Elders – be shepherds of God’s flock 1 Peter 5:1-8

Do churches in the 21st century really need ministers any more? You may have read about a recent Church of England report called Myriad which proposes planting ten thousand new churches led not by clergy but by ordinary Christians. You may also have read that the Chelmsford Diocese is cutting 61 posts of vicar this year with another 49 under threat by 2026. Do we really need ministers any more?
At the same time, the Coronavirus lockdown of the last year and a half has led to many Christians and not-yet Christians worshipping with churches which are not local to them, maybe not even in the same country. In North Springfield Baptist Church have continued to gather together live using Zoom over the internet, so everybody can join in from their own homes. But many other Christians have been content to watch pre-recorded videos on Facebook or YouTube, not live or even together with others but at times to suit themselves. I saw a cartoon the other day of some worshippers back in their church building at last yawning through a sermon and asking, “where is the fast-forward button?” People can watch videos of the greatest preachers in the world, and sing along to the very best worship bands, all delivered in Netflix quality video to their own sofas whenever they want. Many people have become dissatisfied with the humble ramblings of the local minister. Do churches really need ministers any more?
We have seen in 1 Peter 2:5 that every Christian is called to be a priest.
5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The church is the spiritual house where God lives by his Holy Spirit, made up of the living stones of believers who form a holy priesthood. We are all priests in God’s new spiritual temple.
And in verse 9. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
A royal priesthood – a priesthood of kings – Christians share in the priesthood of all believers. We are all priests. Then last week we also thought about every Christian using the spiritual gifts God has given each one of us to serve God in the church and in the world. And for many people, their gift is speaking for God.
1 Peter 4 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.
Every Christian has received the same Holy Spirit who inspired the great prophets in the Old Testament and in the Early Church, and in the church down the ages. God can speak to any of us in prophecies and dreams and visions, in words of knowledge and words of wisdom. God can use any of us to pass on his messages to others. I have called this “the prophet-hood of all believers.” But if every Christian is a priest, if every Christian can be a prophet, some people may be asking, do we really need ministers at all?
I ask that question as we reach 1 Peter chapter 5 where the apostle writes this.
1 Peter 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;
Does the church need ministers any more? This morning I want to say that every church needs leaders, and that for most churches it is very good if those leaders are people who are actually called and trained as ministers. And the first reason I believe this is that the whole of the New Testament shows us that the pattern everywhere in the early church was that each church had their local leaders, their elders. And those elders were seen as shepherds of God’s flock, the church.
Peter was writing to Christian congregations spread across the Roman Empire and beyond. Each of those congregations was led by one or more wise and mature Christians called Elders. The New Testament never gives the leaders of a local church the title priest, but it does use two other titles for those leaders. The Greek word Presbyteros is translated elder and another word Episcopes is usually translated overseer but some translations say bishop. It seems that those two titles were used interchangeably in the New Testament. In Acts 20 the narrator Luke refers to the leaders of the church as elders but then Paul calls them overseers. Every church we read about in the New Testament was led by elders / overseers and they give us the pattern for leaders and ministers in churches today.
In Acts 14 we read that as they went around preaching the gospel and establishing Christian communities,
23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
Paul instructed Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
Peter, the leader of the Early Church, and an eyewitness of the life of Christ, describes himself just as an elder. And he has instructions for the elders who are reading his letter.
1 Peter 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care,
The duty of elders and overseers is to be shepherds of God’s flock, the believers God has entrusted them to look after. The root of the word for overseer is to keep an eye on. To watch over. This is the duty of all church leaders, all ministers and all clergypersons. To take care of the flock of God as a shepherd takes care of his sheep.
Even though he had been a fisherman, quite possibly the reason that Peter saw his ministry as that of a shepherd came from the conversation he had with Jesus after the resurrection. Jesus appeared to the apostles on the shores of Galilee. He cooked them breakfast. And then asked Peter a question.
John 21 15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
16 Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
17 The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.

