In the world around us, in recent years, there has been much talk and writing about the need for good ethics in the lives and practices of contemporary leaders. Whole books have been written about this topic. Having said this, we could add that, in reality, the subject is not a new one. Almost 2000 years ago!, the New Testament writers, in key discourses recorded in Acts chapter 20 and 1 Peter 5, as well as in some Pauline epistles, addressed issues relating to “ethical leadership”, issues such as servanthood, integrity, etc. One might not find these exact same terms in those biblical passages but the concepts are certainly there. One may also note that some contemporary writers, people who have also adhered to Christianity, believe we should learn from Jesus’ way of leading and follow Him as our role model for both life role leadership and for organizational leadership.

In this paper we shall begin by considering some insights and lessons relating to requirements for local church leaders as found in the writings of the apostle Peter, one of the three components of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, with a focus on the first four verses of 1 Peter chapter 5. Let us begin by considering the general context of this epistle and its intended recipients.
1 Peter was written to readers which the apostle considered to be “exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”. It seems that Peter wrote to Christians who were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, Gentile Christians, not Jewish believers. This consideration arises if one takes into consideration two verses in chapter 1, verses 14 and 18. So, what does the term “exiles” refer to? The use of the term “exiles” is probably not a reference to literal exiles but rather to readers who are (or should consider themselves to be) “spiritual exiles awaiting their heavenly inheritance.” This epistle contains much useful teaching for living as Christians in a non Christian society, it “ranges over a wide field of Christian theology and ethics.” Such a combination of theology and ethics was necessary as its original readers were living as a minority in a hostile society in which, though there might not have been officially sanctioned persecution, there were, nevertheless, “spasmodic and general outbursts against Christians”. At this point, we might ask: Is the situation of many Christians in today’s world so different from what it was in the first century, there in the Roman world? It might be significantly different in those Western nations which, historically, have been strongly influenced by the Protestant Reformation but it certainly isn’t easy in those Western nations (in Southern Europe) in which Protestants, and even more, Evangelicals, constitute a real minority and might be affected by a minority (or inferiority) complex. And if it isn’t easy in parts of Southern Europe, and if Christians in Southern Europe can identify in some way with the original readership, one might imagine that the apostolic advice found in this book is even more suitable in situations that are really difficult and challenging, situations like those found in Muslim majority nations such as Senegal!
It is noteworthy that this epistle contains many references to suffering, both to the Christians’ own suffering and to Christ’s suffering. This epistle teaches that “Christians are to endure suffering for the sake of Christ, looking back on Christ’s sufferings and forward to the consummation of salvation in his second coming.” I mention this emphasis on suffering as we shall see that it is some way relevant to the 4 verses we shall consider. Wayne Grudem writes that the use of the word so or ‘therefore’ (oun) found in verse 1 of chapter 5 “suggests that this section follows on logically from the previous one.” Further, “it is likely that the thought of judgment beginning from the house of God (4:17) prompted Peter to focus on the need for purity of heart before God in relationships among those in the church, beginning with the leaders of the church.” We can agree partially with Grudem as it is indeed true that the preceding and following sections must be taken into account in order to understand the context of these four verses relating to exercising local church leadership in a way which is is consistent with the Chief Shepherd’s example and desires. However, though the certainty of future “judgment” is something important for all of us to remember, it is preferable to consider the theme of the reality of “suffering” as providing the immediate context for this teaching relating to leadership. Roger Hahn writes “First Peter 5:1-5 turns from general instructions to all Peter’s readers in Asia Minor to specific words to the church leadership… As Davids (p. 174) notes the paragraph before and the paragraph after deal with suffering. The most logical conclusion is that these instructions to the elders should be understood as instructions about how to help a church that is under persecution.” Again, we seem to be in the presence of a statement which is (only) partially true. We have already said that it is possible that the original readers’ situation might not have been a situation of generalized, officially sanctioned, persecution, but, as the contents of this epistle show us, though there might not have been officially sanctioned persecution, the original readers’ situation seems to have been one which, in many cases, included being marginalized, maligned and caused to suffer. This reality of suffering and discrimination against Christ’s followers should be taken into account as one reads all of 1 Peter, including chapter five.
