Summary: Exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-5
Characteristics of Healthy Churches
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
What are characteristics of a healthy church?
Here at the end of Peter’s epistle, he concludes this letter on suffering and being a pilgrim in an ungodly world with some exhortations and encouragements for the church. Even though the opening of the letter is written to the elect scattered throughout Asia Minor, we know he is writing to congregations because he starts off chapter 5 writing to the elders, the leaders of these congregations. He gives them and the congregants exhortations about how they should live as a community, especially in the backdrop of suffering.
I believe, as we look at this chapter, we find characteristics of a healthy congregation. In chapter 5, he challenges and encourages the leaders (v. 1-3). He encourages the congregation to submit to the leaders, to practice humility and servanthood amongst one another, and to practice faithful prayer (v. 5-7). He also cautions the congregations to be alert and prepared for attacks from the evil one (v. 8, 9). Finally, he encourages them to continue to persevere in their trials (v. 10, 11).
These exhortations endure today and are signs of a healthy congregation. These characteristics are important for you to know as you seek a godly congregation to join in the future. It helps you know what to look for, but it also helps you discern how you can make your current church better and healthier as you serve her.
In the same way that many today do not understand what a healthy family or home looks like because of bad experiences or models, many also don’t know what a healthy church looks like. We have so many unhealthy churches these days—churches that don’t preach the Word of God, churches that have no unity or the members aren’t serving. In today’s text, we will look at four characteristics of a healthy church.
Big Question: What are characteristics of healthy churches or church members in 1 Peter 5:1–7?
Healthy Churches Have a Plurality of Elders
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed (emphasis mine).
This may not jump out to most people who are reading this text, but this is a very important truth. When Peter writes to the leaders of these churches, he doesn’t write to one elder or pastor. He writes to the elders of these congregations. Obviously, there are many elders because he is writing to many congregations that are scattered, but there is probably a plurality of elders in each local congregation as well. In the New Testament, when talking about the leadership of the church, it always refers to a plurality of elders instead of a single elder led local church.
We see this throughout Scripture. When Paul went to Ephesus in Acts 20, he contacted the “elders” of the church to have a meeting. “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17). When Paul tells Titus to set up an eldership in Crete, he again uses the word “elders.” Listen to what he said in Titus 1:5: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” He was not to appoint an elder in every town but elders. Healthy churches follow the biblical model of a plurality of eldership.
Application Question: Why is a plurality of leadership in the church important?
This is significant for many reasons.
1. A plurality of elders creates balance among the leadership.
No single pastor has all the spiritual gifts needed to lead the church. One of the reasons that pastoral burnout is so common is because our spiritual leaders are doing too much. They are often working outside of their spiritual giftings, as they are expected to do everything. In a plurality of elders, you may find one elder that has a special gifting with finances, one elder has particular gifts in counseling, one excels in hospitality, one in teaching. They all may have some measure of ability in each of these areas but typically each will have certain strengths. This creates a balance.