“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” (I Peter 5:1-3).
What are the responsibilities of those who serve as elders? To begin with, God calls upon elders and pastors to shepherd the flock of God that is among them. Secondly, elders and pastors are to exercise oversight on behalf of the congregations they shepherd. Thirdly, elders and pastors are to serve in the local church with a willing spirit. Peter refers to this particular attitude with the phrase “not under compulsion but willingly.” Fourthly, elders and pastors are not to serve in the local church for the purpose of sinful, financial gain, but rather having an eager spirit to serve the Lord and other people.
Fifthly, elders and pastors are not to dominate the people in the local church. To dominate (κατακυριεύω; katakyrieuo) means to overpower people by ruling and reigning continuously over them. In other words, the elders and pastors of a local church must not seek to control the congregation, collectively and individually, by exercising their authority over people’s lives. Let me give you two examples.
The first example is a pastor who believes people should dress a certain way: his way. Therefore, he subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, begins to tell people what they are wearing is appropriate or inappropriate. He may even suggest having a closet full of clothes at the church ready to be used for anyone which the pastor or elders may deem inappropriately dressed while attending a worship service. Ultimately, modesty is not the issue, control is.
The second example is the pastor who approaches an individual in his congregation and tells them God has told him that they are to give a certain amount of money to the church to assist the church’s finances. There was a young man once who was injured on the job. He went to court in order to reach a financial settlement with the company he worked for who had refused to pay him workers compensation. The plaintiff won the case and received a fair settlement. This was good for his family since their finances had taken a hit with him unable to work. The pastor saw it as an opportunity for this individual to give the settlement check to the church in order to pay off some significant church debt. There was no question in the pastor’s mind that this was what the man must do if he was to be in God’s will.
You might think these two examples are products of my imagination. Not so! Both examples, while occurring several years ago, are both true and illustrate the prohibition given by the Apostle Peter.
Rather than dominating, pastors and elders are to be examples to the church. Being an example (τύπος; typos) is displaying a model or pattern of behavior which should be followed or imitated.
One pastor writes, “The word translated lording it over (katakyrieuontes) includes the idea of domineering as in the rule of a strong person over one who is weak (cf. Matt. 20:25; Mark 10:42; Acts 19:16). Ezekiel indicted false shepherds: “You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:4–5). Peter exhorted the elders to be examples (typoi, “types or patterns”), to serve as models for the people to follow. They were not to drive God’s people, but to lead them by their examples of mature Christian character.”
No group of elders or pastors are perfect. They make mistakes and should be forgiven when they do. However, Peter describes a pattern of behavior which should not characterize elders and pastors along with what should.
There are not many good reasons to leave a church, but if elders and pastors are dominating and driving the congregation like cattle, instead of being a godly example, then it may be time to consider removing oneself from such a toxic situation.
May God give pastors and elders discernment to lead the church in a godly fashion. May God give church members discernment to biblically evaluate the godly, or ungodly, pattern of leadership displayed by elders and pastors.
Soli deo Gloria!