How is the Church led? – April 14, 2024

1 Peter 5:1-4

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

How is the Church led? Last week, we answered the question, “How is the Church governed?” From Acts 6:1-7 we demonstrated that local churches are autonomous and they are governed by the gathering of the local congregation. However, we will quickly understand that not everyone in the congregation can lead or is called to lead the congregation. In fact, if every member of the congregation led the congregation, chaos would ensue. Thankfully, God has provided an office of leadership in the local church called “pastor.” What is a pastor and how do they lead the church?

1 Peter is a letter written primarily to encourage suffering Christians. Near the close of the letter, Peter addresses those who lead the local gatherings of believers, recognizing that their ministry will most directly impact those Christians under their care that are suffering. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, he addresses the “elders” of the church. There are three titles given for the office that we call “pastor” in Scripture. “Elder” (Greek presbuteros) describes the spiritual maturity of the office (1 Peter 5:1). “Bishop,” or “overseer” (Greek episkopos) describes the function of leading and overseeing the affairs of the congregation (1 Timothy 3:1-7). “Pastor,” or “shepherd” (Greek poimen) describes the function of feeding and nurturing the church through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God (Ephesians 4:11). The three titles and functions are linked in this passage referring to the same office and are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. How does a pastor lead? What is a pastor called by God to do in a local church? Pastors are called by God and given a desire for the office by Him (1 Timothy 3:1). There are three responsibilities given to pastors in this passage.

First, a pastor has the responsibility of feeding the church. Peter first calls “the elders” of the church to “Feed the flock of God.” “Feed” (Greek poimaino) is the verb form of the word translated as “pastor” or “shepherd” identified earlier. Its literal translation is “feed.” Peter writes as an elder himself who had been personally recommissioned by Jesus to this task in John 21:15-17. There he is instructed three times to demonstrate his love for Jesus by feeding Jesus’s sheep. With what and how does a pastor feed? He does so with the Word of God. The Word of God is nourishment for the believer that the believer may grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:2) and be equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The primary function of a pastor is to feed the congregation the Word of God. Paul instructed Timothy to “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” Pastors feed the Word by reading it, encouraging and directing from it, and teaching, or expounding, its meaning. In fact, Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that this is the function of the pastor, “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. In Acts 6:1-7, we read that the apostles (the pastors of the church in Jerusalem at that time) would not neglect the Word of God or prayer for another task. The proclamation of the Word is that important to the life of the church and it is the primary function of a pastor.

Second, a pastor has the responsibility of overseeing the church. The title of “bishop” refers to the function of the pastor in overseeing (1 Timothy 3:1-7). A pastor is to lead the church by overseeing every aspect of church life and ministry. Peter gives three guides and constraints for how this is to be done. First, a pastor is to fulfill the role with a servant’s heart, not for the sake of fulfilling a job requirement of excelling in a career. Second, a pastor oversees for the sake of obedience to God, not for personal gain or financial wealth. Third, a pastor oversees, not as a dictator that slave drives the sheep, but as an example who does what he asks of the flock. Overseeing implies being raised up high, not so that a pastor can be lord over subjects, but so that a pastor, like any good shepherd, can watch for danger and accurately direct the sheep. Pastors have authority, but that authority is derived only from the Word of God and it is lived out in humble servanthood. The congregation has the responsibility to follow the biblical leadership of the pastor knowing that God will hold both pastor and church accountable (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

Third, a pastor has the responsibility of personal accountability to Christ. Peter makes it clear that being a faithful pastor results in reward at the judgment seat of Christ. One day every pastor will stand before Jesus and give an account. We discussed last week that Jesus is the head of the Church, the true and great Shepherd. He has appointed pastors as “under shepherds” that are stewards over His churches to give an account to Him for how they shepherd.

God leads local churches through pastors. These are faithful men that He has called and have been appointed to the office by a local church. They have the responsibility of feeding the church with the Word of God, overseeing the church, and faithfully living with personal accountability in following Christ. Are you under a faithful shepherd who preaches the Word of God? Do you recognize the care of oversight in a pastor who has God’s will at heart? Does your pastor demonstrate a commitment to Christ? Are you faithful in supporting and following God’s ordained leadership in your life?