(I PETER 5:1-4)

Place yourself in this situation. You have a very important decision to make, and this decision must be made. This decision will affect your future significantly. The truth of the situation is this: it will be impossible for your future not to be affected though this decision. One of two things will be true: your future will be much improved because of this decision, or your future will be much worse because of this decision. The potential for good or for bad in this decision literally is too great to be measured.

As you prepare to make the decision, you are keenly aware that it would be a serious mistake to make the decision by trusting only your own knowledge and intuition. You are acutely aware of the fact that for you to make the wisest decision, you need quality outside input that you can trust. You need good information and good insights that come from reliable people that deserve your trust.

You know two trustworthy, reliable people who have the kind of knowledge and insight that you need. One person is very knowledgeable, well informed, but has no actual experience. His knowledge is first rate, but his experience is limited to what he has seen. The other person is also very knowledgeable and well informed. He, too, has first rate knowledge, but he also has actual experience.

Because you want reliable information, which of these two men will you talk to? If it were me, I would talk to both of them. I would want all the reliable information that I could get from both men. I also would value the insights of the man with experience.

  1. I want to call to your attention what is perhaps the most critical decision a congregation ever makes.
    1. It has been said by many that the most critical moment in the life of a congregation is the moment that the congregation selects elders to lead it.
      1. There is more opportunity for harmful things to happen in that process than any other single process that occurs within a congregation.
      2. The process and the decision itself is filled with many opportunities for wonderful things or terrible things to happen.
      3. Once made, that decision will affect the future of the congregation more than any other single decision they make.
    2. Typically, congregations make that choice without adequate information or understanding.
      1. It is common for a congregation to have too little understanding of the spiritual needs and responsibilities involved.
      2. It is also common for a congregation to have an inadequate concept of what its leaders should be and do.
        1. As a result, too often the decision becomes far less than it should be. It becomes:
        2. A popularity contest within the congregation.
        3. A reward given to a man for his social success or his business success within the community at large.
        4. A movement to reject a person in the congregation that influential members do not like.
        5. A political campaign.
        6. A "choose up sides" situation in which groups with differences are determined to appoint a man "who agrees with us and sees things the way we do."
        7. Or a purely pragmatic decision --"Who is best qualified to handle the money and make good business decisions?"
      3. Too infrequently does the decision focus on the real issue: who is the most capable to spiritually shepherd the members of this congregation?
        1. Who has the spiritual maturity, the Christ-like personality, the compassionate disposition, and is the inspirational example to guide and encourage us?
        2. When my world is falling apart, when I have more crises than I can count, when my family is in serious trouble, who would pick me up, minister to me in my crisis, and carry me on his shoulders if necessary?

  2. Suppose that we as a congregation were making that decision: suppose we were choosing elders.
    1. As we prepare to make this decision, we can go to two men who have reliable, invaluable information: Paul and Peter.
      1. Paul had tremendous, valuable information.
        1. He was inspired of God and guided by the Holy Spirit.
        2. But Paul had never been an elder.
          1. Paul had appointed elders.
          2. Paul had worked with elders as a apostle, as a preacher, as a teacher, and as a missionary.
          3. Paul had taught elders and given elders special instructions and charges.
          4. Paul had observed elders in many different places and situations.
          5. But Paul had never worked as an elder with elders.
      2. According to the profiles that he gave to Timothy and to Titus, Paul was not qualified to be an elder.
        1. Paul never married, so he was not a husband.
        2. He never had children, so he never had the experience of working with different personalities as head of a household.
    2. Peter also had tremendous, valuable information.
      1. He also was inspired of God and guided by the Holy Spirit.
      2. He actually lived and worked with Jesus, an opportunity Paul never had.
        1. In fact, Jesus gave Peter his name which meant "rock."
        2. Jesus also told Peter that God revealed to him Jesus' true identity before the other apostles knew it.
        3. After Jesus' resurrection, before Jesus ascended back into heaven, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep.
      3. And, Peter was an elder--he had actual experience in serving a congregation as one of its shepherds.
    3. This is my question: why do we have a history of placing great emphasis on Paul's profile for elders in Ephesus and on Crete, but give little consideration to Peter's instructions to elders?
      1. In Peter's instructions to fellow elders, there is an enormous amount of insight into the kind of man who should serve as a shepherd.
      2. Why don't we give equal consideration and attention to what both Paul and Peter said as we seek to prepare ourselves to make the wisest possible decision?

