Reflections on Elders from 1 Peter
At Mount Vernon, the church I serve, we moved to elders a number of years ago. As our elders talk about shepherding—which is always—I’ve found that one of the most helpful texts to speak from has been 1 Peter 5:2-4 where Peter writes to the elders, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it 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 will never fade away.”
With this verse in mind, here are a few reflections:
1) An elder is a shepherd. He must care for people. He is not a board member, he is a soul-looker-afterer (yes, I made that word up). A man must genuinely love people and have a preeminent concern for their spiritual welfare.
2) God is in charge. It is “God’s flock” not the flock of the elders. This should humble any elder tempted to think too highly of himself. An elder has authority–what else could it mean to be an overseer? But that authority comes from God and is under God’s authority. A man who would serve as an elder must submit himself to God’s authority.
Believing God is in charge means obeying him. How does an elder do this? How do any of us do this? John 14:21 is important: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” In John 14:24 Jesus put it a little differently, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” So, those men who have submitted themselves to Christ’s authority are those men who love Jesus, our crucified and resurrected Savior.
3) The desire to serve as an elder is important. Peter addresses why men may want to serve. He corrects those who want to serve for wrong reasons like greed or power. But he commends a good reason: an eagerness to serve. The man whose desire to be an elder is pure will be eager to serve. The man whose desire is rooted in pride will probably be seen as lording the office over others.
4) An elder is an example to others. Those men called to be elders will be viewed differently by the church. They will be expected to typify what is best about the Christian life. None of us do this perfectly, but an elder must strive to do it faithfully. It is unlikely that the spiritual health of the congregation will rise above that of the elders. Luke 6:40, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
5) An elder’s reward is not in this life. The work of an elder is hard. Criticism will come. Hard issues will be faced. A man’s faith will be tested. Perhaps this is why Peter makes it clear that it is only when Jesus, the Chief Shepherd returns, that the elder will receive the crown of glory. We don’t serve for rewards in this life. This is true of every believer, but Peter makes it clear it is especially true for elders. He emphasizes this because the temptation to give up (or give in) is strong. Persevere because the Christian’s beautiful and lasting reward is yet to come.