Godly Shepherds

Not This, but That – The Character and Conduct of an Elder

As we come to Peter’s exhortation to elders, please don’t think, I’m not an elder. I’ll never be an elder. This has no relevance for me. The qualifications for church leadership are the best sketches of what a mature Christian looks like in Scripture. We all should aspire to the character qualities listed here even if we are never officially an elder.

Shepherd the flock!

“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.” (1 Peter 5:2)

There is so much here that is important. First, in these two verses are the three words used in Scripture for this role in the church. Presbyter. Bishop. Pastor.

The Greek word for elder is presbuteros, used by the Presbyterians. Overseer is episkopos used by the Episcopalians. The word for shepherd here is where we get the noun form of “pastor.” Elder. Overseer. Pastor.

Elder – office

Overseer – responsibility

Shepherd – function

These words are used interchangeably for the same role of leadership in the church.

How do elders shepherd? By leading, feeding, and overseeing the flock. All three are critical and the whole church needs to understand their role.

The grammar here tells us this is an imperative command. Peter is shouting now. Elders, shepherd the church! Don’t be derelict! Don’t be lazy! Don’t be passive! Shepherds are to lead, feed, and oversee the church. When they are negligent, who pays the price? The flock does. Christian, you do. Your spiritual health is at stake in the quality of shepherding provided by the leaders. Therefore, we should want the best spiritual shepherds we can get.

As our daughter Madeline’s health issues evolved, we realized we needed a specialist for her issue. Did we just look up at random someone in the yellow pages? No. I called my friend Dr. Jim Williams, who teaches the kidney at IU Medical School. I asked him who the top doctor in this field is. We asked our pediatrician for her recommendations. They both said the same guy. When we confirmed this doctor was in our health plan network, it was a done deal. We wanted the best doctor for her we could possibly find. The more skilled and experienced the doctor, the better for her physical health.

When it comes to spiritual health in the church, the more godly, the more spiritually mature, the more biblically grounded, the more pastorally skilled, the more tender and loving, the better it is the for the spiritual health and vitality of the sheep.

Finally in this verse, the church is called, the flock of God. Why is that important? It’s easy for shepherds to think, this is my flock. It’s easy for sheep to say, this is our flock. “A church that could be ours would be only a false church. So the sheep are not ours for us to use or misuse as we like. If we lose one, we lose another’s property, not our own; and He is not indifferent to what becomes of His flock.”[1] (C.E.B. Cranfield)

The church is God’s church. It’s not the pastor’s church. It’s not the church’s church. I remember many years ago we were contemplating a pretty big change in our church. Someone who was not for it said to me, “We were here when you came; we will be here when you leave. This is our church.” Really? Last time I checked the church was bought with the precious blood of Jesus. He redeemed the church. It’s God’s church. Not mine. Not yours. His.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2015 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The First Epistle of Peter, p. 243.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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