This is a special message delivered for Creekstone in light of the elder confirmation elections that were held on March 6 after the morning service.
Here are my notes (elaboration on audio):
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. That was true for the fencing industry during the days following the Homestead Act of 1862, when settlers flocked out West to take advantage of the US Government’s offer of 160 acres of free land.
As the population in the West grew, so did the need for fencing that would enable ranchers to safeguard their herds of cattle as well as protect farmers from having their crops destroyed by thousand pound beasts roaming around unfenced farms. But fences were expensive to build and expensive to maintain and repair.
And so necessity became the mother of invention, when in 1867, Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio, was awarded the first patent for barbed wire, which was simple and inexpensive to install and maintain, as well as effective at protecting crops and safeguarding ranchers’ herds.
The church has ranchers, too. Of course, the Bible calls them shepherds – what we call pastors or elders. And although the animal differs in the analogy, the principle is the same. This is one reason why God designed local churches to function like flocks of sheep, not protected by barbed wire, but by membership in the flock – church membership.
Without church membership, 1 Peter 5:1-4 doesn’t make a lot of sense. Without official membership in a local church, God’s design and purpose for elders is largely impractical and unworkable. But with it, we can see why God designed the local church to be overseen by a team of elders who shepherd particular folds of believers.
As far as Elder Teams go, Peter, the author of our passage, was on the original elder team – as an Apostle. And when he wrote his first letter, 1st Peter, around 64 A.D., Nero was the Roman Emperor, and religious persecution of Christians was about to intensify. So as Peter wrote his letter to Christians in what today is the country of Turkey, east of Italy and Greece on the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, he included a special word of encouragement to those who were serving as elders, because they likely would be the primary, front-line targets of this persecution. Yet the application in this passage is not limited to those who serve as shepherds, but also for the sheep who follow their lead. This is for all of us.
So, let’s being in vv. 1 and 2, where Peter uses…
I. Three Key Terms to describe the role of elder (v. 1-2a)
5 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: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…
The three Greek terms Peter uses to describe the office of the elder are significant.
- presbuteroi (noun, pl.) – elders [Presbyterian]
- poimainō (verb); n. form is poimen – to shepherd
- episkopeō (v.); form is episkopos– to oversee
They are essentially interchangeable terms that express different aspects of the same office, like in academics, teacher, professor, instructor.
And notice that Peter uses the the phrase “the flock of God,” which reminds us that the flock does not belong to elders, but to Jesus, which emphasizes the privilege and responsibility of serving as elder/shepherding.
Notice also that Peter speaks to the elders in the plural. This is the pattern throughout the New Testament, that elders lead in teams.
- Some will be vocational elders with an emphasis on teaching – (called “teaching elders”)
- Others will be non-vocational elders with an emphasis on governing – (called “ruling elders”)
- This year Creekstone will have two non-vocational elders who will represent the congregation. Next year we plan to add 2 more, and 2 more the following year, for a total of 6. Then we’ll begin a rotation. Pitching rotation on a baseball team.
Now, as far as their “governing” role, the elder team will not micromanage, but macro-manage, primarily in five ways:
- They will protect the mission and vision of the church. The elders are ALL IN. Standard bearers.
- They will set policy.
- They will allow the staff to implement policy and equip various ministry team leaders to fulfill the “boots on the ground” ministry of recruiting, training, and deploying volunteers.
- They will oversee our p,lan for“pastoral care” – to make sure that every member received adequate and effective care
- Some of your may be familiar with the traditional model – care is centralized, limited to one, two or a few. However, both the bible and experience have shown us that this is not the best plan for adequate and effective care.
- This is why we have K-Groups. If you think about the church in three concentric circles: the body, organs and cells.
- They will intercede for the church in prayer
Application: God’s design for the Eldership is a 2-way street. Elders pray for the sheep and vice versa. Elder commit to shepherd the sheep and the sheep commit to be shepherded. This can be a challenge when a sheep needs to be rescued from wandering. But the point is that it is a mutual agreement. If you are a member than you may remember why I emphasized Membership Vow #5, “I gladly submit myself to the governing oversight and shepherding care and discipline of the church, and promise to pursue and protect its purity and peace.” It is a mutual agreement for the protection, care and nurture of the sheep.
