Early in my marriage, my wife and my mother were having a conversation about me (always a scary thought), when my wife commented about how annoying it was that I would wiggle my feet while I went to sleep, which of course made it difficult for her to fall asleep. My mother replied, “His dad does the same thing!” What was most interesting to me about this was that I was not even aware (consciously, at least) that this was one of my dad’s habits.
Years later, when we lived in another state, my parents came to visit, and while there, my dad came to see me at work. It didn’t take long for my extraverted father to disappear in search of other conversations, and after a while, one of my coworkers stepped into my office and asked if my father happened to be visiting. When I asked what made him say that – knowing that he had not met my father – he said, “Because I just saw someone who walks exactly like you . . . and like your son.” These two events illustrated for me the realization of how much I had followed my father’s example (whether I was aware of it or not), and how much my son, in turn, was following mine.
This is true for all of us – we are examples, whether we consciously realize it or not. People watch us, especially people that are close to us or are following us. And when they watch us, they learn from our example, and emulate what we do, in some form or another. That’s why it doesn’t actually work for us to tell our children to “do as I say and not as I do,” because the truth is, they are going to do what we do regardless of what we say.
Knowing the power of our example, the Apostle Peter gives it some attention in the book of I Peter. In fact, he specifically talks about our example in the context of leadership, but before we get there, lets get a broader view of the whole book. In the first four chapters, Peter seems to spend a lot of time talking about the importance of serving others in humility. Most of this instruction is applied to specific relationships and circumstances (such as the relationship between citizen and government, husband and wife, employer and employee, Christian brothers and sisters, and so on), but is also connected back in some way to our call to glorify God and reflect Christ in everything we do. He also clearly says that having this kind of conduct and character will not always be received well, and in fact may bring persecution and suffering, but to do it anyway . . . because our motive is always outside of ourselves: again, so that God can be glorified and Christ can be modeled
In this context of serving, humility, and representing Jesus, Peter says in chapter 5, verses 1-3:
“1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
Peter says that those who are leaders have a responsibility to watch over and care for the people they lead. When I read how he describes that, it sounds to me like it is an obligation that should not be done out of obligation! He says we are to do this not because we have to, but because we want to; not for what we can get out of it, but for what we can give; and not to climb the ladder or exert power, but to serve as an example of what we are trying to grow. He says that we need to lead with a positive, selfless, and giving attitude, while living an authentic example in front of them.
You see, as a leader you ought to be caring for the people you lead, but you shouldn’t do it for what you can get out of it, rather, you should do it because it is the right thing to do. In doing so, you provide an example that will shape and influence them far more than you realize, because they are watching you and they will imitate you. In the end, your recognition and reward is beyond the material and temporal gains, but will instead be the lifetime reward of developing people, and the eternal reward of glorifying God. Therefore, as a leader: be an example to the flock.