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)
Serving The Chief Shepherd
Leadership within the church of Christ is established by the authority of scripture. When Jesus built His church, the Holy Spirit inspired men to write down the organizational structure of how the leadership of the church of God would be established. Men have corrupted the pattern of leadership through the ages, but the Biblical design has remained intact. Jesus is the only head of the church and within each local congregation of saints are men called elders, pastors, shepherds, and bishops. These men are specifically qualified leaders who have definitive traits outlined in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. Along with their wives, elders have certain qualities that God commands. The work of a bishop is an exhausting, intense, and untiring activity of shepherding the flock of God.
Peter was not only an apostle and preacher of Jesus Christ, but he also served as a shepherd of a local congregation. This would prove Peter was married (Mark mentions his mother-in-law; Paul confirms it) and had children. The apostle writes in his first epistle to encourage his fellow elders to be strong in the face of opposition and to continue to guide the church through the turbulent times of the early church. There was a need for strong leadership as the Christians faced increased persecution. Peter exhorts his fellow elders to be shepherds of the flock of God, caring for the members as a shepherd tends his sheep. Shepherding was a difficult and sometimes dangerous job. A shepherd would have to feed his sheep, protect the flock, and seek out the lambs that strayed. There was a constant watch for the danger of predators and thieves. Elders were not cowboys or CEOs – they were men who smelled like their sheep.
The work of the bishop was a love devoted to the cause of Christ. Peter reminds his fellow elders that serving the congregation is not by a grudging heart of necessity but a heart willing to sacrifice for the needs of the flock. Some men seek leadership to gain prestige and power. This is not the kind of man who will shepherd the family of God. There must be a love for God and a deep love for the brethren to seek their well-being. A shepherd of the church sacrifices his life in service of the congregation. Peter warns the elders not to lord over those entrusted to them. It is easy to take on an attitude of a ‘boss’ instead of a shepherd. The greatest work an elder can do is to lead by example. Cattle are driven – sheep are led. Shepherds call out their sheep by name and the sheep follow them because they trust their voice.
Serving as an elder is exhausting work. Peter encourages his fellow elders to act with diligence and faithfulness; not for anything they may gain from the experience but for the realization that one day each man who served as a shepherd will stand face to face before the Chief Shepherd. Elders will be held to a stricter judgment because of their responsibilities. Standing before the Chief Shepherd is a humbling thought to consider. Serving the local congregation will bring many blessings but not so great as to be in the presence of Jesus Christ and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful shepherd.” May God raise up more men and women who live before Him in such a manner they can show forth the light of Christ in service to the Chief Shepherd.