Biblical Eldership – The Manner of the Work
The mandate of the eldership as defined by Scripture is to lead, feed and to give heed to the flock of God in order that it is healthy enough to reproduce for the glory of God. Simply, the eldership is called to shepherd the flock with a view to each of the sheep increasingly resemble the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. The motive which drives such shepherding is love for Christ and thus love for those who belong to Him in a special salvific way. In this article I aim to examine the manner by which the mandate of the eldership is to be carried out.
Peter leaves no doubt what should characterize those who pastor God’s people, “The elders which are among you I exhort ... Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight ... not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over (God's) heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away ... Yea, all [of you] be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” 1 Peter 5:1-5 (emphasis mine).
The elders are to carry out their calling in a manner which is marked by a joyful eagerness. Peter makes it clear that an elder is to carry out his responsibility, not because he feels that he ‘has to’ (like a child eating his vegetables) but rather because he ‘gets to!’ In other words he realizes that it is an honour for him to serve both the Shepherd and the sheep in this calling, and this is clearly reflected in the way that he serves. Such will not complain because of the hours required to serve, there will be no ‘sighing’ as he called to make a visit or to seek the wandering or to prepare the sermon. In other words the elder serves, not because he ‘compelled’ by a sense of dreary duty but rather because he is driven by a passion for the Shepherd and the sheep.
Closely related to this is the exhortation that the elder is not to serve because of any financial or material remuneration but rather because his mind (heart) is ‘ready’ or ‘eager’ to be involved in the lives of the sheep for their good and for Christ’s glory. And he does so because he knows that one day the Chief Shepherd will appear and His reward will be worth whatever burdens he has been called to carry. So then, you should expect that the elders will serve you joyfully. This means that no church member should be hesitant to call upon the elders for help related to their calling. Though people mean well when they say “I know you are busy and so I don’t want to bother you”, you need not use such language. We are here to serve!
Second, elders are to lead with tenderness rather than as some kind of demanding CEO’s. This is behind Peter’s exhortation for the elders to not ‘lord it over’ God’s people. Elders are not ‘bosses’, they are servants to the sheep. Thus our manner is to be such that we are approachable. Peter says that elders are to be examples to the flock in this area. To whom do we look for an example? Well, to the Lord Jesus of course, the One whom children felt comfortable with. In fact, ‘publicans and sinners’ felt so loved by Him that they were often in His presence.
When a church member is struggling with sin, he/she should be so persuaded of the love of the shepherds that they will not hesitate to ask for their help. Such should also be so convinced of the love of the pastors that when they confront them (‘care-front’, to use Jay Adam’s word) the struggling sheep does not feel ‘threatened’ but rather deeply loved.
Sadly, there are some who assume that when an elder confronts a wandering sheep that they are simply ‘power-mongering-authoritarians.’ Such an accusation should never have any merit. Biblically faithful elders love the flock and when they ‘care-front’ the struggling it is to lead them to greener pastures, not to prepare them for a braai!
Finally, let us note the characteristic of humility. Though Peter exhorts every believer to live in humility in their relationships, it is especially incumbent upon God’s shepherds. In fact apart from humility, the qualities we have observed could never exist. That is, as elders esteem others as better than themselves, they willing, freely and tenderly serve the sheep with joy.
As we have been learning in our studies in Matthew 18, humility means that we put the welfare of others before our own. It also means that we so live that we acknowledge our moment by moment dependence upon the grace of God. None should recognize this more than elders; and such an admission of need will keep us meek in our dealings with others. After all, who is sufficient for such a grand task of leading those who mean so much to Christ?! (See Matthew 18:5-14)
In conclusion, please take these articles seriously and help us to be better elders. Let us know where we need to improve. Encourage us where we are doing well. And pray for us as we willingly obey the call of the Chief Shepherd to feed you, to lead you and to give heed to you. And by the way, thank you for making this service such a joyful privilege!