I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over to those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders (1 Peter 5:1-5).
Shepherds care for “the flock of God.” It’s God’s flock, yet God entrusts them with stewardship of the whole, and of the individuals.
When God searched the world of human relationships for an eldership model, he settled on the shepherd. He did not compare them to businessmen, governors, or directors. He didn’t compare them to veterinarians, who stay in air-conditioned offices until called to treat a sick animal. He called them shepherds. They lead, feed, and protect the flock among them. An elder is a people person. Like David, he loves the sheep.
Shepherds feed the flock by seeing that the word of God is taught, positively and negatively, comprehensively and in detail, in the adult classes and in the children’s classes. Often, elders even teach it themselves. Elders who rule well “work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17).
Shepherds protect the flock by scanning for false teachers. Paul warned,
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers … I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert! (Acts 20:28-31).
This suggests they will know the word of God well enough to call foul when someone teaches falsehood. Like David, they bravely defend the sheep (1 Sam. 17:35).
Shepherds lead by “exercising oversight,” that is, supervising the church. They take the Biblical pattern and translate it into action for the congregation. They identify God’s will for the church—evangelizing the community, edifying the saints, supporting needy saints, worshiping God, building the family bonds—and determine how to accomplish it. They evaluate time and money spent for effectiveness. They find ways to improve the work of the church, while always remaining within the boundaries of authorized truth. They make decisions. They reevaluate those decisions. They inspire the congregation to use their talents to accomplish the work.
Perhaps this is one reason why the New Testament pattern always reveals a board of multiple elders overseeing a single church; never a single elder overseeing a church, nor an elder or eldership overseeing other congregations. Overseeing a church as a board of elders will require sitting down frequently for meetings, with one another, with deacons, with members.
Shepherds lead by serving as an example in all areas of Christian life.
Shepherds lead by keeping watch over souls. Hebrews 13:17 says,
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Keeping watch over souls is a weighty task. A mechanic may damage a car, a doctor may injure the flesh. But when a pastor or preacher teaches falsehood, they jeopardize eternal souls. It is a very powerful motivator to take seriously the job, which is usually full of joy (John 4:32). It is also a very powerful reassurance to members of the flock, who trust that the elders are making decisions that they know they will be called to account for. Warnings of God’s accounting aren’t given to drive away qualified shepherds, but to spur those shepherds to conscientious work (Ezek. 34:1-10).
Keeping watch over souls will require memorizing names (John 10:3) and showing concern and compassion. It will sometimes require confrontation. But, when a person knows the elders love him, he has a much better reaction when the elders rebuke him.
Keeping watch over souls will require praying at the bedside of the sick (James 5:14-16).
The flock truly appreciates these sacrifices, and prays for them.
We request of you brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thess. 5:12-13).