What motivates your leadership? The Apostle Peter understands the temptations of compulsion, greed, and domination, as he exhorts his fellow elders to shepherd the flock entrusted to their care.
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar explores the example we find in the Apostle Peter. Even by identifying himself as a "fellow elder" in his first epistle, the Apostle Peter demonstrates what it means to serve the flock, not by lording over them, but by submitting to the example set by Christ.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm delighted to be speaking today with Father Ian Pac-Urar, who serves at the Presentation of our Lord in Fairlawn, Ohio. He also directs the clergy continuing education for the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America. I've had the pleasure of co-facilitating Boot Camp for parish councils and nonprofit boards with Father Ian, a program of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. These sessions begin each September and January to prepare any new or emerging leader to make a meaningful contribution to your parish or the nonprofit organization you serve. So welcome, Father Ian! I always love our conversations, and I'm very excited to be speaking with you today.
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 1:01
This is great, Hollie, it's good to be with you. And thanks for having me on again. I'm always excited to be working with the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative and all of the things that you do and I'm looking forward to our little conversation today.
Hollie Benton 1:15
I am too. Glory to God. So Father, you've been serving as a parish priest for decades, serving the archdiocese in their continuing education. You've been involved with the leadership initiative now for a couple of years. From your perspective, what is it about serving as a doulos tou theou, a servant or slave of God, that you feel is important with respect to parish leadership development?
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 1:40
Well, that's a good question. I think that we are pretty quick to say that we are the servants of God. We're pretty quick to say that we love Jesus and that we love Christ, and that we are working in the vineyard. We sometimes have difficulty just keeping our eyes on the image that those words give rise to, that we're really working for him. We're working with his blessing. We're quick to say that we're a servant of Christ. We sign our letters, "your servant in Christ," we say, "in his love," "in his service." We use that language all the time. And we use it to the point where I won't say ever that it becomes meaningless, but it becomes rote, like our prayers sometimes are in danger of becoming rote. And our attention wanders, we wander from the image that those words really give rise to, that we are working for him, we are His slaves, even as scripture would say, and that everything that we do is by his authority, and must be in line with his will. And we do it out of our love and desire to be his servant. That is really central to any ministry in the church. We pray all the time that everything that we do will be for the spreading of the Gospel and the building up of His Holy Church and for the glory of his name. Keeping that prayer in front of us, is really what gives power to anyone's work, whether it's a parish priest, or a bishop, or a council president, or a cook in the kitchen.
Hollie Benton 3:34
That's right. Father, you suggested Peter's First Epistle to frame our discussion today. The apostle Peter wrote this letter at a time when Christians were under intense persecution. The letter encourages Christians not only to just endure until the suffering passes, but Peter says to count it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ, as their Savior suffered for them. Is there anything else that you'd like to add with respect to the context for this First Letter of Peter?
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 4:05
Well, you know, this is why I love Peter. Peter is, as you know, Peter is the apostle who gets the most mention in the scriptures. He's mentioned, like approaching 200 times something like, I don't know, 180 or 190 times in the Gospels, and in the book of Acts. He's us. He's certainly me. Here is a guy who is one of the first called, together with his brother Andrew, just drops everything, and I'm gonna follow this guy. And he does and he's at his side, through the whole story through the whole of those three years. And yet he is us. Because he's also trying out things that he can't do, especially he finds out he can't do them alone. Lord, if it's you, let me walk across the water to you. And the Lord says, Come on, and Peter gets out of the boat. And he goes, Yeah, I'm walking across the water. And then all of a sudden, he chickens out. And he forgets who's calling him across the water, and he starts to sink into the sea. He is going to die. We'll never desert you, even if we have to die with you. And then what happens? We know that story, when the cock crows, Peter has by that time, denied three times the Lord. And he comes to that realization, Ah, I did it again. I failed again. I couldn't hold on. I couldn't endure. You know, it says he wept bitterly. I love this passage. It's one of my favorites. Because I have this image of two guys walking together. Two guys. Well, it's not just any two guys. It's the Lord and Peter. But look at the image. Here they are walking together and one says, Do you love me? And Peter says, Yeah, Lord, I love you. Okay, Feed my lambs. They walk on a little bit more. And the Lord says, Do you love me? Yeah, Lord, I love you. You know like, What's your problem? I love you. Feed my lambs. And the third time, Peter, do you love me? Do you love me? And the scripture says