The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Leadership In The Church
The church was in the mind of God before time began. Established in the eternal ages as the embodiment of His grace, the church of Christ represents the body of saved individuals who have subjected themselves to the will of the Son. Jesus is King of the kingdom, Savior of the redeemed, spiritual groom of the church, head of the body and Lord of all those who subject themselves to His rule. When the Father ordained the organization of the church, He placed men in the position of authority to rule according to His will and His word. Jesus would die, raise from the dead but would ascend to rule at the right hand of the Father leaving the work of the church to those entrusted with guiding the spiritual flock of God. First, the twelve apostles established the church. As the church began to grow, elders were ordained in every church. The apostle Paul traveled extensively establishing churches throughout the Roman Empire and ordaining elders. The apostle exhorted Timothy and Titus in their respective letters to be mindful of the work of ordaining qualified men to serve as elders or bishops of the church. Peter was not only an apostle but served as an elder himself. We know from the gospels Peter was married and he writes in his first epistle that he also served as an elder showing he had children. In his letter, Peter exhorts other elders to serve with dignity and spiritual oversight. Leadership was required of those who took on the mantle of shepherding the flock of God. Like a man guarding a flock of sheep, the elder was a man who provided, protected and provisioned the church with all their spiritual needs. An elder was an overseer or bishop of the flock with no distinction being made between the two terms. Like a man who looks over the sheep entrusted to him, an elder is a man who carries out the work of looking after the souls of each one of his members.
Overseeing a local congregation of God’s people can be an exhausting task. Men who desire the office of the bishop must do so with a willing and happy heart without constraints of the will of men. Serving as an elder should never be compulsory and demanding if a man has no desire. Not everyone is suited for the role of overseer and the man who desire the office must have a spirit of love to do the work. The hours are long and tedious, challenging in many ways and often without acknowledgment. Key to the work of elders is the pleasing answer from the Lord for a work well done. There is a clear pattern for elders to serve in a full-time capacity was wards of the church. It was not unusual for a man to serve as an elder and to be supported by the church. There is an immense amount of work to be done requiring many long hours. It is not as common today for a man to leave his secular job and serve as an elder with support from the local congregation. Peter warns his fellow elders to serve not as a job to gain money but an eager spirit of serving the Lord in the role of leadership.
One of the most important roles of church leadership was the heart of a man who leads the flock of God in a humble and quiet manner. The apostle warns against the spirit of domination where a man demands the members follow his word in a dictatorial manner of lording over the brethren. God does not approve of men who force their will upon the members. The church has been entrusted to the elders to tend, feed, protect and nurture without the constraints being a spiritual bully forcing their wills upon the people. Leaders lead by showing the path of righteousness in their lives so that others will follow. If a man leads and no one follows he is only going for a walk. The art of leadership is showing men how to walk and walking that way themselves. Elders serve best when they model their lives after the example of Jesus Christ so that others may imitate them as they imitate Christ. The family of an elder should be a pattern of godliness from the wife and children to the elder himself. Finally, the elder should realize that he serves only at the pleasure of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Everyone will receive a reward according to the abilities and responsibilities of life. Teachers will receive a heavier judgment because they teach the word of God with greater accountability. A man who serves as an elder will be held to a higher standard as he watches out for the souls of those entrusted to him. When Jesus, the Chief Shepherd appears, then will the elder receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. God will say, “Well done,” and what a special greeting that will be for one of His shepherds to come home to glory. Thanks to all those men who serve with nobility and graciously as spiritual leaders of God’s church.