpreting and misapplying to himself the OT command: “Don’t touch God’s anointed.”
He domineers by building a culture of legalism rather than one of grace. People are thus motivated to embrace his authority and bow to his will based on extra biblical rules that supposedly are the criteria for true spirituality.
He domineers by arguing or acting as if his movements and decisions are ultimately determinative of the spiritual welfare of others (cf. 2 Cor. 1:23-25).
He domineers when he leads people to believe that their faith hinges (i.e., rises or falls) upon his life and decisions.
He domineers when he uses people as a means to his own satisfaction rather than enabling them to experience satisfaction in Christ alone.
Questions to Ponder
Which of these do you check off? To which responses are you tempted? Why?
If this is the list of what the negative trait of domineering might mean, of what would your list consist if it focused on the positive trait of “being examples?”