Peter was grieved, right? Because the Lord asked him the third time. On one level, we can imagine it as Peter just saying. Come on, Lord, you know I love you. You know everything. You know I love you. But on another level, on the level that the fathers tell us to really understand this exchange, the Lord is probing Peter. He's not just pestering him. He's probing him. Peter is grieved. Not so much because he's pestered, but because the Lord has now touched him deeply, and has brought Peter face to face with his own weakness. You know, when somebody asks you something three times, it forces you to self reflect a little bit. And so Peter is grieved. And not because the Lord is bugging him. Peter is grieved because now he's at a moment of confession. And he sees his own weakness, even just under the challenges that they face together so far, let alone what he's going to face in Rome. Peter goes through all of these times of charging out there, and as one who is charged out and promised things that I couldn't do, and, you know, failed people in the process. I love Peter because he's me in that regard. And now he's in Rome. Now he knows who he is. And he knows who his Lord is. And he knows where he came from and where he's going. One of the things that Nero loved to do on his anniversaries was shed blood. So you know, the victims would have to be rounded up. Peter knows this is coming. And he also knows what the Lord has said to him. You know, when you were young, you dressed yourself, you go, you went where you wanted. But when you're old, and now, Peter is older, someone else will lead you where you do not want to go. And the scripture says he said this to signify by what manner he would die. So Peter knows, and all of the benefit of his own desire and his own failings and his own learning and growing in the Lord from that, he knows now that it's only possible as a servant of the Lord. It's not possible by his own will, because every time he tried to do it by his own will, it didn't work out.
Hollie Benton 8:40
Our reading today is focused near the end of Peter's first epistle, the first few verses of chapter five, "The elders who are among you I exhort. I, who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. shepherd the flock of God, which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion, but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock, and when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away." What's striking here, Fr. Ian, is that there's more than just enduring the persecution against the Christians. I mean, thinking about today's world, if someone faces a crisis or a difficulty, they would naturally excuse themselves from any additional responsibilities and caring for the rest of the community. I know for myself if I were under persecution, by disease or war, even unemployment or facing a big move, even preparing for a big vacation, a far cry from persecution, I could see excusing myself from any obligation to my community. But here in Peters epistle, the elders in the midst of persecution, facing Nero's persecution, and likely, you know, having a big target on their own backs, they're being exhorted with additional duty and responsibility to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to their care. So what is it about Christian leadership that demands more of us, even when we are facing our own personal difficulties?
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 10:26
Even when we're facing our own personal difficulties, we are still working for Him. And we're still even alive by His blessing. And by His goodness, there's no vacation from being a servant of God. It is a big temptation, you know, how often are we tempted to say, you know, my mother-in-law is moving in with us. I can't do anything for the next two years, or something, or, gosh, we haven't been to church, because we've been really busy. And the "We've been really busy," is a sort of a catch all for everything. My wife always said, you're always going to be busy with something. So you might as well be busy going to church. It's a real temptation and it's easy to use, because who's gonna argue with us? I mean, as a priest, it's very difficult to be pastoral and loving, and at the same time, say, you know, I know you have all this going on in your life, but you really need to be here. Because it's not an obligation that you have to fulfill, because I said so, or even God said so, that you must go to church, but it's a thing that we do, because we are His servants. And because we are joyful in the resurrection in the life that He promises us. He's the one who feeds us, and gives us strength, through that busyness or through that crisis, or keeps us grounded as we're preparing for that big vacation. So it demands more of us. But at the same time, it gives more to us, gives us life, gives us joy, if we're coming to it joyfully, and in love and in the seeking of life. If we're coming to it, bump, bump, drag, drag, you know, I have to, oh, gosh, I have to do this, let's get this over with, then we're not probably going to get much out of it. Unless, if we get anything out of it, it's by the grace of God. We've all come to liturgy for instance, and I keep talking about liturgy, but it's all about service in the church and service to the Lord in general, not just liturgy. But we've all had those experiences where we come almost unwillingly, we come out of discipline, and yet we go away glad that we did. So it can happen. It can happen, and it does happen.
Hollie Benton 12:47
I think that habit, the commitment does form the heart, I don't think the heart has to be formed in order to produce the habit. I do believe that it operates best the other way around that the habit, the just getting off the couch and doing what you know needs to be done can shape the heart.
