The church stands as a beacon of hope in this crazy fallen world. Believers are able to survive the trials and storms of life by depending upon the Holy Spirit who nurtures and sustains their souls through the faithful local church which preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
God cares very much about the leadership of his church. He does not entrust the local church to someone who may have a penchant for leadership, a lust for authority, or a heart for novelty.
He entrusts the church to elders. Elders are also called pastors or overseers and bishops in the Bible. Though Biblical writes use three terms to describe the office, all three terms refer to one office, the office of elder or pastor.
In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter addresses the elders in the church. He does not address the elder but the elders, plural. God designed his church to be ruled by a plurality of men. A quick survey of Acts and the Pauline letters supports Peter’s assumption. Acts 14:23 says, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 20:17 states, “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” In 1,2 Timothy and in Titus, Paul tells his sons in the faith to, “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” And in Philippians 1:1, Paul writes to, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” The local church should be led by elders and served by deacons (Acts 6).
The traditional Baptist model of one pastor leading a church surrounded by a group of deacons may be necessary because the church is new or in a state of ill health. But, the Bible calls for the local church to have multiple elders. The church should be led by multiple godly men who fulfill the requirements of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. The presence of multiple pastors protects the church from being destroyed by the sudden impulses of one man and from being dominated by one’s man ideas.
What Do Elders Do?
Peter commands elders to shepherd the flock of God that is among them, by exercising oversight. Peter’s idea of elders and pastors who shepherd is not unique to him. In John 21:16, Jesus commands Peter to “Tend my sheep.” Peter is commissioned by Christ to shepherd or tend the sheep of God. The elder the pastor is to care for the spiritual needs of the people of God. The elder is called first and foremost to be a preacher. The words of Paul found in Colossians 1:28 should be true of all elders,
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Elders have been appointed by Christ to care for the souls of their congregation by teaching them and warning them so that they may flee from sin, grow in their faith and find hope in Christ as the adversities of life crash into their lives like ocean waves pounding the beach. The elders tend the sheep through preaching. Yes, they also exercise oversight and provide direction for the sheep, translating the gospel into real actions that benefit the sheep. But the elders are under-shepherds who have been charged by God to tend the sheep through the ministry of the Word (1 Tim 4:16).
How Do Elders Shepherd?
First, elders shepherd “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2). The elders do not have to be forced into the ministry like a Dad who took little league coaching because all the other parents twisted his arm. The elders are also not those who serve simply because no one else will serve. They do not serve because they seek to impress their wives, in-laws, or mentors. The pastors who have been called to pastor do not have to be pushed into the ministry.
No, the good elders are the elders who serve willingly. The me who are qualified to pastor should already have a heart for people. They should not see counseling, evangelism, and teaching as burdens that have to be done, like some divine honey-do-list. No, the elders should be those who jump at the chance to counsel, share the gospel, and preach. They should be those who seeks to willing serve others.
Second, elders shepherd, “not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2)! The pastors should not shepherd for dishonest gain. Many men are attracted to the pastorate because they see some of the nominal perks of ministry. They see that the pastor is respected by some men and women. They see people care about the pastor’s opinion. They see that the pastor gets a nice gift for his tenth anniversary. And they say to themselves, “I like that.” I like being noticed and being well thought off. I like getting gifts. I would like having a nice office. I would like having nice things and the occasional conference trip. Brothers do not go into pastor ministry for what you can get.
Rather go into the pastorate because you can do nothing else. Go into it because you heart beats for one thing and that is to see the kingdom go forward by the preaching of the word. Romans 1:15. He says,
So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
The pastors preach because they cannot help but preach. Title or no title, office or no office, pulpit or no pulpit, the elders will preach and teach. John Bunyan, the man who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, was a shining example of this truth. When his judges offered to drop the charges against Bunyan if he would promise to stop preaching, Bunyan responded,
If I were out of prison to-day, I would preach the Gospel again to-morrow, by the help of God.
Pastors should tend the sheep because they can do nothing else.
Lastly, pastors are called to shepherd, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Pastors are not called to domineer their flock. The word domineer is the same word used in Acts 19:16 when Luke describes the demon possessed man attacking the sons of the high priest Sceva. Luke writes, “16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered (domineered) all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” Brothers, let’s not strip our people of their ideas. Lets not suppress their ingenuity and gospel gifts. Let’s not rule our church as a religious despot, manipulating the church structure to make sure our ideas always win out. As Christ said in Matthew 20:25-28,
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The pastors are called not to domineer but to serve. They lead people to the truths of the gospel by serving them. advance the gospel by leading his family well, by visiting people in the hospital, by taking time to counsel with his congregation. The faithful elders lead by service.
And they serve willingly because they know their reward is secure. Their reward is not dependent upon the opinions of the old ladies, or of the choir members, or of the deacons. They are rewarded by God. Thus, the pastors willingly, eagerly, and sacrificially press on because God will give them, “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).
How about your church? Do you have elders? If not, Why not? And if you do have elders, are they shepherding well?