“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).
What are the responsibilities of those who serve as elders? To begin with, God calls upon elders 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. This correlates to the elders role in the local church: to guide the congregation by God’s truth and to feed the congregation God’s truth.
Secondly, elders are to exercise oversight on behalf of the congregations they shepherd. To exercise oversight (ἐπισκοπέω; episkopeo) is the verb form of the word “overseer” which is the synonym for elder found in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
To exercise oversight means to minister or serve, to be responsible for, to take care of and to guard the church. These are the particular responsibilities undergirding God’s command for elders to shepherd God’s flock. Within the grammatical context, elders are to exercise oversight in a continuous and active way.
Elders are to take this responsibility of leading a church seriously. The church does not exist for a pastor’s, or a board of elders, own personal amusement or area of influence. Being an elder is not about one’s ego.
Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian church elders comes to mind from Acts 20:17-32. Much like the Apostle Peter, the apostle shared similar encouraging but somber words regarding the responsibilities of elders.
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Again, we must remember that the flock or church does not belong to the elder(s), bishop or pastor but rather she belongs to God. Therefore, elders must be faithful to their task (I Corinthians 4:1-2) before God.
As did the church during its inception, the church today lives in an increasingly evil time (2 Timothy 3:1). Both the church and its elders must remain true to God’s Word.
Soli deo Gloria!