Now, after this brief introduction to the context(s) of our passage, let us consider the first four verses of 1 Peter chapter five. In our reflections we shall make use of some insights taken from Alexander Strauch’s useful analysis of this passage in relation to eldership. The first four verses of 1 Peter chapter five present eldership as something strongly related to “shepherding”. In these verses, “Peter uses the language of shepherding to describe the responsibility of the elders to whom he wrote.” Alexander Strauch reminds us that this is the only New Testament “passage that singles out elders for direct exhortation. The only other example of direct exhortation to elders is found in Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17 ff.).” Though pronounced by two different apostles, the language used in these two passages in Acts and in 1 Peter is very similar though one notes that Peter’s language and discourse has some elements which we do not find elsewhere: The differences between these two “shepherding” passages could be linked to the fact that Peter’s discourse contains some implicit references to His Master’s teaching in Mark 10 and John 10 (Peter heard Jesus directly and was there when Jesus said the strong words we find in Mark 10:42-45, whilst the apostle Paul wasn’t present); Further, some of the language here might contain an implicit reference to a significant episode in Peter’s own life, a special encounter with the Risen Lord, which we find at the end of John chapter 21.
Our passage begins in verse 1 with Peter addressing “the elders”, not “the pastor” or “the bishop”, but a plurality of people. The existence of recognized collegial leadership in the early church seems evident from this verse and from other passages in the New Testament which talk about “the elders” in the plural (e.g. James 5:14).
Peter doesn’t address the elders as a totally separate category from the rest of the flock, in fact he writes in verse 1, to “the elders among you”. Further, he writes not as an apostle but as a “fellow elder”. By writing as a “fellow elder” he can make “his appeal from a wealth of related experiences.” He too, after an initial escape from suffering during Christ’s trial, learned, after Pentecost, through the Holy’s Spirit’s transforming work in his life, to not escape from suffering but to endure trials and accept them as part of the price that a follower of Christ, and even more a leader in the church, is called to pay for his identification with Christ and his sufferings (see Peter’s teaching in 1 Peter 1:6-7, 2:21, 3:14-16 and personal experience in Acts 5:17). Various possible interpretations of the phrase “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” have been proposed. Wayne Grudem sees this phrase and the related “one who shares in the glory to be revealed” as referring to Peter’s negative behavior during Christ’s trial and sufferings on the cross and to his subsequent restoration, restoration to the point of being able to one day share in the glory of Christ himself. He writes “the fact that Peter is also a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed shows that full restoration from sin is certainly available through Christ.” He also writes that, “on another level, the reference to Christ’s sufferings may also function as a reminder to the elders that just as Christ was willing to suffer for them, so they should be willing to endure hardship and suffering for the sake of those in their churches.” What is indeed clear at this point is that suffering (in the elders’ lives) will precede glory.
What was Peter’s charge to these elders? His charge was to “shepherd the flock of God among you.” As Strauch reminds us, here, at the beginning of verse 2, we are in the presence of an aorist imperative verb. He commands them to “shepherd the flock”. Literally he commands “to shepherd the sheep of God”. What does this “shepherding” imply? Well, it certainly will include feeding, that is giving good food to the flock. One is reminded here of the imagery of the “good shepherd” we find in Psalm 23 verse 2 in which the sheep is led to good pastures; we are also reminded of Jesus’ charge to Peter himself, found in John 21, “to feed my lambs” . However, though good food is indeed very important, the “shepherding role” cannot be limited to providing good food (i.e. to valid Bible Teaching). When one considers Jesus’ teaching about the nature of the “Good Shepherd” in John chapter 10 one finds other aspects which show us what being “a good shepherd” implies. The “good shepherd” leads the sheep out into good pastures, calling them to follow him (verse 4). The “good shepherd” shows sacrificial care for the sheep, even getting to the point, in Jesus’ case, of laying down his life for them (verse 11). The “hired hand”, in contrast, escapes when things get difficult (verse 12) and doesn’t really care for the sheep. In the parable of Luke chapter 15 composed of three stories we find what is commonly known as “the parable of the lost sheep”. This story talks about the owner of the sheep leaving the majority of the flock in a safe place in order to go out and search for one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-5). Now, whilst it is true that this is a story Jesus told to make a point with his Hebrew audience and whilst it is true that the flock the elders are called to “shepherd” is a group that does not belong them, it seems important to consider that the owner of the flock (the Lord himself) cares for all the sheep and would desire that the under-shepherds also show no discrimination whatsoever and that they, figuratively speaking, “go out” in order to recuperate the one sheep who for some reason has strayed. James chapter five (verses 19 and 20) seems to imply such a thing when James writes about fellow believers bringing back people who wander from the truth. If such an exhortation applies to all believers (who should care for one another in a practical way), surely it applies even more to those called to a shepherding responsibility of one kind or another (the elders and others with pastoral responsibilities within a local church).
