“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.”
We now come to a new section of 1 Peter dealing with the issues of leadership and “followership.” Leadership covers the first four verses, and verses five through eleven take up “followership.” With verse one, Peter begins a section on how believers are to live in the Christian community.
First, through the Holy Spirit, Peter deals with how the leadership operates in the church.
We often interpret the word “elders” too technically as officials in the local church. The basic meaning of the word “elder” is simply leadership. A biblical leader is a spiritually mature believer who can plan, strategize, recruit other leaders, and develop them. In some cases, the “elder” implies an official title, but in many cases, it merely means a leader (1 Timothy 5:17,19; Titus 1:5).
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).
A great many Christians do not acknowledge the idea that anyone is over them in the Lord. They do not accept spiritual authority; thus, they are spiritual anarchists. That is why some Christians need “admonishing.”
“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” (Hebrews 13:7)
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
“Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you” (Hebrews 13:24)
The word “elder” refers to the maturity and character of leadership (Titus 1:5-9). In 1 Timothy and Titus, we find 24 qualifications needed for elders to lead the church of God.
who are among you
God never leaves a community of believers without leadership.
The spiritual health of a local church depends on the authority of leadership in that church.
When a church is in a state of anarchy or indifference, that church is in trouble. It will eventually stop winning and discipling people for Christ.
The primary indication of a healthy church is a Spirit-filled pastor who is a catalyst for evangelism and discipleship. Congregations that experience this kind of leadership are the first to recognize the value of balanced authority. However, the pastor earns this authority by love from the congregation.
This kind of leadership is not authoritarianism or totalitarianism, as we will see later in this passage (1 Pe 5:3). The body of believers must recognize this leadership by the leader earning this right to lead.
There is an illusion that the congregation can exercise some corporate leadership. People with this idea oppose strong pastoral leadership on the principle of a perceived democratic assumption. God never asserts that assumption in the Bible, however. It seems undemocratic to these people (without biblical support) that a pastor should have authority.
Strong congregationalists do not allow their pastors to think creatively, build constructs for ministry, or establish goals and strategies without their permission. In this system, there is no room for healthy, inspiring, or centralized leadership. Whether we like it or not, centralized leadership is a key to church growth. A pastor who tries to lead a church without this structure will face significant frustration. His energies will drain away as he tries to go uphill against the system.
It is incredible that though people understand business leadership, their minds shut down to the principle of good leadership when they go to church. The board of directors of a corporation, if they are wise, does not attempt to lead the organization. They leave the planning and the execution of the plan to full-time executives. Yet, in churches, it is often the board that tries to plan and execute programs. No wonder many churches are dead in the water! The board’s role is to approve basic policy and protect the assumptions and doctrine of the church.
Does this mean that the pastor is a dictator? No, the church hires him, and the church can fire him. He reports to the board, and the board reserves the right to overrule his plans. His plan will not be effective if the congregation does not support his proposals by action. Also, a pastor is an “under-shepherd.” His real authority is from the ultimate Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
A wise leader will pull lay leadership to himself and push authority back to his laypeople to carry out the vision and plans of the church. In other words, it is both biblical and practical to accept the authority of the leaders of the local church.
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Re comments on 1 Peter 5:1-4
You begin, rightly, by saying that we interpret the word "elders" too technically as officials. Elders and Deacons are the only "officials", for want of a better word, spoken of in the Church, in the Word of God.
Your comments are good but I am surprised at your use of the word "pastor" as a leader or official of the church who can be hired and sacked. If we use the word "elder" too technically why then do you use the word "pastor" in the same sense?
Where in the Word of God do we find "pastors" being appointed? Nowhere that I know of, it is just a man made custom.
The only time it is mentioned is in Ephesians 4:11 and it is plural as also are elders. It is a gift given to some but is not an appointment. Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5) but never says anything about appointing pastors.
Acts 20:17 & 28 surely shows who has the responsibility of performing the "pastoral" care of the flock (local church), and that is the elders.
The Greek word in Acts 20:28 for "shepherd" is almost identical to the one translated pastors in Ephesians 4:11. The KJV translation of "feed" does not bring out the full meaning of the word and the responsibilities of not just feeding but watering and protecting the flock.
If pastors are above elders as seems to be the case in most churches, why is it the elders that receive a "crown of glory" and not the pastors(1 Peter 5:1-4)?
One other comment if I may – there is no such thing as a lay person in the church that I know of. We are all a "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9).
Please correct me if I am wrong, and may God bless you as we serve the Lord together.
Yours in Christ,
Neil, thank you for your thoughtful and biblically oriented blog.
I don’t know if it is possible to justify technically any of the biblical roles for Christian leaders. However, we can draw inferences from each role. For example, the word “pastor” or “shepherd” is one who cares for a flock. He protects and feeds the flock. The use of the Greek term in Eph 4:11 is used syntactically as “pastor-teachers” making it one function. That is, all pastors should be teachers. The word “shepherd” in this verse is “pastor.” The word “overseers” is the word “bishop.” The biblical role of “bishop” is one who is an overseer. The Greek word is epi (over) skopos (see), thus a bishop is one who oversees the flock. Again, I do not think this is a technical term as we try to apply it in church situations today but we can infer the idea that this person has responsibility for the direction of a congregation implying direction and even control. That is why there is a warning later not to be domineering in this passage. There is an analogy to Jesus as the “Chief Shepherd” or “Chief Pastor.” The pastor is the under-shepherd to the Chief Shepherd. There is also the implication that the motivation of a pastor-bishop should not be motivated by salary albeit he does receive salary. Again, it is difficult to be too dogmatic on these issues but I believe we can draw principles from the extant statements in this passage.