April 28, 2019
Many churches have charts which show the flow of accountability and authority. Most of these flowcharts have a box at the top with the name Jesus Christ written in. Jesus is the chief executive officer of the church. Below Jesus you will often find a box with the word, “Congregation” written in. The congregation has authority over what is done in the church. Underneath or aside the congregation you will find other boxes with the words, “pastor,” “elders,” etc. It is a corporate model of church leadership reflecting more of corporate American than the New Testament.
This morning I will be speaking primarily to our elders in the church. But the message applies to all of us in the congregation as well. We are in 1Pt.5:1-5. There we see that Elders are called to be the spiritual leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.
I. THE ELDER’S ROLE IS TO SHEPHERD THE FLOCK. 1Pt.5:1-2a
In v.1-2a we read, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you.”
Do you remember what happened to Peter about two weeks after Jesus rose from the dead? Peter and the others had been fishing all night on the Sea of Galilee without catching any fish. At daybreak, the Lord was standing on the shore and he told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. Of course there was a miraculous catch of fish. When they got to shore, Jesus already had some fish grilling over a fire. After breakfast Jesus engaged Simon Peter with the question, “Do you love me more than these? Three times Jesus questions Peter’s love for him and each time Peter professes his love for Jesus. But by the third time Peter is deeply grieved. After all, he had denied the Lord three times. Each time Peter professed his love for Jesus, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” Those words left a deep impression on Peter.
And so it isn’t too surprising to read what Peter says to the churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Elders are to shepherd the flock of God. It is important for church elders to always remember that the flock, or church, belongs to Jesus. In v.4 Jesus is called the “chief Shepherd.” Elders are serving under the chief Shepherd. Elders are stewards and accountable to Jesus for their ministry. Keeping this in mind shapes the way we relate to everyone in the congregation.
Now while things in the church are to be done decently and orderly, Peter does not say that elders are to manage the flock like chess pieces on a board. He doesn’t say that elders are to make sure everyone in the flock keeps certain rules or dresses in certain ways. Rather, elders are to shepherd or care for the flock. It might helpful to make a distinction between elder rule verses elder led. Elders are not ruling over the church like kings. They are leading the church as a shepherd leads the sheep. So how do elders care for the flock? They pay attention to the needs of the flock.
The church of God needs to be regularly fed with teaching and encouragement from God’s word. Elders are to come along side of those who are hurting or sick in order to extend prayerful care and encouragement. We are to be present with those who are in need and do what we can to help them. The elders are to search for those who have gone astray.
In Eph.4:12-13, Paul says that church leaders are, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The goal of elders is to attend to the spiritual maturity of believers in the church. That spiritual maturity expresses itself in an increasing knowledge of Jesus, obedience to Jesus, involvement in ministry and unity in the body.
The overriding concern is not to gain more members for the church. There is nothing wrong with adding new members and we are always grateful for those who desire to unite with the congregation. However, as elders we desire to encourage everyone to know and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
Peter says, elders are to serve the flock “that is among you.” Our charge is the people God has brought into our congregation. Elders seek to listen to and learn about each person so they can serve intelligently and personally. From the New Testament it does seem to me that it is best when there is a plurality of elders shepherding the flock together. With a plurality of elders the responsibility can be shared.
Now in our church our leaders are called elders. In some churches they might be called servant leaders, or the leadership team. The name is not as critical as is the task, shepherding the flock of God.
II. THE ELDER’S CHARACTER IS TO BE EXEMPLARY. 1Pt.5:2b-3
Look at v.2-3. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
Each of these clauses is extremely important. The elders in a local congregation are to have willing hearts of service. This is why a person should never be cajoled into serving as an elder. It is better to have fewer elders than to have elders who feel roped into the position. An elder who serves under compulsion will be impatient and easily angered. I am thankful that each of our elders in the church have a strong willingness to serve. Our elders have been holding extra meetings over the last two months. In these last weeks we have been gathering together on Saturdays to review the many areas that need to be attended to in the church. I have not heard any complaining. Why? It’s because they are serving willingly and not under compulsion.
Peter writes that elders are to exercise oversight, not for shameful gain. In other words they are not to have a greedy heart, always thinking about how they can profit and enhance themselves from the ministry. They are not to be eager for money but eager to serve. If you look at 1Cor.9:7-11, or 1Tim.5:17, it is very possible that some elders were paid. Many congregations today have a full-time preaching elder whose sole source of income comes from the congregation. Other elders are bi-vocational. They have a full or part-time job in addition to their work at the church. In our case I have been the paid full-time elder. Our current elders each have other jobs. Their ministry at the church is unpaid, except for when they preach. Greed quickly gets in the way of shepherding and destroys ministry.
Then Peter says that elders are not to be domineering over those in their charge. This is so important. In congregational churches elders are elected by the congregation and not appointed by a bishop. So elders who are elected should not think that they now have sole authority over the congregation. Authority is necessary in a local church, but authority is a gift given by the congregation based on the humble service and integrity of the elected elder. This is why Peter goes on to say, “but being examples to the flock.”
Over the last month or two I have referenced the situation that has taken place at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows. The well-known pastor who has since been terminated, was a powerful preacher and teacher of God’s Word. God blessed that ministry. But the pastor appears to have become greedy, domineering, and unaccountable. You can read all about it on the internet. It is sad and grievous. It is an example of how the ways of this world can captivate a pastor’s life and implode effective ministry. By the way, it is not just the elders who are to exhibit humility and integrity. These characteristics ought to be true of every follower of Jesus.
III. THE ELDER’S OFFICE IS TO BE HONORED. 1Pt.5:5
In v.5 we read, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” This is reiterated in Heb.13:17, where we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” And finally, in 1Tim.5:17, Paul writes, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
Leadership in a local church is challenging because no one is required to be a part of that local church. Participation and membership is all voluntary. In Peter’s day there were far fewer congregations to attend. Today, there are many options to choose from. If a person doesn’t like something they can just move on to the next church.
As I think about our situation here at Forest Park, I realize that the next months will bring numerous challenges for our elders and for our congregation. Something I have sought to remind myself of many times is that by in large most people in a church have good intentions where the church is concerned. We want what is best for the church. At times we may differ in our understanding of what is best, but that’s what we desire. We want Christ to be honored.
In Eph.5:21, Paul points out that in the church we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In 1Tim.5:19-20, Paul writes about a situation in which a charge might be brought against an elder. In my understanding, elders in a local church are accountable to that congregation. And the congregation is accountable to the elders. There is to be mutual accountability exercised in the humility of Jesus.
4. I want to ask Sean, Kevin, and Brian to come to the front of the sanctuary. They were elected by the congregation. They are our elders who will continue to give leadership when I retire. These are good brothers in the Lord. Like all of us, they each have their strengths and areas of challenge. But they each have the welfare of the congregation in their hearts. The thoughts and decisions that have been presented to the congregation regarding the time of transition have come about through prayer and conversation and seeking outside advice. These men want to do their best. They each have full-time jobs. They have spouses and family. They are busy.
I want to ask you to pray for these men. If you have an issue with any or all of them, please seek them out. They are approachable and gracious. As I bring this message to a close I want to pray for them. Let’s pray.