Shepherd the Flock of God | 1 Peter 5:1-5

We are in 1st Peter this morning, and we are coming to the end of this letter. In fact, next week, we will finish 1st Peter. As you turn to 1st Peter 5, I want to share with you what is probably the most sobering verse in all of the New Testament for pastors and elders. As I read this verse, you may think we would naturally love this verse. But I’ll share why it’s also heavy for pastors and elders. 

Hebrews 13:17- “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.” We need to take to heart all of this verse, but I especially want you to notice the part that says, “as those who will have to give an account.” That means elders and pastors will have to give an account for how they shepherd God’s church. 

Those are sobering words. This is not light work. This is heavy, sobering work. Ministry as an elder is one of the greatest and most joyful privileges there are, and yet it’s also one of the greatest burdens there are. This is why I love that Peter takes a moment here to address elders directly. And before you assume this isn’t relevant for you because you’re not an elder, remember: you, too, are included here in how you are to submit to the elders. We’ll talk about that shortly. Let’s read together 1 Peter 5:1-5a. 

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, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.

Here we see what elders are to do. Now, before we dig into this a bit, let’s clarify. What’s the difference between an elder and a pastor? Some churches have pastors only, some have elders only, some have both. What’s the difference? Well, without getting into all the details, let me say this: when you look at how the New Testament uses the terms pastor, elder, and overseer—all four of those words are used interchangeably. In other words, they all refer to the same office. And according to the New Testament, there are two church offices, pastor and deacon. And again, when we say “pastor,” we mean also elder, and overseer. 

Even in these verses we just read, we see this. Obviously, Peter is writing this particular admonition to elders according to verse 1, and then it says in verse 2 that we’re to “shepherd the flock” (shepherd being the word from which we get pastor), then it says, “exercising oversight.” A person who exercises oversight is an overseer. So even just in these verses, we see the overlap of these titles. 

Now we here at Lamar have one staff elder, meaning paid, and that’s me. And our other elders are not on staff. They are lay elders. So here’s the critical question we have to ask: what are the elders supposed to be doing? What do we do? Most of you are aware of some of things I do, because I’m a full-time member of the staff. But what about the rest of these elders? Is this primarily a title of pride, so that they can walk around acting like they’re big deals? Demanding the respect of the people? 

Or do we actually do something? Here’s my summary of the role of elder straight from this text: Elders are called to shepherd those who Jesus bought with his own blood. What does it mean, then, to shepherd the people of God in a local church? I have four answers for you this morning, straight from this text: 

  1. Elders willingly exercise oversight (1-2). 

Elders are to watch over the congregation. That doesn’t mean elders are personally responsible for providing pastoral care to every member of the congregation, but it does mean that the elders ensure the gospel and biblical doctrine are being protected. I love the language used here, right? We’re called a flock. Meaning we’re a bunch of sheep. Now, the interesting thing about this metaphor is that our ultimate shepherd is Christ Himself, amen? We know that from verse 4; he’s the “chief Shepherd.” 

So it’s not that we as elders are the human shepherd in this metaphor. It’s as if the human shepherd, who is Christ, has put a few trustworthy sheep in charge of helping watch over the rest of the sheep. Just in case any of elders feel that we’re on another level. We’re not. Only Christ is the chief Shepherd. Even Peter here recognizes his humble position. He calls himself a fellow elder back in verse 3. He doesn’t even bring up the fact that he’s an apostle, one of the 12 first chosen by Christ. So, there’s a humility here. And yet, we do, on behalf of Christ, exercise oversight. 

We watch over the affairs of the church. We watch over the doctrine of the church. We watch over the membership of the church, especially when one of the members runs away and starts embracing sin. We exercise oversight. 

And we do this willingly! The office of elder is not one that we have to be goaded into doing. Come on, no one else is willing, so you need to get in there and do it. No! It says in verse 2, “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.” That’s always why if we ever approach you about considering the office of elder, we’re not going to make it sound more appealing than it is. It is a great joy, no doubt. I mean that. We love meeting together, praying for all of you, celebrating what God is doing in our midst. But there are also extremely heavy burdens and responsibilities that we have to bear. 