The elders, as a group of men, are called to pastor the local church. The sheep need to “be fed God’s Word, protected from false teachers, and protected from internal clashes.” Protection and guidance of the flock in times of trouble and difficulty (difficulties such as those experienced by the first readers of this epistle) are more than necessary. Taking care of the flock is a major responsibility which, unless the local church is really tiny, can’t be handled by one person alone. It is always good to share the load, and for elders to be able to consult one another on difficult issues, especially considering the fact that the flock does not belong to them but to God himself. Elders are called to shepherd “the flock of God among you”. The flock belongs to God and the shepherds are also in the middle of the flock, they are part of the flock itself, accountable to the Great Shepherd. The flock depends on the shepherds’ care and, getting back to the imagery of sheep which we find in both the Old and New Testaments, is potentially vulnerable to all kinds of attacks from outside (attacks of “wolves”, that is evil people who attack the flock). Since the shepherds are both above the flock but also a part of it (among it), there is no space for a shepherd despot, especially considering the fact that the flock doesn’t belong to him but to His Lord and Master.
Considering what follows in the Biblical passage we are considering in this paper, we deduce that elders have no right to follow leadership models which are strictly derived from secular management models as church elders should be shepherds, called to exercise oversight in a voluntary way, in accordance with God’s will (verse 2).
Now, what do the words “ watching over them” (NIV) or “exercising oversight” (ESV), found at the end of verse 2, refer to? These words relate to the manner in which shepherding should be conducted; the apostle uses a participle episkopeō which relates to being an “overseer” (episkopos). In this passage, “the terms shepherding and overseeing are so closely associated that Peter can use one or the other without confusion” because they relate to governing the local church in a way that is suitable to the calling of a shepherd. Elders are called to oversee a local church, to supervise and guide a local body of believers. These concepts, and use of terminology, are consistent with the rest of the New Testament, see for example Paul’s teaching in Acts 20 where one finds that “all three terms – elder, shepherd and overseer- are used in the same context with respect to the same body of church leaders.”
We now go on to consider the heart of the discourse, found in verses 2 and 3 of our passage; these verses tell us three ways in which pastoral oversight should be exercised and three ways in which it shouldn’t be exercised. As we shall see, motivations and underlying heart attitudes are important and can determine the way such tasks are carried out and impact the effectiveness of the local eldership.
Pastoral oversight must be exercised not because the shepherds are forced to do it but because they are willing to do it. Pastoral oversight should be “not by compulsion/not because you must.” If the oversight is done grudgingly, the results will not be positive. “Elders who minister begrudgingly, under constraint, are incapable of genuine care for people.” A real willingness to serve is important as a heartfelt burden for the Lord’s people and a willingness to lay down one’s life sacrificially for them are important. Things must be done according to God’s will, according to God’s way, being willingly set apart for his service.
An elder should serve “not for shameful gain but eagerly.” Eagerness here is more than just being “willing” as in the previous phrase. Here the focus is on a positive desire to serve and to do things with the strength God provides. Now what does “shameful gain” or “sordid gain” refer to? And what about full time elders, should they “gain” something from their work? If an elder dedicates all his time to the church, should he not be adequately paid for his work? Let’s notice the fact that the word “shameful” is an adjective which qualifies the word “gain”. The presence of this adjective coupled with the concept of “serving eagerly” is significant. The focus here seems to be on having the right motives in one’s service. The elder should not exercise his oversight in order to earn money “shamefully”, that is he should not work for “greedy or selfish motives”, or earn his money “by dishonest or unfair practices”. Considering the fact that in other parts of the New Testament there is a reference to some elders having a right to earn money from this type of ministry (see 1 Timothy 5:17-18) we conclude that the heart of the matter here must be having the right motivations for one’s ministry and not being side-tracked by a love of money.
