Assembly Truth: Leadership in the Local Church

The elders which are among you I exhort, which am also an elderfeed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof (1Peter 5:1-4).

The first four verses of ch 5 teach us the fundamentals concerning leadership in a New Testament Church. We see: the Character, Charge, Constraint, Conduct, and Compensation of leaders.

Their Character

It is significant that they are called elders, a reference to their spiritual maturity. Those who will go before the flock must be men who have passed this way before. A novice not only lacks life experiences, but also is in danger of becoming lifted up with pride and thus falling into the snare of the Devil (1Tim 3:6). Their work is illustrated in the words of Luke: There were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night (Luke 2:8). In this passage we not only see their character but we see their consistency for they never left the field or their flocks. Then we see their care for they were keeping watch over their flocks. They never took their eyes off the sheep. Last, in the crisis of the night we see their courage for they kept watch by night. The perils peculiar to the darkness did not reduce their watchfulness because these perils did not lessen their affection for the flock.

Their Charge

If the word elders in verse one refers to their maturity, then the words shepherd and taking the oversight are explanatory of their work. The charge is parallel to the one given to the Ephesian elders in Miletus: Take heed unto yourselves and to all the little flock, among which the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He has purchased with the blood of His Own (Acts 20:28). The word translated, feed, in the AV of 1 Peter 5:1 is a much wider word than giving food to. It contains the thoughts of caring, tending, feeding a flock, shepherding, and watching over. Of course shepherding has within it all that is contained in giving food to for it is impossible that a shepherd would try to tend a flock without feeding them. You can give food without shepherding but you cant shepherd without feeding. The flock of God must be fed and the only food is found in the Scriptures. Those who would be elders must be men of the Book. They must set these things before the brethren, being nourished up in the words of the faith and of good doctrine which they have fully followed until now (1Tim 4:6 literal). An undernourished soul cannot nourish the souls of others. The feeding of the flock out of the Scriptures is the most important work of the elder. Overseership is a spiritual work and has to do with the spiritual well being of the flock. Overseership in a local church is never a position but is always a work. If any man aspires to exercise oversight he desires a good work (1Tim 3:1 JND). Perhaps the good work of true overseers is best illustrated by contrasting it with the seven sins of the shepherds in the days of Ezekiel. Ye feed not the flock; the diseased have ye not strengthened; neither have ye healed that which was sick; neither have ye bound up that which was broken; neither have ye brought again that which was driven away; neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered because there was no shepherd (34:1_4). What an indictment of those who profess to be shepherds! But what an outline of the work of the elder – feeding, strengthening, healing, binding up, bringing back, and seeking. We see the heart of the Chief Shepherd for when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd! (Matt 9:36).

Their Constraint

Peter writes, Not by constraint but willingly But yet they were constrained. They were not to do the work because they had to – yet there was a constraint even as there was a constraint in the shepherding of Peter. Peter was constrained by a commandment from the Lord to shepherd My sheep, and by his divinely implanted care for the sheep and the lambs for he, like Titus, had within his heart the same earnest care for the believers (2 Cor 8:16). There was likewise the constraint of the call in the hearts of the Ephesian elders for they were set (placed) as overseers in the church (Acts 20:28). The hireling, one who serves for wages, will flee when the wolf comes. He is not constrained by command, by care, or by the call. Could there be constraints greater than these three?

Their Conduct

Not as lording it over the possessions but being models for the flock Someone has said that the overseers are to be patterns not princes. The elders are those who go before the flock of God and they should therefore always ask this question, Would I want the believers to follow me in this behavior? Again it is not a position; it is a pattern. Timothy is not said to be an elder but he was to be a model of the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1Tim 4:12). The standard of conduct set for overseers is indeed a high one.

Their Compensation

Not for filthy lucre There can be no earthly reward sufficient for such a work as this. The consequences are eternal for lives are being molded and mended for God. Local church testimony, according to the New Testament pattern, is being preserved. Gods Word is being carried out. The compensation therefore will be at the Bema. The two great motivators in the heart of Peter were the prospect of this compensation and the price of the flock.