Shepherds in the Church
Peter offers encouragement to elders as he nears the end of his first epistle. The beginning of I Peter 5 is an invaluable passage of Scripture regarding the role and responsibilities placed upon elders. While “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” (II Timothy 3:16), Peter is in a unique position to address this topic as he served as an elder himself, ( I Peter 5:1). All members of the Lord’s church need to understand the position elders hold within the church, as well as our individual responsibility to submit to our elders.
“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;” I Peter 5:2-3
Peter compares the work of elders to that of shepherds, even going on to describe Jesus Christ as the “Chief Shepherd” in I Peter 5:4. As shepherds, elders are called to oversee the condition of the members of the church. This is one important reason why the authority of elders is limited to that of a local congregation.
Think about the responsibilities of a shepherd overseeing a flock. What’s the purpose? Why are shepherds even necessary? Shepherds oversee a flock to ensure their safety and well-being. While the sheep are grazing in the pasture, a shepherd is looking out for any signs of potential danger that threatens the flock. In Peter 5:8, Peter warns about the devil walking about “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” A shepherd’s job is to warn the flock not to enter the lion’s territory, and to protect the flock when the lion attempts to invade and attack.
Shepherding a flock also requires the elders to seek out green pastures. Elders work to provide opportunities for the flock to partake of spiritual nourishment. However, you can lead a sheep to green pastures, but you cannot make him eat. Shepherds can encourage spiritual growth, but the flock has to take advantage of the pasture being provided.
The job of a shepherd is not glamorous. Shepherding is a selfless task. It involves many sleepless nights, continual meetings with other shepherds to address how to best provide for the flock, fending off predators, and trying to keep the flock moving toward the promised land. For this reason, any man taking on the role of a shepherd must be willing to do the work. He also must avoid abusing the authority of his position. A shepherd is to lead by example, doing what needs to be done and then encouraging the flock to work with them.
Elders who serve according to the pattern in the Scriptures are a blessing. Imagine a flock of sheep without shepherds! They would certainly be more prone to difficulty. While God places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the shepherds, the flock also has the responsibility to submit to the shepherds. Over in I Thessalonians 5:12-13, Christians are told to appreciate our elders and to show them great respect and love for the work they do. At Danville, we are blessed to be under the care of two God-fearing shepherds who embrace their role. Are you doing your part in appreciating them and submitting to their oversight?