Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. (1 Tim 3:1)
The words overseer (bishop), shepherd (pastor), and elder (presbyter) are used interchangeably by Scripture in different translations to describe one role.
Any man who desires to do the work of an elder can do so. Doing the work is the process by which new elders become evident. Not everyone who does the work gets the title, which is not what it’s about, but everyone who gets the title had better do the work.
Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-28)
What is the work that elders are supposed to do as an example for the flock to imitate; and is there any part of this work that should not be imitated by mature Christians who don’t have the title?
Elders are supposed to have an impeccable character and hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able to teach, exhort in sound doctrine, and refute those who contradict (See 1 Tim 3:1-7 & Tit 1:5-9). This includes what we talked about in Mutual Edification and Each One Has a Teaching.
Paul told the elders at Ephesus to, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
A model shepherd is one who feeds and guards the flock. He has to be aware of each and every sheep to oversee their spiritual growth. This can only be done through close, personal relationships. We are all to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), but leaders will give an account for the flock (Heb 13:17). What are some areas that elders should help develop in the life of each Christian?
- A firmly grounded faith
- Loving God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength
- Transformation of character
- Bringing friends, family, neighbors and the world to Christ
- Being aware of and guarding against the schemes of the devil
- Keeping marriages intact and thriving
- Raising children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord
- Managing time and finances Biblically
- Having a godly influence in one’s community
- Developing one’s gift to serve the body of Christ
Scripture teaches authentic relationships. Christianity is about practising righteousness in this life, and in the life to come. Maturing saints look for lost souls to help. Families disciple families and their lives become intertwined. Christians encourage one another day after day.
True elders are mature. They lead by example in all these things, which is easily a full time job worthy of financial support. (See 1 Tim 5:17-20) They don’t do everything themselves. They duplicate themselves.
Contrast this with a modern day board of directors elected to make business decisions for corporations that call themselves churches. They are often given the title of elder, which creates the appearance of following Scripture. But these are businessmen, not spiritual men.
They hire a servant to do their job and call him a preacher. To justify the expense they write up a job description and have him do everything the body should do, thus stunting the spiritual growth of everyone else.
Some guys get into the manmade ‘preaching’ business with a naïve idea about actually reproving, rebuking, and exhorting immature Christians to obedience and maturity, and equipping the saints for works of service, namely, evangelism.
But the board of directors fires their hireling if he starts preaching obedience to all Scripture. Running the church like a business requires that the customers are all happy. In this faulty system, complaints from unrepentant sinners can get the hireling scolded or fired.
But most hirelings aren’t naïve; they’re slick and they quickly learn how to speak out of both sides of their mouth, tickling the ears of as many as possible. They work the system, building their resume so they can move on to bigger churches that pay fatter salaries.
The average amount of time that a ‘pulpit minister’ spends in one pulpit is three years. The church they leave behind is just as helpless as it was before, and the spiritually immature elders-in-name-only scramble to hire another servant.
He gave some as… evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:11-13)
True shepherds equip the saints for the work of service. They send preachers out to preach rather than hiring someone to be their ‘pulpit minister’ (regardless of the title used, who invented that position?). Every Christian is a minister, but their ministry can only be developed by rejecting bogus traditions of men.