The Glorious Body of Christ VIII: Shepherd Leaders - 1 Peter 5:1-5

The Biblical role of elder comes from the Old Testament, where elders are leading men recognized for godliness and practical wisdom. They provided leadership, judged in civil disputes and criminal trials, instructed the people in God’s laws, made decisions on behalf of their family, clan, or tribe, and represented their people in religious worship, whether bringing gifts to build the temple, laying hands on atonement offerings, or leading the people in carrying out judicial sentences.

This is the background to the New Testament concept of elders, but as the nature of God’s people changes from a tribal nation to a spiritual people, not everything from the Old Covenant carries into the New, especially responsibility for civil and criminal sanctions, which Romans 13 tells us now belongs to the magistrate, not the elders. When we look to the New Testament, we see a number of metaphors, actions, and qualifications for this office, and by putting these together, we are able to understand the character and calling of an elder. The key images and roles that describe elders are: shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2); examples (1 Pet. 5:3); teachers/guardians (Titus 1:9); judges (Acts 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:5-6); intercessors (James 5:14); rulers (1 Tim 5:17); household managers (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

From this we can see that elders hold a special office of leadership in the Church, and the main function of elders is the spiritual oversight of a local congregation. Elders carry out their work by teaching, by instructing, by correcting, and by their own examples. They must not be motivated by compulsion, money, or power; they are called to serve willingly and eagerly.

In return, they are promised an unfading crown of glory from the Chief Shepherd, which out to capture the heart and imaginations of every man who loves Jesus, not as a matter of personal pride, but as a matter of being used by God for a worthy work. Men, do you want to do something glorious for God? Then aspire to be an elder!

The aspiration to serve must be accompanied by qualification for service, which is where 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 come in. One of the most striking things about these lists is that they describe not a perfect super-Christian man, but a faithful man. The only requirement for an elder that goes beyond what is commanded of every faithful Christian man is an aptitude for teaching Christian truth and correcting false doctrine. A shepherd leader must know how to feed God’s flock and lead them to pure water, and how to protect them and defend them from wolves, ie, false teachers, false doctrines, and sinful actions and habits.

When it comes to elders serving in our congregation, our Church Constitution lists a series of responsibilities calling elders to: a) oversee worship so that it glorifies God, b) clarify, promote, and protect Biblical vision and purpose, c) rule and shepherd, d) equip the saints, e) prayer and fasting, f) teaching/preaching/disciple making, g) administration of the sacraments, h) exercise the keys of the kingdom through discipline and restoration, i) pray for the sick, j) delegate responsibilities to deacons and staff, etc, and k) commission and/or license ministerial students.

That sounds like a lot, and it is, but practically, not all of that work is done every day or week or month. Much of the elders’ work of prayer, teaching, and shepherding can be accomplished faithfully in around 4-6 hours a week in a normal week, sometimes less, and sometimes significantly more. It is a sacrifice, to be sure, which is why it must be entered into freely and eagerly, rather than by compulsion. But while there is always more shepherding work that could be done, when it is divided among several faithful men, this task can be a joy and not a burden.

When Paul commissions Timothy and Titus to put new church plants in order, he instructs them to appoint elders in every city, which involved choosing from a group of men that had only been following Jesus for a few months, years at best. From this example, we see that it is better to have under-shepherds now than to wait until an uber-shepherd appears. Look for faithful men, not perfect men, and trust that Jesus knows what He is doing when He calls mere men to serve as shepherd leaders to the flock of God, exercising oversight as God would have them, as examples to the flock.

So men, seek to serve as elders eagerly and willingly, and all of you, be subject to the elders. And whether you are an elder, or you may become an elder, or whether you are a priestly member called to submit to the elders, all of you, clothe yourself with humility, embracing God’s gracious gift of shepherd leaders.

Posted on Thursday, March 12, 2020 by CJ Bowen