This past Sunday we concluded our short series on church polity or governance by considering the role of elders. The Bible calls elders “shepherds,” giving us a wonderful image of their role towards their congregation: to guide, feed, protect, tend to, care for, and teach. To be personally invested in the health of the “sheep.”
1 Peter 5 contributes to this image, calling elders to “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.”
The role of pastor/elders is not merely to make decisions, or lead services, or be that person up front. The role will require some of that, but more important is that they are personally engaged in shepherding the church, willing to give of themselves to care for those in the church.
Jonathan Leeman has a wonderful quote describing the kind of authority that elders have (especially in a church like ours, where the congregation also possesses some authority):
“Elders are more like husbands than parents. Theirs is an authority of counsel, not an authority of command. And those who possess an authority of counsel . . . must continually work to teach and to woo. A godly wife and church member, of course, will require little wooing because each recognizes God’s call to submit to her husband or pastor. But when points of disagreement arise between wife and husband, or between elder and church member, the husband’s or elder’s only recourse is to woo and to persuade….. he must explain himself and seek to instruct. He should not ‘lord it over’ a wife or member (Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 5:3). It may be that the husband or pastor is in error. If he is godly he will be able to hear contrary counsel from wife or member.
Yet the fact that God has made the husband or the elder an authority means that he must take the initiative to win and to woo. He cannot force, but nor can he abdicate or give up. Passivity is not an option for him, lest he face Jesus’ displeasure on the last day. Rather, the husband and pastor must work hard at loving and persuading, equipping and empowering, so that the wife or member will choose to follow him in the way of godliness. The authority of counsel, for husband and pastor, must be persistent, patient, long-suffering, tender, affable, and consistent, not hypocritical. It plays for growth over the long run, not forced outcomes in the short run.”
If even Jesus, “the chief Shepherd,” who DOES possess an authority of command, is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt. 11:29) towards his people, laying “down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11), then surely those called as human shepherds of God’s flock must likewise demonstrate such selfless and compassionate and gentle qualities in their leadership.
For those of you a part of Roots Church, know that this is the desire of your elders as we “shepherd the flock of God that is among (us).”