1 Peter 5:1-5
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 6, 2013
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. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
-- 1 Peter 5:1-5, ESV
In these five verses from Simon Peter to the church, he addresses pastors in the first four, then the whole congregation in the last verse. Essentially, he is telling pastors how to win a grand prize and how the congregation can help. Please, help your pastors win this prize, for much more than the prize is at stake!
Understand The Role and Responsibility of Pastors
This passages teaches two great points about church leadership. The leaders of the church should be plural and limited. They should be plural so that no one person has too much authority or responsibility. And, the leaders should be limited to men who meet the qualifications and are willing to serve as Elders, Pastors, or Bishops.
On the first point I will not take much time, since Simon Peter, almost in passing, address “elders,” not “elder.” In the many instances in which elders are addressed in the New Testament, they are alway addressed in plurality. With the exception perhaps of very small churches, a church is too dynamic an organism to be managed by one man. Furthermore, it is more difficult for the enemies of God (inside and outside the church) to target a team than it is to pick on one man. So, one man is not enough for the job. It requires a plurality.
Even more importantly, the office of leadership in the church is identified here and in other New testament passages in three interchangeable terms: elder, pastor (shepherd), and overseer (bishop). You won’t find “deacon” here, nor in any other New Testament text about church leadership. Deacons are not leaders, and the sorry state of affairs in most Southern Baptist Churches is a direct result of a violation of this scriptural principle. Committees are not listed as leaders anywhere either, and ditto. The head of the church is Jesus Christ, and under His lordship the church is led by elders (a good term for non-vocational, lay leaders in the leadership body), pastors (a good term for vocational, staff leaders, especially those who preach and teach), and bishops (a fine term that could refer to either, or someone in a position to supervise many pastors in a group of churches, though not one generally used in Baptist or congregational churches). A church led by deacons is headed for corruption. A church led by committees is headed for chaos. But a church led by duly qualified and called elders, pastors, and/or bishops is one that at least has the potential for doing the right things the right way.
In the role of “elder,” the church leaders are responsible to bring the wisdom of the word of God to bear on the life and decisions of the church. In the role of “pastor” (literally one who shepherds sheep, and sheep is a unique and telling metaphor in itself, an animal that absolutely requires leadership), the church leaders feed the people on the word of God, lead them in the power of the Holy Spirit, and minister to their needs with love and grace. In the role of “overseer” (also bishop, one who gives oversight or supervision), the church leaders are given authority by God to lead His people and formulate plans for them to accomplish the manifold mission of the church. Believe me, this does not even sound easy, and it is far more difficult than it even sounds. The job goes from difficult to impossible when the people of the church do not understand, or refuse to comply with, these standards and offices for church leadership.
Hold Pastors Accountable for their Character and Conduct
While leadership is exclusively for pastors (or elders, or overseers) by the will of God, they serve at the will of the people, too, who are responsible for rightly calling them and holding them accountable for the way they fulfill their calling. Simon Peter does not write much about the qualifications for the job (Paul does in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). He seems more concerned with how the job gets done.
Make sure your leaders serve “not under compulsion, but willingly.” In other words, don’t force or guilt anyone into a sacred leadership office, but make sure they are glad to do it. I am not always a happy pastor, but I am always a glad pastor. I am so glad to be able to study the word of God and be able to preach and teach. I am so glad to pray for you from afar or near and to counsel with you about your problems. I am so glad to plan and lead services with you, share meals with you, be a part of weddings and funerals with you, and all that goes into being a pastor. All good pastors I know feel the same way.
Never retain a pastor who is in it for “shameful gain” and does not serve “eagerly.” Prophets for profit are everywhere, especially on television. I know a few men who seemed to get into the ministry for the money, which tells you what complete losers they are for not being able to make more money outside church vocation than inside. Most pastors I know could be making a lot more money in non-church vocations than in the church, but love and calling make them eager to serve God by serving churches.
Finally, Simon Peter points out that the leaders, vocational and non-vocational, should never be “domineering” but always be “examples (again notice the plurality) to the flock.” You do not want pastors and elders who only tell you what to do. You want them to show you, and let it show in their lives, that they are prayers, students of the word, givers, witnesses, and courageous defenders of the Christian faith.
Now if you have pastors and elders doing what pastors and elders are supposed to do, you should thank God for them, continue to pray for them and hold them accountable, and then take a look at the prize they can win.
Look At What Your Pastors Can Win
The Bible says a lot about crowns. Limiting our discussion to the New Testament, we understand our Lord Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns for us (ref. John 19:2) so that we may crown Him with many crowns (ref. Revelation 4:10). We also are told that there are crowns for true believers in Jesus Christ, including the crown of righteousness (ref. 2 Timothy 4:8) and the crown of life (ref. James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). Here in this text about pastors and elders, Simon Peter promises a “crown of glory” to be awarded by the Lord Jesus, our great and good Shepherd, to the faithful under-shepherds who have led and served His flock.
It is most probable that the talk of all of these crowns in Scripture is metaphorical for the general and great reward of Heaven for those who have trusted in Christ on earth. It is His imputed “righteousness,” acquired by faith, that gives us eternal “life” and brings us to “glory.” But what if God does grant some personal heavenly reward for meritorious or sacrificial service on earth? What if there is some audible “well done” uttered by God to those who have exercised their faith in a significant way here and now? What if pastors do get some grand prize from the Lord for the many sacrifices and sermons they have offered in this life? Will you help me gain this prize?
Help Your Pastors Win the Prize
Will you help the pastors and elders and bishops? Then submit to us and humble yourself before one another. I would never talk like this in a regular conversation, or in some other kind of address to the church. One of my all time favorite quotes is from the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of England. She said, “If you have to tell someone that you are in charge, be assured that you are not.”
I’m not telling you that I and other pastors and elders are in charge. But I am exegeting Scripture, I am explaining what this text means in its context. And in the context of pastors and people in 1 Peter 5:1-5, the members are exhorted to be submissive and humble towards the leaders of the church. This concurs with other New Testament teachings, like Hebrews 13:17, which says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Does that mean church leaders are perfect? Far from it. Does it mean they always get it exactly right? Certainly not. What it does mean, however, is that if your pastors and elders are making leadership decisions based upon a reasonable interpretation of Scripture, in order to carry out the purposes of the church, in good faith and character, then you should submit to them and support them. Otherwise, you will find yourself in opposition not to your church leaders, but to God, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Furthermore, you might cost me my prize!? But seriously, let me explain what it really at stake.
Realize What is Really at Stake
The problem in our dysfunctional world today is that dysfunctional churches are trying to reach dysfunctional people and doing a dysfunctional job of it. How can we reverse the trend? By functioning properly, according to the word of God. Not only should we say the right things (the gospel, biblical truth) with the right motives (love), but we should do it the right way (a scriptural view and practice of church leadership and membership). I fear a failure to do the latter can prevent the former from really getting off the ground.
Some prize is not what is really at stake here. All people who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are getting the prize of Heaven. What is at stake is getting the prize of Heaven into people’s hearts now, before their end arrives. Churches that waste precious time and energy in leadership struggles seldom free their membership to do what Christians are really supposed to do. A tribe with too many chiefs and not enough Indians cannot fight the good fight, let alone win the war. Simon Peter, preaching to a church in a hostile world, understood this perfectly, which is why the Holy Spirit led him to choose these words in this epistle.
So, let’s do it right. Let’s all strive for the prize. And let us so order our affairs that this prize is shared with the world around us as well. For it is not just church leadership is at stake, lost souls are at stake, too.