“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;” (I Peter 5:1-2).
Thus, far we have sought to make a biblical case for the existence and importance of elders within the local church. The New Testament in general, and I Peter 5:1 in particular, places great importance on this office. It is synonymous with the title bishop, or pastor, but it also includes those who serve as lay elders in the church. All those who serve in this capacity must embody the qualities found in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
However, what are the responsibilities of those who serve as elders? As of yet, we have not addressed that subject. Well, Peter does in I Peter 5:2 and it is to that text that we now give our attention.
To begin with, elders are called upon to shepherd the flock of God that is among them. To shepherd (ποιμαίνω; poimaino) is God’s command to qualified men to actively and with a whole heart guide and take care of the local church.
A shepherd had two primary responsibilities toward the sheep: to guide and lead the sheep along with feeding the sheep. The shepherd was to make sure the sheep were well fed and that they were protected from danger.
Why was this such a necessary task for the shepherd to guide and feed the sheep? Because, and let me be blunt, sheep tend to be dumb. It is part of their nature. They go where they should not go, and they eat things they should not eat. Therefore, it is the shepherd’s responsibility to protect the sheep from any and all predators and to make sure the sheep are well nourished.
What a wonderful metaphor for elders within the local church. God commands elders to protect the congregation from spiritual dangers, such as false teaching, and to feed them the Word of God (I Peter 2:2). This is important because like sheep, church members tend to make foolish decisions which can cause spiritual damage.
Peter tells elders to shepherd the flock of God. The word flock (ποίμνιον; poimnion) is a figurative expression harmonizing with the elders role as spiritual shepherds. Notice that the flock or congregation belongs to God. Peter uses the possessive form to explain that the local church does not belong to the pastor, elders or a spiritual shepherd. Rather, the church belongs to God.
Elders belong to the congregation they are responsible to shepherd. They are to be among the people. They hurt when the congregation hurts. They rejoice when those within the congregation rejoice. They lead the congregation in the truth of God’s Word.
An elder’s responsibility is a noble task. It is an important task. It is a selective task in that only those who God has called into this ministry are privileged to serve as elders. Remember, the behavior of elders in times of crisis could encourage or discourage the flock. That is why Peter seeks to encourage the elders who are leading the flock. The leaders, once known by their enemies, would be the first targets of search, capture, torture and execution by the opponents of the church and the gospel.
Therefore, elders must take seriously their responsibility to lead God’s church. The church must also take seriously its responsibility to pray and encourage its elders. May elders and the congregations they lead both be found faithful.
Soli deo Gloria!