So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 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. - 1 Peter 5:1-2
Elders’ are men who have been charged with shepherding the whole flock of the local church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). The Elders’ are men who are held accountable to God for shepherding (Heb. 13:17) and the church is held accountable to subject (1 Pet. 5:5) and submit (Heb. 13:17) to the godly leadership of these men (1 Pet. 5:5). You can read the biblical qualification in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 3: 5-9.
In short, Elders shepherd God’s flock. 1 Peter 5:2 – “I exhort the elders among you: shepherd God’s flock.” So Elders shepherd God’s flock with spiritual oversight. So they feed, lead, protect, and nurture church members like a shepherd does with sheep. In Acts 6:1-6, the Apostles were to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word, but how does that look? I’ll suggest four ways we see it work in the New Testament.
Teach. 1 Timothy 3:2. Elders are under-shepherd who feed Jesus’ sheep with Jesus’ word. That is through leading Bible studies, community groups, discipleship groups, preaching, etc. It also means Elders need to know what’s being taught and protect the sheep from rotten food in their diet.
Lead. 1 Timothy 3:1 calls Elders “Overseers”. Hebrews 13:17 instructs Christians to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” This is done by seeking members to grow in maturity. Again, we can go back to Ephesians 4:12-13, which says, “to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, growing into a mature man with stature measured by Christ’s fullness.”
Model. 1 Peter 5:3 says that elders are to shepherd the church “not by lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” So when we look at the passage within 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Peter 5:1-4, the main focus is on the character of the man who would be an elder. That’s why the most basic job of an elder is to live a life where he can say along with Paul, “Imitate me as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
How this looks is that a man should guard his godliness (1Timothy 4:16). The other way this works is by being among the people. That means they spend time with church members in different aspects of their life, such as hobbies, life, and ministry. So elders are to model to the members what it means to handle tough situations, relate to his wife, deal with difficult people, and be able to say when they got something wrong.
Pray. In Acts 6:4, the Apostles devoted themselves to prayer; that’s why they called seven other men to handle the practical care for the early church members. So Peter says, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.” When it comes to eldering, a man becomes very quick to see that he is powerless on his own to mature people in Christ. The only one that can mature someone, or sanctify someone is the Holy Spirit through the living Word of God. So the faster an elder understands this, the faster he will be on his knees and pleading that God would work by his grace in the church members and his own life.
Jeramie Rinne summarizes it in this way, “Like Jesus, make teaching central to your ministry, and make Jesus and the gospel the primary content of your teaching. In every decision, lead your people toward knowing and trusting Jesus. Let them see the character of Jesus exemplified in your life. And just as Jesus often turned aside to pray, so you as an elder should join Jesus in interceding for his people.” This is why in Acts 6 we see the Apostles sitting aside seven men so they could devote themselves to these things.