Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through 1 Peter in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.

1 Peter 5:1-4, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

We are living in a time when sound, biblical leadership in the local church is needed more than anything else. The Prophets of old warned Israel’s leaders over and over again to feed God’s people (e.g., Ezek. 34:2). This, of course, presupposes that spiritual leaders have a duty to both God and man. Their God-given task is covenantal. They are God’s people anointed for God’s task—the teaching and preaching of His Holy Word. God has set up His Church as an institution with a covenantal head, that being the elders. The covenantal heads are responsible to the terms and conditions of the law, and when they do not obey, God brings judgments. Leaders are held accountable to God’s Word.

When you consider the amount of theological garbage being distributed here in America, the indictment falls upon the covenantal heads. Jeremiah’s prophetic lawsuit is applicable today: “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold” (Jeremiah 50:6, emphasis mine). Shepherds lead, and when they don’t lead, problems arise.

The reason we have the doctrinal mess we have is because we have an ecclesiological mess that has paved the way. The Church is to guard sound doctrine through her elders, and when this responsibility stops, chaos ensues. This slippery slope is inexorable unless God the Holy Spirit changes hearts. Ask the average Christian what’s most important in the local church and you’re likely to get answers like, “Youth programs,” or “Inspirational music.” Rarely will you find someone new looking to find out if the church in question practices church discipline, or if it has qualified, biblical eldership. I’d faint if someone came up to me and asked that.

Out of all the solutions put forth by people across this nation, I believe without a doubt that a restoration of what Peter says here in this text is the solution. If a church does not have strong, biblical, committed, and tenaciously humble elders, not only is it disobeying Christ, it’s sawing off the branch it claims to sit on. Far too many churches claim to be churches but simply do not have the biblical marks of a biblical church. One of those marks is eldership.

The Task

Peter, an apostle, and elder challenges the Asian elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:1-1). An apostle with a heart for the local assembly, Peter challenges the local elders to tend to church—to shepherd them, guide them, protect them, and discipline them. To be a shepherd is not just a position, it’s an action. They are to seek the lost sheep, gather them, feed them, protect them for wild, savage animals, and lead them to safety. The function of an elder is to be a shepherd, to take great care of people, to “[exercise] oversight.” But in what manner ought this to be done?

Peter goes on to say that this activity should not be done under compulsion, in other words, not out of pressure or distress. Elders ought not to be moping around feeling insecure and unworthy at all turns. Reluctance should not be a present concern. Instead, shepherding should be done “willingly,” or “voluntarily” and “intentionally,”—“as God would have you.”

The apostle clarifies again that shepherding should be done, “not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” This does not contradict the apostle Paul’s admonition to compensate elders, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17). Instead, Peter does not want elders to give themselves to unscrupulous gain. The problem could be a dishonorable abuse of trust or great temptation for ungodly gain. Elders ought not to be greedy for money—service to God is the attitude, not a desire to make a profit.

Which also means that a “domineering” attitude could be another great temptation. Elders ought not to be lords like the Gentiles (Matt. 20:25) who simply want control and power. Instead of a worldly top-down bureaucracy, eldership consists of example-setting and godly lifestyle. Like a shepherd walking in front of the flock, leading the sheep to green pastures, so the elders are to walk out front and lead the church by how they live. The Kingdom of God consists of servant-leaders, not unrighteous abusers of the office.

All of this falls under the authority of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd—the true Senior Pastor in the local church (John. 10:11). Because Jesus is the Chief Shepherd who leads His under-shepherds, He wears the “crown of glory,” which means that He has the highest, ultimate authority. He is, after all, King. But He doesn’t keep it for Himself; He gives it to His faithful elders. Generals who were victorious in war would receive these crowns, and so would athletes who won their respective events. Those crowns would fade, both literally and figuratively, this crown from the Chief Shepherd lasts into eternity.

Final Thoughts

The reality is, when we consider the immense subject of the local church, it can be daunting. Being an elder is an incredible honor and one that comes with incredible terms and conditions. Healthy, biblical eldership means that men are leading the local church with plurality and parity. This simply means that there are multiple elders, multiple gifts, with equal authority.

Part of the problem in evangelicalism is that these covenantal heads who represent the church to God, and vice versa, are oftentimes not vetted properly. From the small church deacon board whose chairman is the highest donor, to the mega-church superstar whose board consists of other mega-church superstars, the problem of qualifications, gifting, passion, and calling continues.

We are in desperate need of men who fit the bill, men who love their families and love the church (cf. 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). We need Godly shepherds who want to be examples to the flock, not lords with an agenda. If the local church can establish the biblical vision hinted at here by Peter, I believe that the church can see true health, true vision, and true mission. It does no good to put water in your gas tank; you need the right formula for it to work properly. The church needs Godly shepherds to work properly.