Verse 3 continues the discourse. The elders are told to do these things not yet “as lording it over…. but proving to be examples”. These words shift our “attention from inward motivation to outward behaviour.” Dr. Richard J. Krejcir writes “Lording over means haughtiness, arrogance (which is to abuse one’s power), to be controlling, not leading by example, to ‘lord over’ and not encourage, to micro-manage, to not serve. Humbleness is essential in leadership (Job 41:34; Psalm 10:5; 18:27; 101:5; 131:1; 6:17; Prov. 16:18; 21:4; 30:13)“ The term katakyrieuō which is variously translated domineering” or “lording over” can “carry the nuance of a harsh or excessive use of authority (note is use in Mt. 20:25; Mk. 10:42).” Jesus had already taught about such behavior in the presence of the disciples reminding them that they were not to lord it over others as the Gentiles do but rather to serve, following Jesus’ example (Mark 10:42-45). Peter probably has these words of Jesus in mind when he charges the elders not to lord it over others. We might say that the call in verse three is not to seek status but to seek “the edification of others”. And how can one edify others? By being an example for them, by living in a way that they can imitate. Whilst it is true that only God is perfect and no human beings are, it is noteworthy that “the early Christians expected all their leaders to live in a way which others could imitate as well: they did not have to be perfect in order to be examples to the flock.” Living a life worthy to be imitated is an integral part of the role of an elder, a major part of it, even more important than having certain academic qualifications. The elder is not a manager, he is not just one of the components of a committee or a board, he is to be a living example to those around him.
Now to verse 4 which refers to a future reward for elders who carry out their role with integrity, according to the directives found in verses 2 and 3. The verse begins with a reference to the “the Chief Shepherd” who will return. This Chief Shepherd is none other than the one who called himself the “Good Shepherd” in John 10:11-16, the disciples’ Master and Lord, who taught them by example and told them do to likewise (John 13:13-15). He is the “Chief Shepherd.” The adjective “Chief” is important in this context, it may be seen as referring to the fact that “the elders are men under authority- the authority and rule of Jesus Christ.” Thus, these elders aren’t really free to do as they wish, they will one day account for their actions to this Chief Shepherd. He will (one day) be manifested, that is he will be “made visible”, this is a clear reference to Christ’s visible return to earth. When the Great Shepherd is manifested, those elders who have shown faithfulness in conduct “in the exercise of the office of elder during this life” will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. What is this “crown”? The Greek term translating “crown” is stephanos, a word often used to refer to a “victor’s crown or ‘wreath’ in athletic contests (1 Cor. 9:25)”. This crown is a sign of special honour, “given not to all but only to those worthy of a particular public recognition, commonly as a reward for some kind of unusually meritorious activity.” . (Some consider the glory itself to be the crown) . In any case, though we might know the exact nature of the crown, we can concur wih the gist of what Wiersbe writes when he states that the faithful shepherd’s crown is “a crown of glory, a perfect reward for an inheritance that will never fade away (1 Peter 1:4).” Verse four gives us an eternal perspective, a perspective which assures us that human leaders are accountable to God and that those who live with integrity will be rewarded when Christ returns, those who are faithful will in some way share in Christ’s glory.
Summing up, what do we learn about leadership and particularly about church leadership from New Testament passages such as Mark 10:42-45, Acts 20:28-35 and the passage we have examined here in more detail, that is 1 Peter 5:1-4? We learn that Christian leaders, particularly in a local church setting, but I would also include those Christians who lead their own families , are called to “servant leadership” This sometimes contrasts strongly with contemporary managerial models as it did with the leadership models which were current back in the first century. Leading like Jesus and leading like the apostle Peter who learned from him will include not only oversight but also humbly and sacrificially taking care of people as a good shepherd takes care of his flock, remembering that the flock, in this case, belongs to God and there is accountability to the Chief Shepherd who will (one day) Return. As passages such as Acts 20 evidence, there is always the risk of wolves coming into the flock to damage it and elders need to be vigilant and aware of such potential risks. Therefore, for this and for other reasons, faithful shepherding will, as Peter teaches us in the rest of his epistle, include a certain amount of necessary suffering: If shepherd overseers are called to be practical examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3) and if, as we have seen, the rest of the epistle envisages suffering for faithful believers, one can hardly suppose that a shepherd who leads by example will be able to avoid a certain degree of suffering!


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