Church Elders

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Church Elders

1 Peter 5 vv 1-4

"In 1972 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the…" - A-Team 

"If there's something strange, in your neighbourhood…who you gonna call?"- Ghostbusters

"If there's something weird, and it don't look good…who you gonna call?" - Ghostbusters

But what if you're a Christian,
…and your marriage is breaking down?

What if you're a Christian,
…and your faith is on the rocks?

What if you're a Christian,
…and you've just received a phone call from the doctor, and it don't look good…
Who are you gonna call?

The answer is…your elders.

Do you remember Peter's letter? It was written to believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (northern Turkey to you and me). Christians who were suffering and being persecuted for following Christ. And Peter wrote to them to comfort them, teach them how to live, and to give them the right perspective on their lives and their struggles.

Now, in chapter 5 he says,

"To the elders among you"

Now, why does he do that? Why does he suddenly start talking to elders? Well, I think it's because, when you're a Christian and your marriage is breaking down, or your faith is on the rocks, or the doctor has just called with bad news, or you're being persecuted for following Christ, you're supposed to be able to turn to your church elders.

That is the role of an elder.

And that's the first thing we see in this passage…

1) The role of an elder - v1-2

Do you remember, the apostle Peter wasn't like the apostle Paul. He wasn't a missionary going from place to place, planting churches. His primary calling was to lead the church in Jerusalem. The Apostles were unique in some ways,but in other ways Peter was like some of them.

"To the elders among you I appeal as a fellow-elder, a witness [that is a messenger] of Christ's sufferings and one who will share in the glory to be revealed."

Peter was an elder, like any other church elder. And like any other church elder, his role and theirs was, v2, to

"Be shepherds of God's flock"

The model we find in the Bible is that wherever there are Christians, there is a church, and wherever there is a church, there are church elders. And elders are called to be shepherd of God's flock.

So what does that mean?

Well I think elders are referred to as shepherds, because shepherds do three things. They lead the sheep, they feed the sheep and they protect the sheep.

They lead the sheep by guiding them in the way they should go. The sheep follow them, and trust the shepherd to take them in the right direction. And so it is with elders. Church elders are appointed to lead the church. They are, as it says in v2, "overseers", seeing what the church needs and where it needs to go.

Shepherds also feed the sheep. They take them to the best pastures, they make sure that they're well fed and watered, to be healthy and grow. And so it is with elders.

Church elders are appointed to feed the members of the church spiritually. To bring the church back, again and again, to the nourishing Word of God. To preach the truth, and to make sure that each member of the church is being well fed from the Bible, so that their spiritual lives are healthy and grow.

And finally shepherds protect the sheep. When the sheep wander off in the wrong direction, or go down dangerous paths, it's the shepherd's job to bring them back. Or when the sheep are attacked from predators, it's the shepherd's job to fight them off. And so it is with elders. Church elders are appointed to protect the church. To watch over the flock, and to see if any of them stray from the path of truth. And they are to protect the flock from attack, either from false teaching, or from subtle influences of the world.

The role of the church elder is to be a shepherd. The word 'pastor' comes from the Latin for 'shepherd'.

But notice in v2 that church elders are to be shepherds, not of their own flock, but of God's flock. Or look down at v4 there Peter reminds us that God is the chief shepherd.

Church elders then are really under-shepherds. Shepherds over God's flock, who serve under the Chief Shepherd.

That's the role of an elder.

Secondly he shows us...

2) The heart of an elder - verse 2-3

Peter describes the heart of an elder by using 3 contrasts. Look at verse 2

Now that might seem like a strange thing for Peter to say. After all, who would ever serve as an elder because they must? Who would choose to do it, unless they were willing? What is Peter saying?

12 years ago I was doing the same job as Tom does now, working for a church and studying at Bible school part-time.
I was exploring whether or not to pursue being a pastor. And I used to meet with an older Christian leader from time to time called David, And I remember asking David once how I would know if I was really called to the ministry or not.
He said this to me, 'Dim, if you can do any other job, then go and do that instead.'

Being a church elder, being a shepherd of God's flock that he has put under your care, isn't easy. It's so hard, in fact, that unless it's all you want to do with your life, unless it's the only thing that you can ever imagine doing with your life,you shouldn't do it. That's what David meant.

And I think that's what Peter is saying here. Church elders should be shepherds of God's flock, not because they must, but because they are willing. Secondly he says, at the end of v2, elders should be

"not greedy for money, but eager to serve."

Now again, at first that seems like a strange thing to say doesn't it? Let me say, because I don't get to often, thank you for your support. I am very generously paid, and have plenty for myself and my family to live on. But I think it's fair to say that if I want to get rich, then I've chosen the wrong job(!)

Becoming a church elder would seem like a strange career choice for someone who is greedy for money, wouldn't it?
So what does Peter mean? Well, I think the contrast helps. v2 says that a church elder should be

"not greedy for money, but eager to serve."

In other words a man shouldn't train to be a pastor, or seek to be an elder, for what he can get, but because he wants to give. Being a church elder isn't about what you can get for yourself, but should be fuelled by a desire to help others,
to serve others. An elder is to be servant-hearted.

