Walking Through 1st Peter #21, To the Elders

Teens know it’s coming. Those always present last words for their safety as they go out. “Be careful!” “Drive safe!” “Don’t do anything stupid, ok?” Well, maybe it’s not just teenagers that hear those words. I plan on visiting my 93-year-old grandmother today. After the “I love you’s” and the hugs of goodbye, just before I walk out the door she’ll say, “be careful going home.” It’s a given, like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Likewise, Peter has shifted his letter from his main concern to some “be careful out there” final instructions.

Welcome to our twenty-first installment in our walk through 1st Peter Don’t fret (unless you’re a guitar player), the previous articles are on Lambchow.com if you’d like to catch up.

Peter wrote, “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. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1–4, NASB95)

Let’s avoid getting hung up the title “elder” and include every form of church leadership. Peter’s words don’t just apply to the pastors and elders or whatever the leadership of your church is called. It also applies to the worship team, the Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, and all other leadership roles and responsibilities. While the pastor may shepherd the whole church that 1st grade Sunday School teacher is shepherding that little flock.

Peter adds weight to what he is about to say by providing his curriculum vitae, or we could say his street cred. His exhortation is to be heard and followed because of his relationship with the church as a fellow elder and as a witness of Christ’s suffering and glory. Notice what he didn’t say. Peter didn’t recount his years of service, his being chosen by Jesus, his role and title of apostle, or the miracles he performed in Christ’s name. He didn’t pull rank but instead walked beside them as a “fellow elder.” In other words, he practiced the very thing he was about to instruct them to do.

Attitude

Peter’s first instruction deals with their attitude towards their leadership role. There has to be a willingness, and a “want to” in their service. When being a pastor or elder or leader or any other role of service becomes a job instead of a joy the flock suffers. That’s what Peter means by comparing compulsion to voluntary. There is a burden and sacrifice to leadership that must be willingly offered in accordance with God’s will. If that is not so then other corrupting emotions and motives begin to creep and spoil the offering.

Motivation

Peter’s second instruction is that leaders should not serve for “sordid gain” but with eagerness. When individuals serve for what they can get out of it, whether that’s money, power, prestige, or fulfilling an emotional need, then the flock becomes a resource; cogs in a machine to meet a need.  This upsets the relationship with those being served from being a servant leader to weighing everything by gain.

Peter wasn’t discussing whether a pastor or elder should be paid or not. Let me just say that the law of Moses provided for the priests and Levites from the sacrifices offered from the people. In New Testament, we see a more fluid picture where some receive provision while others are bi-vocational (i.e.,. Tentmakers).

Example

Peter’s third instruction is for leaders to lead by example. “Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” It is a rewording of Jesus’ own instructions to Peter and the other apostles. “And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:25–27, NASB95) Jesus went on to poignantly model his words by taking the servant role and washing the disciple’s feet.

From my own experience there’s a heady adrenaline rush when you realize that God has used or is using you to impact someone’s life.  It becomes easy to take the glory and assume that there is a rightness to all we do and that everyone under our care must follow and obey. We can make all kinds of wrong-headed assumptions that lead us to argue over who is right; just like the disciples in the prelude to Luke 22:25.

But it’s not all the leader’s fault. We as people often lay a burden on leaders and then murmur and complain about it. We tend to elevate leaders then backstab them when they fall from the lofty pedestal we put them on. In the same way that leaders must balance influence with servanthood we too must balance respect for our leaders with our love for Christ. You see, we are all called to serve one another. It is the leaders role to model, teach, and encourage what that looks like in real life.

Reward

Peter ends with a reminder of the judgment and crown given to leaders at the end of the age by Jesus. From the context of 1st Peter and others verses, that judgment won’t be based on the number of souls won, the size of the church, impact on society, the strength of the treasury, the number of miracles performed, or the number of prayers that were answered. I think it will be based on the response and attitude when the phone rings at 2:30 in the morning. The unnoticed hours put into study, caring, and prayer. The willingness to do the right thing even when no one will notice. The hours spent with the poor widow who is shut-off from the world because of health and age. And so many other things that have little to do with presenting a sermon or steering the church.

Not Just for Pastors, Priests, Teachers, or Elders

This may have seemed like fly-over country that didn’t apply to you. Think again. We all bear some measure of leadership. The most obvious is at home. Servant leadership applies to mom and dad as well. That doesn’t mean that the kids get away with everything, but that we equip them as we serve them. These same ideals can apply at work, in the marketplace, and on the roadway. Let me put it this way – there are feet to wash everywhere we go. We just need to figure out what that means in the context of the moment.

Be safe out there!

Dale Heinold
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