I read someone this week who wrote, “It is a wonderful and fearful thing to be an elder of the church of God.” I think that’s true. I heard a pastor on Friday say, “Being a pastor has to be one of the greatest privileges and one of the greatest burdens.” 

But this is done willingly, why? Hopefully because we treasure Christ more than anything, and the church is the bride of Christ! I hope none of us do it for “shameful gain.” That’s the word used at the end of verse 2. We better not do this to gain selfish influence. Or for elders who do this full-time like myself, money better not be my motivation. No, we willingly, and eagerly exercise oversight, why? For the glory of Christ and the good of His church. That’s why. What does it mean to shepherd the people of God? 

2. Elders lead by example (3).

This is a great question to ask for any Christian leader, not just elders. Whether you’re a small group leader, kids ministry volunteer, youth volunteer, ministry team leader, no matter what it is. Here’s the question: what is the primary means by which you lead other people? What’s the main way Christian leaders can lead? Is it by going around and telling everyone what to do? Absolutely not. Verse 3- “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” The first priority in any leadership position, but especially as an elder, is to lead by example. 

Let me just say, if the elders of a church do not treasure Jesus more than anything, it is unlikely that that flock in general will treasure Jesus more than anything. I’d say that’s especially true for teaching elders, like myself, but it’s true for all the elders. We lead not primarily by making decisions, even though that’s certainly part of the job. We lead primarily by being living examples of Christ. 

This is why it’s such a big deal, to whom we entrust the responsibilities of elder. This is also why it’s not a popularity contest. The elder team will always accept suggestions for Godly men to be considered as elders. But there’s not a popular nomination process, where we all pick who we want, and the five with the most votes get to be elders. No, no. This is a very involved process. That’s part of why potential candidates serve for six months as probationary elders before the church votes to affirm a new elder. Because we want to be absolutely sure that this is someone not just looking for power or influence, but someone who truly lives by examples. Number 3. What does it mean to shepherd the people of God? 

3. Elders have their hearts set on Christ (1, 4). 

This gets us right back to the motivation for shepherding the flock of God. It is not power, nor prestige, nor money (for staff elders like me)—the motivation we have is Christ himself. We see this in verse 4, that by doing these things like exercising oversight and leading by example—“when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 

We don’t do this for the appreciation we might receive. Because there will be times when there is no appreciation. There will be times when there is no one thanking you for your service. This is true of all kinds of leadership and service in the church. But we don’t do it for those reasons, though. At least I sure hope not. We do this for Christ! There is an unfading crown of glory awaiting us! And back in verse 1, like Peter, we will be “partakers in the glory that is revealed.” 

You can really take this all the way back to the very first word of this passage: “So I exhort the elders among you.” Same word as “therefore.” In other words, everything he’s saying to elders here is in response to everything he’s covered so far. Why do we shepherd the flock? Why we willingly exercise oversight? What compels us to lead by example, not in a domineering way? 

What’s he talking about over and over in 1 Peter up to this point, including in the verses just before this? Suffering as a Christian! Christians will suffer. We won’t always understand why it’s happening, but ultimately it is for our good. Even persecution due to our faith will result in spiritual maturing. 

But here’s the thing, we desperately need elders to lead the way in suffering by example. We need elders who will be sure the entire counsel of God’s Word is being preached and taught—so that we understand suffering biblically. I was told this week by a close friend that their pastor would never say what was said last week from 1st Peter chapter 4. That broke my heart. That there are pastors and elders out there just trying to keep people happy. I thank God for our elders here, that as far as I can tell—that’s not their goal. It’s certainly not my goal. 

And I want to ask you, if you don’t already, to pray regularly for our elders here at Lamar, and I’m including myself in that. Why? Because all of the moral failures you hear about amongst leaders in churches—none of us are above that kind of temptation. It’s hard to imagine a world where I would give in to something like that. But none of us are above that. And God is doing really neat things here at Lamar. We’re on track to be yet again baptize more this year than we’ve baptized in 20 years. We’re on track to add more members this year than we have 20+ years. And so if we speak the truth in love, unashamedly as a church—the enemy very well may put a target on our backs. 