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 13:02
Well, as someone says, we become what we do, you know.
Hollie Benton 13:06
Right. Let's also look at the distinction the Apostle Peter is trying to make about how the elders should behave and shepherd the flock of God, particularly this phrase, "being an example." First off, Peter calls himself a fellow elder, even though he clearly stands out as an Apostle, having witnessed the sufferings of Christ, the Apostle could easily assert his importance, yet Peter seems to use this term, "fellow elder," as a case in point example, to be an example to the flock, a typos in Greek, by submitting to the chief Shepherd. So if you're submitting to the chief Shepherd, acknowledging that it's not your flock, but you're simply overseeing the flock entrusted to you, it will naturally check your motives for dishonest gain that Peter warns against. A point we've tried to make in Doulos, is that leading by example is not about your example. We do not set the example. The example or the typos is set by Christ. We're simply called to imitate His example, and not set a new example, submitting in deference to the Lord's authority. And the flock, in submitting to their overseers, are functionally submitting to the same Lord who placed those overseers in charge of the flock. So the example seems to be about submission to the Lord's authority. Could you address this "being an example" business and how it functions and some of the other distinctions the Apostle Peter is making in this letter?
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 14:42
Well, Peter is a great example of exactly what he's talking about, as you just said, here is Peter upon which rock Christ will build his church. And yet he never goes around saying, I'm Peter, I'm the rock that the church is going to be built on. Right? He says, I'm a fellow elder with you. Who are the elders? The elders are the presbyters who he and Paul appointed and blessed and consecrated in those churches. And he just says, I'm one of you. Take care of the flock, the same message that the Lord gave him, feed the sheep, feed the lambs. Don't do it for personal gain, that will get you nowhere. And he follows the example of Christ, who took nothing, had nowhere to lay his head, who came into the manger, and who died on the cross. He followed the example of Christ. We have the story of Simon Magus who basically said, Look, teach me the secrets of what you're doing here. I see you're healing people, and you're doing all this stuff. Show me how to do that, because I can pay. And Peter walks away from him. That's not what this is about. And Peter does that, not to set the example for anybody. He does it because he is a follower of the real leader, of the chief Shepherd. He's not compelled, he's not forced to do any of the things that he does. He's not forced to go to Rome, and meet his end there. But he does it willingly, just as he says, not by compulsion, but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly, not as lording it over those who are entrusted to you. But being examples, yeah, being examples to the flock. And just as you said, you be the example, you don't set the example. In other words, you don't make up the example. You are being an example of what? Of a servant, of a follower. And you can only do that by serving and following. Just like Christ could only show us the way to life through humility and through love and through sacrifice, by being humble, and by loving, and by sacrificing. And, you know, our liturgical theology holds as a central feature, this idea that the priest is Christ, or is the image of Christ, or represents Christ. You have the image of Christ in the middle of the company of saints. So if the priest is that, that means he's not wearing robes because he likes to dress up or so that everybody will admire how beautiful they are. He's wearing robes because they standardize, and they cover his personality, and transform it into the image of Christ. And so when we're in the liturgy, we're not there for the priest, we're there for Christ. And that's why it doesn't matter who the priest is. So we are the example; we're not setting the example. The only thing we are doing is we are imitating. We're following the one who is our real Shepherd and leader.
Hollie Benton 18:18
That's right. Thank you, Father, for this conversation today.
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 18:22
It's just always fun to talk with you. And by the time we get to the end, I'm wishing we could talk more.
Hollie Benton 18:28
You and I both. Thank you, Father. It's always a joy.
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 18:31
Thanks so much for having me.
Hollie Benton 18:32
Oh, thank you, Father, thank you for all that you do unto God's glory, being the example and serving and loving and even like Peter, you and I both, there's so many errors that we can see in the way Peter handled things, yet he's given multiple, multiple chances. And thank God, His mercy endures forever, because we certainly need it.
Fr. Ian Pac-Urar 18:56
Somebody once said, thank God, He lets us live long enough to repent. And there we are. Thanks so much for having me. I thank God for the work of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. It's just a wonderful thing, the Doulos ton theon project and all of the other ministries that you are continuing. You are in my prayers.
Hollie Benton 19:15
Thank you, Father. Thank God.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai