In previous editions of The Pastors’ Pen we have examined some important issues regarding the ministry of the eldership as it relates to the body life of BBC. So far, we have examined the mandate and the motive of this office.
The mandate of the eldership, as defined by Scripture, is to lead, feed and give heed to the flock of God, in order that it will be 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 resembling the chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. The motive that drives such shepherding is love for Christ and thus love for those who belong to Him in a special salvific way. In this third (and final?) instalment, I aim to examine the manner by which the mandate of the eldership is to be carried out.
Peter leaves no doubt what should characterise those who pastor God’s people:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
(1 Peter 5:1–5)
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 realises 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. He 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 is compelled by a sense of dreary duty, but rather because he is driven by a passion for the Shepherd and His 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 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 I don’t want to bother you,” you needn’t use such language. We are here to serve!
Second, elders are to lead with tenderness rather than as some kind of demanding CEO. 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 with whom children felt comfortable. 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 should be so persuaded of the love of the shepherds that he will not hesitate to ask for their help. He should also be so convinced of the love of the pastors that when they confront him (“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, 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 recognise 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, lead you and give heed to you. And, by the way, thank you for making this service such a joyful privilege!