  3. Peter's instructions to elders are found in 1 Peter 5:1-5.
    1. Please read those five verses with me (read).
      1. First, I ask you to notice this: Peter exhorts them, or encourages them, or urges them, but he does not do it as an apostle; he appeals to them as a fellow shepherd.
      2. Second, notice that he appeals to them on the basis of example.
        1. It is not a "me lecturing you" about what you should do.
        2. It is an "us" situation: it is sharing about us and our situation.
        3. Peter does not "lord" it over them as he urges them not to "lord" it over others.
    2. By what right does Peter urge his fellow elders to listen to his charge?
      1. He is a fellow elder--he walks in their sandals.
      2. He is a witness of Jesus' sufferings--he saw him die, which powerfully evidences the fact that he had a personal understanding of Jesus' mission and focus.
      3. He was a partaker of the glory to be revealed--he understands the destination and the reward of the flock.
    3. Then he emphasized the responsibility of shepherds:
      1. Their primary responsibility: shepherd the flock under your oversight.
        1. Stated in words more familiar to us, take care of the Christians in your congregation.
        2. Sheep are hard to care for.
          1. Their basic needs must be met continually--food, water, secure circumstances, safety are every day necessities.
          2. They need a caring person to watch over them--to see when they are injured, to see when they are not eating or drinking, see when they have a special needs because they are weak, to see when they have special needs because they are young.
          3. Sheep need taking care of, and that is the basic job of the shepherd.
        3. I do not believe that it is coincidence or accident that Christians as a congregation, as the church are referred to as a flock of sheep.
          1. Christians, like sheep, are hard to care for--they have constant needs and need constant attention--spiritual food, spiritual water, secure spiritual circumstances, safety are every day necessities.
          2. Christians need someone to watch over them--we need someone to notice when we are injured, not eating and drinking, are weak, or have special needs.
          3. The devil as a roaring lion is prowling around looking for victims to eat.
          4. There are wolves that love to rip a flock apart.
          5. We can hurt ourselves in a thousand ways.
          6. We need someone we trust, someone we listen to, someone we will respond to, someone who always has our best interest at heart to constantly look after us.
        4. As the flock, we Christians have created a serious, basic problem.
          1. At some point, we created an artificial distinction between taking care of the church and taking care of the sheep.
          2. Today we stress a responsibility for elders in a way that is not stressed in the New Testament--the elders must take care of the church, preserve the church, defend the church, and protect the church.
          3. But, too commonly, the church is not the flock; it is an institution or a doctrinal entity that exists separate and apart from the Christians.
          4. Thus we can urge the leadership to take care of the church even if it means that they hurt, damage, or destroy the flock.
          5. If elders function in ways that result in half the flock going into the world and rejecting the church, if they were "protecting the church," it is a good thing to many.
          6. How can you destroy the flock while you protect the church?
          7. Too often we expect elders to do what is best for the church with too little regard for the well being of Christians.
          8. Such thinking would never have been understood by Paul and Peter.
      2. To properly shepherd the flock, this is what Peter said must occur:
        1. Shepherds are to exercise oversight; that is what a shepherd did for his flock--he oversaw them.
          1. He counted them.
          2. He noticed when one was missing.
          3. He noticed when one was limping and needed help.
          4. He noticed when one was sick.
          5. He noticed when one was in danger.
          6. He noticed the sheep in need, and that was the sheep that received his loving special attention.
        2. Shepherds of God's flock do not do this because they are pressured to do it.
          1. They do this because they want to do it.
          2. They love their Chief Shepherd.
          3. They love the sheep.
          4. They know God's great love for the sheep--when they know God's will, they know how much He loves the sheep.
          5. They know the importance of the sheep to the Chief Shepherd and to God.
          6. Knowing that and loving the Chief Shepherd makes them eager to do the work of a shepherd--they find fulfillment and joy in helping the sheep.
        3. In my personal judgment, New Testament evidence indicates that at least some elders were supported as they served the congregation "full time" (our terminology).
          1. Don't look at your shepherding opportunity as a job opportunity.
          2. Don't regard your work as a shepherd as a role of authority and power.
            1. It is not an ego trip.
            2. It is not leadership through power and control.
          3. Shepherding is leadership through the influence of example--the flock follows you by its choice because the flock respects you, loves you, trusts you, and wants to follow you.
      3. Why would a Christian man ever accept shepherding responsibility?
        1. Because he loves and belongs to the Chief Shepherd.
        2. Because he knows the Chief Shepherd will return to receive his flock.
        3. Because he knows the Chief Shepherd will reward the shepherd's loving care of the flock.

      Before we as a congregation give loud amens to the emphasis on the shepherds shepherding the flock, let's honestly acknowledge one other aspect of the need. The flock must want and respond to shepherding. We can't demand that shepherds never involve themselves in our lives regardless of what is happening if we want to be a part of the flock that the shepherds love, take care of, and watch over.

      David Chadwell

      West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
      Evening Sermon, 26 October 1997