I don’t like being too sensational about that, because we don’t have some huge platform here. But I do want to humbly ask that you commit to praying for us. You can certainly include all of our leaders in that, staff in particular. But please commit to praying for our elders here, including me. We need it. Pray first and foremost that our hearts would always be set on Christ. That we would treasure Christ more than anything else. Number 4. What does it mean to shepherd the people of God? 

4. The flock submits to the Elders (5). 

The first part of verse 5: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.” A few other ways this is translated: “submit yourselves to your elders.” “You must accept the authority of the elders.” “

Assuming elders are striving to be what we’ve seen in this passage today, there is no excuse for not submitting to the elders of your church. Now I know as Americans, especially, we recoil at that. We don’t like that. We have what we consider to be a healthy suspicion of authority. I know it’s much easier simply to talk about the authority of Christ! And certainly that is the only authority that is absolute. However, we are commanded here to submit to the elders. 

And let me be really clear here: that includes the elders. Did you know that I, as your lead pastor, submit myself to our elders. We lead and shepherd together. We, together, strive to discern the will of God. And if a few elders disagree with a direction that I believe we should go in, guess what? I willingly submit to them. Each of our elders understand that that’s the model we see in Scripture. 

Are there exceptions? Of course! If the elder team is asking you to do something sinful, don’t submit. If an individual elder is acting suspicious, or you’re concerned about questionable activity or questionable words—I implore you to take that to the other elders. Or bring that to me. We recognize that elders are not Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, we are fellow sheep helping other sheep follow the chief Shepherd, Jesus. 

So yes, there are exceptions, of course. But when it comes to our personal preferences, don’t let those be reasons you don’t submit to the elders. If you have not yet experienced disagreement with the elder team’s decisions, please hear me: you will. At some point, it’s just a given, you will disagree with a decision that we make. If you haven’t already. 

Here’s a mature, Christian way to approach that disagreement. Share your disagreement with the elders, and that’s it. If someone asks you if you disagree, you don’t have to lie. Say, “Yes, I disagree. I’ve told them that. But now it’s time to move forward.” As a reminder, church, these are the men that God has led you to entrust with these responsibilities. That’s why every elder member requires the entire church to vote yes. In fact, at Lamar, it requires a 75% affirmative vote. And then, every two years, each elder is reconfirmed by another 75% affirmative vote of the church. These are the elders/pastors that you as a church have affirmed as the men God has called to shepherd our church. 

I’d like to read from our church bylaws. And I know right now, some of you just fell asleep instantly. I know church bylaws aren’t always the most fun things to read, but they are important. Why? Because our bylaws are how you, as a church member, can know how the church will function, at least generally, until the entire church decide to change it. In other words, this is most fundamentally what makes us a congregational church. 

After I read this, I want to ask you all to pray for us. Dave Jarvis is going to lead out in prayer. Tom | Brad | Joel | Drew

This is what our bylaws have to say about the role and responsibilities of elders here at Lamar, and I hope you recognize some of the language used. 

As shepherds of the flock of God, the elders (including the Lead Pastor) are to be devoted to defending the Word of God, and leading and shepherding the flock of God which has been entrusted to them. All decisions by the Elder Team shall be determined by majority rule. The Elder Team shall have the following responsibilities: 

  1. To be devoted to prayer and the study of God’s Word. 
  2. To sustain a caring ministry for the flock of God. 
  3. To defend the truth and refute those who contradict it. 
  4. To lead by Christ-like example. 
  5. To oversee the affairs of the church, which include: 
  6. Seeking out and recommending to the congregation candidates for Elder Team. 
  7. Communicating to the congregation at each Family Meeting concerning the activities and concerns of the Elder Team. 
  8. Perform other Scriptural, constitutional, and general duties. 
  9. Leading and shepherding the church as a member of the Elder Team equal in submission to one another, including the Lead Pastor, and ultimately accountable to God and the church.