The Office of the Ruling Elder

“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;” ~ 1 Peter 5:1-3

As Christ has instituted government in His church, He calls and equips men to labor alongside the minister in governing and overseeing the flock as His under shepherds. Both the Apostle Peter here and the Apostle Paul elsewhere (i.e. Titus 1:5-16) call these men elders. Further, Paul commanded Titus to appoint elders in every city so that things could be put in order. Local congregations of Christ’s flock are to be governed by a plurality of elders, serving together.

In 1 Peter 5:1, we find the Apostle Peter exhorting elders in their duties, of whom Peter identifies himself as a fellow presbyter, a fellow elder. It’s true that the apostles were fellow elders, but not all elders were apostles. The same can be said of ministers. All ministers are fellow elders, but not all elders are ministers. Ministers hold a distinct third office, which we will consider more of next time, Lord willing. Importantly here, Peter wasn’t going to tell the elders to doing anything that he wasn’t ready to do himself. They were to serve Christ and His people together in an all too important duty- shepherding the flock of God among them.

What does Peter mean by “shepherding”? Elders in Christ’s church must be good shepherds. They must feed and tend the flock. They are called to care for, nurture, govern, guide and protect Jesus’ precious lambs in service to Him. Notice the pastoral care emphasized in the work of shepherds. This must be the focus of all elders who serve Christ’s sheep. Thus, Peter goes on to give three contrasts in laying out what elders’ motives shouldn’t be and should be as they serve: 1) The duties of oversight must not be done from a heart that does their duty because they have to, but rather one that takes pleasure in doing the work God has called them to. 2) Elders must not serve having covetous motives for dishonest gain, but eagerly and cheerfully serving the church. 3) Elders must not be tyrants or dictators over the flock, but rather must be examples of Christ to the flock.

The OPC Book of Church Order, Form of Government, Chapter X.3 summarizes the duties and service of ruling elders well when it says, “Ruling elders, individually and jointly with the pastor in the session, are to lead the church in the service of Christ. They are to watch diligently over the people committed to their charge to prevent corruption of doctrine or morals. Evils which they cannot correct by private admonition they should bring to the notice of the session. They should visit the people, especially the sick, instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourning, and nourish and guard the children of the covenant. They should pray with and for the people. They should have particular concern for the doctrine and conduct of the minister of the Word and help him in his labors.” This is quite a list of wonderful duties, isn’t it? Praise God for the men in our church who have been called and seek to faithfully labor in these ways! Take note of the last sentence. Ruling elders are to have concern for the minister, for his doctrine and conduct, and help him in his labors. This is an important and distinct part of the elder’s duty.

Fellow Elders, may we all hear Peter’s words and examine our hearts and service to Christ and His flock today. Be encouraged by the Lord’s blessings. Also be mindful of any conviction He brings you in ways that you can be a better shepherd, seeking His grace and work to change and improve in carrying out your duties.

Beloved, pray for your elders. Pray that the Lord would bless them and their families, strengthen them, give them great wisdom, correct them when needed, grow them, and protect them as they lead. Elders need Christ’s nurture and care. They need encouragement from the flock. Take time to get to know and build relationship with your elders. Listen to them and prayerfully consider and follow their biblical counsel and guidance. Remember that your elders watch out for your souls as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief. (Hebrews 13:17) Also, take time to think of ways that you can encourage your elders in their service to you, your family, and the church. Maybe an encouraging or comforting word, a note of thanks, love, etc. Then go do those things. May Jesus Christ be praised as He calls and works through godly men to govern and shepherd His flock!