In today's post, I want to look at one of the most important passages in the bible relating to this role. I Peter 5:1-6 is critical for at least a couple of reasons. First, Peter uses forms of all three Greek words for elder/overseer/pastor. Second, Peter tells us much about both the actions and motivations of those who would serve as elders/overseers/pastors. As with previous posts, for the sake of brevity I'm going to use the term "elder" unless there is a specific reason not to.
"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: 2 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you..."
We can learn a tremendous amount from this passage. I'm going to point out what I see, but I'd love your feedback as well. Comments please.
We will see a few things that we have already discovered in the Acts passages.
So, what does Peter tell us?
1. Elders are multiple. N.T. churches always had more than one elder.
2. Elders are among the flock. Elders serve amongst people they know. They are not from the outside.
3. Elders are to shepherd the flock. This is a command. This seems to have a fairly wide range of meaning. We can at least say that shepherds care for the flock. This is where we get the word for "pastor." There are other aspects to shepherding such as feeding, guiding, leading, and protecting. We must be careful how far we go with these assumptions. To be safe, I think we must limit ourselves in this passage to the concept of caring for the flock.
4. The flock belongs to God. It is "of God." Jesus Christ is the head of His flock.
5. Elders exercise oversight. This seems to refer to caring for the spiritual well-being of the flock. This is where we get the word for "overseer." Let's be very careful not to allow our modern ideas of overseer (boss, ruler, master) intrude on how we understand this word.
6. Elders are to serve willingly and eagerly, not because of compulsion or for shameful gain. These words speak to the motivation to serve. The motivation must be one of sacrificial service. Our Lord came not to be served, but to serve. Let us follow this example.
7. Elders are not to domineer, but are to be examples to the flock. This is probably one of the most important statements about elders in the entire N.T. Peter expects that elders will not place themselves in positions where they can domineer over others. This is very important. Instead, elders are to be examples to the church. This may be the most important part of being an elder. In fact, elders are probably selected by the Holy Spirit and recognized by the church because they are already being godly examples.
8. Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd. The one true senior pastor of the church is Jesus Christ.
9. Christ will give the crown of glory. It is difficult to know who receives this crown and what it is. However, there is no doubt that it will be a good thing. This should motivate us all to serve diligently regardless of whether or not we are recognized as elders.
-Verses 5 and 6 are often left out of this equation. I believe that is a mistake. These two verses show us that the overall context is one of humility and mutual subjection.
10. Those who are younger are to be subject to the elders. We must understand this correctly. This is not the same as being subject to a king or even a boss. The idea is that those who are younger will listen to and follow the godly examples of elders who are caring for the flock. The elders lead by example more than by word. The younger follow this example, not because of the men who do it, but because they are following Christ.
11. All in the church are to show humility toward one another. We are all to think of others before ourselves. This includes elders.
12. All in the church are to humble themselves before God. We have no reason to be prideful since God has given us everything. Part of salvation itself is humility before the God who saves. Elders are to serve with this humility in mind.
We have seen a great deal in these few verses. We learn about what elders are to do and what their motivation should be. Elders should be, first and foremost, godly examples to the church who desire to care for the church. Their main duty is service. They do this together, not alone. They remember that the church belongs to Christ, and that He - the only real senior pastor - is returning one day for His church.