Monday, June 7, 2010

A Charge To The Elders

The more often I read Peter's epistles the more I appreciate the simplicity of his walk with the Lord. There is nothing overly complicated to Peter's understanding concerning the subjects of which he writes. The roles of shepherding and submitting are treated no differently; simple and to the point. I am about to tear apart the passage so I suggest you read it in it's entirety (1 Peter 5:1-11). First, Peter gives his credentials to instruct elders:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed. (1 Peter 1:1)

Peter goes from his present place of authority, as a fellow elder, to his authority based on his past as one of the original twelve who were with Jesus, to his future authority as one who will share in God's glory when it is time for it to be revealed. It would be hard for any of his readers to deny Peter's authority in this matter. Then comes his charge to them:

Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers. (1 Peter 5:2a)

The word "elder" carries more responsibility than entitlement in Peter's charge. Whether we call them elders, overseers, ministers, shepherds or pastors, it still comes down to the fact that these are people who have been called to serve the Body of Jesus, the Bride. If it helps you can picture them as under-shepherds, serving the master Shepherd, having died to themselves in Jesus and having been raised to life in him, to help love, cherish and assist the flock to grow into maturity. I am going to split the next  couple of verses into the "do not's" and the "do's". First the "do not's":

"not because you must"
"not greedy for money"
"not lording it over those entrusted to you"

Now these three things can be killers to anyone let alone to elders. A sense of obligation can be good at times but most of the time it can lead to resentment because a pastor must be willing to give up everything, face many heartaches, and push on when everyone else is quitting. To do this out of duty will only take you so far. Jesus did not go to the cross out of duty but out of choice. In the garden Jesus submitted his will to his Father's out of love and chose to take up the cross. He stated that no one was taking his life but instead he was offering it freely. The money part speaks for itself and pastors should be checking their heart to see which master they are serving. Then there is the big challenge of entitlement and reversal of roles. The pastor/elder is not there to be served but to serve the least to the greatest equally.

Now look at the "do's" :

"because you are willing"
"eager to serve"
"being examples to the flock"

This is a very good charge and one that must be understood in order for a person to be in such a great relationship of responsibility with God's people. I have already given the example of the attitude elders need to have in order to flourish as shepherds. The best example, really the only one worth considering, is that of Jesus, the Master Shepherd. Pastor's are not business men but are great servants, that is why Peter writes that there cannot be any reluctance to serve but a giving of the whole person to the task. There must be an eagerness even in the worst of times because shepherding requires a great sacrifice. But we do not speak of these things because the only sacrifice worth speaking of is that of Jesus Christ. However, the place of an overseer/pastor/elder requires an understanding that an example is being set for the Body. Yet, do not consider that this is an example of perfection because that would kill a person. No, instead we should consider it an example of character, of holy living. The two main ingredients to such an example is love and forgiveness. If a pastor is equipped with these two things then they will set a very fine example indeed.

One thing a pastor should never forget is that they are not the head of the flock. They are people who have been given a charge and will have to give an account of what they did with that charge. There is a high price to pay but we do not look for a reward in this place. This is not a place of rewards but instead a place of service. The reward is on it's way:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:4)

There is no greater privilege in the world than the calling to serve the Body of Christ as an elder; there is also no greater responsibility. To those who are given much, much is expected. To my fellow elders I say today, may your day be filled with the blessings of service. Stay strong and stay true to your calling. Do not get distracted by the world but remain fixed on Jesus Christ. To God be the glory.

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