So, three key words describe the role of the elder. Next, Peter establishes…
II. Three General Qualifications (v. 2b-3)
2b not under compulsion, but willingly (gladly), as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Let’s expand just a bit on these qualifications.
- Not under compulsion: Peter warns against serving as an elder out of a sheer sense of duty apart from a genuine desire. For if an elder is compelled by duty alone, he likely will lose his joy, and the church will suffer as a consequence. This is especially true considering the time required to serve, not to mention the prospect of facing persecution. Furthermore, sheep can bite. 🙂 I love the quote that says, “If you want people to like you, don’t be a leader. Go sell ice cream.”
- Not for shameful gain (greed): Since teaching elders were paid in the early church just like today, this particular qualification is primarily addressed to teaching elders like myself, because in the New Testament as well as today, false teachers are often recognized by their love of money as a motivation for positions of vocational ministry.
- Not to domineer: Peter is saying that the elder should not be a control freak who uses his position as a way to “be in charge as a boss” or add to his resume of achievements. We are to be examples, and not always of being right and doing good, but sometimes as examples of repentance and teachability. Elders should lead in every way, including being the chief repeaters.
In addition to Peter’s “big three,” the apostle Paul mentioned a number of other, more specific qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:2-7, “The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife (mar ritually faithful – also, this is one place where Paul makes it clear that elders are to be male. This is a can of worms – the kind you’d get at COSTCO. Women can serve in any other role – it’s like in the garden. God only prohibited ONE tree. If this is a major issue for you, talk to me, okay.), temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
So, the primary qualification for Eldership is not dependent upon one’s physical age, but spiritual age, or spiritual maturity. Nevertheless, age is important to the degree that elder candidates have had time to demonstrate observable evidence of God’s sanctifying work in their lives.
Application: And so I want to challenge our men to aspire to the office of elder. While not every man will serve in this capacity, every man would be on the track to potentially serve. Maybe like a reservist in the military.
Aspiring to Eldership is a great way to grow personally, as well as a husband and father.
But let’s be very clear. Even as the church looks to representatives from the flock to serve as shepherds over the flock, none of us will ever be…
III. The Chief Shepherd (v. 4) – the key terms, the general qualifications… Now Peter focuses our attention on Jesus.
4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Peter reminds the elders that, even in light of persecution and the bites they may receive from the sheep at times, serving as an elder is worth it!
However, the main implication for us in v. 4 is not the crown of glory, but that Jesus is our ultimate Senior Pastor – our archi-poimenos. Like an arch-bishop. The highest, over the others.
Remember, the shepherds in the church are also sheep; we are sinners who are in need of saving just like the rest of the flock! This is why Peter himself makes much of the fact that he was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.”
This is where John 10 looms large for us as a church of sheep – v. 11, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Peter, himself, had had to come to grips with this. It must have been a struggle. He had totally blown it. Remember, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, had denied him three times! Yet the very next day, Jesus would lay down his life on a Roman costs for “Peter the betrayer!” What may be most amazing is that, after his resurrection, Jesus restored Peter, the betrayer, to leadership, as Peter the shepherd/elder, telling him to “feed my sheep” (poimainō).
Doesn’t this not confuse you? It probably should. Since we normally think that leaders are the least sinful sheep. But there is only ONE who was sinless. You see, Peter’s experience as an elder teaches us that the primary role of an elder is being an example to the flock – someone whose life is defined by GRACE. Not defined by what they have achieved for God, but by what they have received from God.
The calling of Paul as an apostle demonstrates and emphasizes this. Consider his testimony in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, “15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
Have you come to grips with this non-negotiable, essential truth? That Jesus made it his mission/purpose to save sinners like us – like you? Who have betrayed Jesus more times than you’ll ever know.
You see, like Peter and Paul, elders are the lead sinners who are most acutely aware of their need for grace, and as such, they are the best equipped to lead other sinners to the Savior.
So, what about you?
Are you acutely aware of your need? For the same Jesus who laid his life down for Peter to lay his life down for you? The cross tells us that, just like Peter, we can be fully forgiven and completely restored – no longer an object of condemnation, but of the deepest affection. No longer defined by our betrayal, but by God’s mercy. As we sang earlier, “You are a good, good Father, it’s who you are. And I am loved by you. That’s who I am.”
If you are ready for that to be you, then let me invite you to pray with me to receive that grace now.