Jesus commissioned Peter with three simple instructions. “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.” And this will be the pattern for all elders and overseers as they watch over the flock of God.
2 be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;
“Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.” The other obvious example for elders and overseers is of course God Himself who is the Good Shepherd of the flock, as Psalm 23 says.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
Like the Good Shepherd, it is the task of elders to lead the flock to good pastures and provide them with still waters, refreshing their souls. And more than that. The shepherd will be there to help and take care of the flock through times of difficulty and danger.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
“Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.” And here feeding the sheep surely means teaching them the truth of God from the Bible.
In Ephesians 4:11 Paul describes some of the people who God has given to lead and build up the the church as pastors and teachers. If you look closely at the Greek, the phrase “pastors and teachers” refer to just one kind of person – the pastor-teacher, the one who pastors by teaching. It is the task of pastor-teachers to equip the whole church so that every Christian can play their part.
Feeding the sheep by teaching them is the essential task of elders and overseers. When Paul lists the qualifications for being an overseer he says in 1 Timothy 3:2 that the person must be an apt teacher, skilled at teaching. 1 Timothy 5 17 says The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
It is the responsibility of the elders to make sure that nobody is led astray by false teaching.
Titus 1 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
So Peter exhorts the elders of all the churches he is writing to.
1 Peter 5 2 be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them;
Paul said something very similar when he was talking to the elders of the church in Ephesus,
Acts 20 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
Just like Peter, Paul sees the role of the elders to be shepherds over the church. They are to watch over all the believers and take care of them.
29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard.
The greatest threat to the early church in Paul and Peter’s time is the same today. It is the danger of false teaching, distorting the truth and leading Christians astray. And I am talking about this today because it seems to me that this threat has got much worse over the last year. The great spread of online church has produced at least two problems. On the one hand, the whole world has seen a great increase in
Distrust of experts
I read an article a while ago which listed “50 things which are being killed by the Internet”. At number 28 was “Respect for doctors and other professionals”. The proliferation of health websites has undermined the status of GPs, whose diagnoses are now routinely challenged by patients armed with printouts. We have seen that in the rise of misinformation and conspiracy theories over Coronavirus. Many people don’t trust the experts – they prefer to trust some guy on Facebook who comes up with a clever-sounding slogan.
The same thing has happened to many Christians in connection to their faith. They think that they don’t need the church any more. They don’t think they need a minister to teach them what they Bible says – because they have the internet. More Christian content than anybody could watch or read in hundreds of lifetimes. So some people rely on their own ideas, reinforced by popular web sites and their networks of like-minded friends in the echo chamber of Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and all the latest flavours of social media.
That’s where the second danger lies in the growth of internet religion. How do you know who to trust? When we live in a world which is being led astray by
The triumph of form over substance
In other words, for many people the quality of the content doesn’t matter. All people care about is how slickly it is presented. This problem often overlaps with post-truth, where emotional appeals carry the day and everybody ignores the facts. It doesn’t matter whether something is true or not, as long as it makes you feel good. There is teaching on the internet which claims to be Christian. But how do you know who you can trust? We should not judge a YouTube channel or a website by how impressive the presentation appears. Instead ask – is this telling the truth? Is it faithful to what the Bible teaches? It this what the church over the centuries has preached and believed?
Time was when the minister was the local church’s “parish theologian”. Nowadays many Christians are more likely to put their trust in things they heard from big-name speakers on Christian radio or God TV or at Spring Harvest than they are to trust the considered beliefs of their own minister. Some Christians will put more trust in the latest internet site or blog of some American or Australian or African preacher nobody in England has ever heard of than they do in the all study and experience of their own minister. “It must be true – I read it on the internet. And that site gets lots more hits than our minister’s own website does – so it must be true!”
The danger with having so much online religion available is that there are so many wrong ideas out there. All the false teachings of the cults, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who don’t tell you that proper churches will all agree that they are not actually Christian. Then there are all the peddlers of false teaching about health, wealth and prosperity. The lies that God will heal you, and bless you financially and in your business, just as long as you give generously to support their ministries. Never forget. Not everything you read or hear on the internet is true. So much can lead us astray.
Peter gives us very wise advice on how to spot the false teachers and the fraudsters.
2 be shepherds … not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Watch out for celebrity preachers and authors and worship leaders who are actually savage wolves, pursuing dishonest gain. Watch out for those who lord it over their congregations and exploit their followers.
The Message tells us how all elders and overseers and ministers and preachers should behave. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.
That is the pattern for elders, overseers and ministers which we find in the Bible. That is how I have always understood my calling to be a Baptist Minister. So, do churches need ministers any more? I absolutely believe that we do. Ministers who will teach the feed the flock and take care of the flock. Ministers who will defend the truths of the Bible encouraging others by sound doctrine and refuting those who oppose it. Ministers who are faithful to the calling laid out in 1 Peter.
2 be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;

This entry was posted in 1 Peter.

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