And finally, in v3..

A little bit of power, or position, or authority, can be a dangerous thing, can't it? It's easy to enjoy the feeling of being able to tell a someone to do something and they do it. But that's not to be the heart of an elder. That's not how they should lead.

These days if you see a shepherd out in a field, they're likely to be on a quad bike, with dogs to help them round up the sheep from behind. But that's not how shepherding worked in Peter's day. Shepherds in the ancient world would lead their sheep from the front. Showing them the way to go, by going their first themselves. And that's the picture that Peter paints here. Elders who don't give out orders to be obeyed, but who teach faithfully and set an example to be followed.

The heart of an elder is passionate about the privilege to serve others and to lead by example.

And finally Peter reminds them of the reward of an elder…

3) The reward of an elder - v4

Look at v4

Now in a sense Peter isn't saying anything new here. Back in 1v4 he reminded us that all Christians have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us. But here he reminds us that, to some degree at least, our inheritance in eternity will reflect the way we have chosen to live our lives on earth.

And for elders, it seems, there will be a special recognition of the role they have played and the work they have done,
serving as shepherds, under the Chief Shepherd, and looking after His flock.

Three things Peter reminds them of -
The role of elders.
The heart of elders.
And the reward of elders.

So what should we take away from this passage tonight?
Well, I want to suggest three things.

First of all, if you are the elder of a church here tonight, then you and I need to come humbly to 1 Peter 5 vv 1-4.
We need to remember again what we have been called to.  The task we have been given, is to shepherd God's flock who are under our care.

We need to lead them. So do we know where the church is, where is come from, and where it's going? And do we know how to get there? We need to feed them. Do we know what does the flock needs? Are we giving them the best spiritual food? Are their spiritual lives healthy and growing? We need to protect them. We need to help people to see the danger all around them, and we need to be fighting off false teaching.

If you are the elder of a church here tonight, then you and I need to examine our hearts. Are we still serving God and his church because we long to and because we love to, or have we lost that love? Has ministry become more of a duty than a joy? Are we still putting other people first?

Is our best effort and energy going into serving them and not ourselves? And are we living lives that are an example to be followed? Putting into practise what we believe, before we preach?

Finally, if you are an elder here tonight, do you remember what your reward will be for faithful ministry? do you remember what you're waiting for? Not riches on earth, but riches in heaven?

Now, why am I saying this to all of you, when the only people who are elders in this room are Rod, Chris and myself?
Shouldn't this be a private conversation that he and I have in his office sometime?

No, I don't think so. Peter wrote this letter to be read out to the whole church, including chapter 5:1-4.

All of us need to know, that this is what your church elder should look like. That this is what their role is, and that this is what their lives should look like. You need to know that, so that you can be praying for us.

More of that in just a moment.

Secondly I think this passage applies to those of you who want to be elders. If you want to be a church elder, or are thinking about being a church elder, then 1 Peter 5:1-4 should give you plenty to think and pray about. You need to be clear about the role you are considering. Elders don't get to choose what they do or create their own job descriptions,
we are called to lead and feed and protect. Are you prepared and willing to do that?

And is your heart ready to do that? Do you long to do that, so much so, that there's nothing else you can imagine doing with your life? Are you eager to serve, and to put others first? And are you a living example of the truth and life you profess?

Now again, why am I saying this to all of you. After all I guess not many of you are thinking about becoming elders (apart from Tom).

But again, all of us need to know this, because all need to be praying for those men who are thinking about becoming elders And all of us need to be praying that God would raise up godly men, to lead churches. Men who are willing to give up their lives to be elders. Because our country and our world needs more churches, and our churches need more leaders.

So would you pray for those, like Tom, who are considering it? That if they are the right people, and now if the right time, they would see that clearly. And if they are the wrong people, or now is the wrong time, they would see that clearly too. And would you pray that God would raise up more church elders from among us?

Finally, this passage applies to those of us who have church elders, which is all of you.

The role of an elder is an enormous privilege, but it is not easy. The statistics are terrifying. 90% of elders in a recent survey said that ministry was completely different to what they thought it was going to be like. 50% of elders quit within 5 years of starting. And only 1 in 10 people who become elders, retire as elders.

Peter wrote these words to remind elders in the church of what their role is, of where their hearts should be, and of what their rewards will be. Because the Christians in their churches were struggling, and they needed to be able to turn to good, godly elders.

And today, every bit as much as then, our churches need good, godly elders.

You need good, godly elders. But your elders also need you if they are going to be good and godly, and if they're going to last.

Do you pray, regularly for Rod, Chris and I? Please do.

Use 1 Peter 5:1-4 and pray that God would help us to serve as shepherds, over you, and under Him. Pray that we would love being elders, that we'd love to serve, and that we'd live exemplary lives.

Pray for trainee elders, like Tom, and pray for many more.

And finally just take a quick look at v5. I know I'm stealing from next week, but I think it's significant that after speaking to the elders in vv1-4, Peter goes on to tell young men, by which I take it he means anyone, male or female, who is not an elder, to be humble.

Not just to pray for our elders, but to accept the authority that they have over us.
As Hebrews 13:17 says

"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Let's pray.

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