Summary: In the first four verses of 1 Peter 5, Peter discusses the ministry, motives and manner of leading of elders.


A. The story is told of a preacher who quit the ministry after 20 years and became a funeral director.

1. When asked why he changed occupations, he said: “I spent 3 years trying to straighten out John, but John is still an alcoholic. Then I spent 6 months trying to straighten out Susan’s marriage, but she has filed for divorce. Then I spent 5 years trying to straighten out Bob’s drug problem, but he’s still and addict. Now at the funeral home, when I straighten them out – they stay straight.”

2. The job of a church leader can certainly be difficult and disappointing at times.

B. As you know, there are good leaders and there are bad leaders.

1. Let me show you a couple of pictures and you tell me if they are good leaders or bad leaders.

2. 1st Picture: “Believe me fellows, everyone from the Pharaoh on down is an equally valued member of the team.”

3. 2nd Picture: The caption at the top should say, “Follow me.” The caption at the bottom should say, “Sorry, my bad.”

C. As we turn our attention to 1 Peter chapter 5, you might be wondering why Peter brought up the subject of elders when the entire letter has been about persecution and suffering for Christ.

1. The truth of the matter is that times of persecution demand that God’s people have adequate spiritual leadership.

2. Hard times demand strong leaders who will rise to the challenge.

3. That was true in the first century and it is still true today.

4. Leaders who disappear or run away in times of difficulty are only proving that they are hirelings and not true shepherds – that’s what Jesus said in John 10:12-14.

D. You may not be an official leader in the church, but I think you will find that many of the principles we discuss today can be applied to leadership in all kinds of settings and relationships.

1. Including relationships in the workplace, and the home, and in friendship.

2. So let’s take a closer look at the text and see how these verses apply to our lives.

I. The Ministry of Elders

A. Chapter 5 begins: 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… (5:1)

1. As I mentioned a moment ago, Peter was writing to Christians who were experiencing persecution and were about to experience even more severe and painful persecution.

2. That reality led Peter to exhort the elders to shepherd their troubled, beleaguered sheep.

3. The first and obvious point to note here is that he Holy Spirit affirms that such leadership and responsibility for the church belongs to elders.

B. The New Testament churches were organized under the leadership of elders and deacons.

1. The deacons were and are the special servants who have a specific responsibility for the work of the church – like finance, or facilities, or benevolence.

2. The elders play a much broader role over the entire church family.

C. There are three New Testament terms used interchangeably to refer to men in the role of elders.

1. The first term is “elder” which is the Greek term presbuterion and emphasizes the man’s spiritual maturity necessary for such ministry which comes through years of experience.

2. The second term is “overseer” or “bishop” which is the Greek term episkopos and refers to the general responsibility of guardianship and leadership.

3. The third term is “shepherd” or “pastor” which comes from the Greek term poimenos and refers to the duty of feeding, guiding, and protecting the church.

D. Most of us in our time and culture don’t know much about sheep herding, but in Bible times, shepherds were as common and familiar to most Middle Easterners as telephones and supermarkets are to us.

1. Almost anywhere in the Bible world, if you gazed across a landscape you would likely see at least one flock of sheep.

2. Certainly the shepherd had authority over the sheep, but more than anything, he was a servant of the sheep.

3. When a tiny lamb was born, one of the first sensations felt by the shivering lamb was the tender hands of the shepherd.

4. The shepherd’s gentle voice was one of the first sounds to awaken his delicate eardrums.

5. In Lynn Anderson’s book, They Smell Like Sheep, he states, “The shepherd lived with the lambs for their entire lives – protecting them, caressing them, feeding and watering them, and leading them to the freshest pool and the most luxuriant pastures – day and night, year in and year out...Each sheep came to rely on the shepherd and to know his voice and his alone. They followed him and no one else.”

6. W. Phillip Keller, in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, said: “It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways…Sheep do not ‘just take care of themselves’ as some might suppose. They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention, and meticulous care.” (pg. 20-21)

7. Like sheep, we are prone to wandering, taking in what is bad for us, becoming unclean, and we are highly vulnerable and defenseless on our own.

8. When the sheep are under attack, they need strong and courageous shepherds.

E. Another important New Testament principle is the plurality of elders.

1. When the role of elders is discussed in the Bible, the term always appears in the plural form.

2. The role of elders was and is an office that is designed for a group of men.

3. The plurality of godly leaders, as designed by the Lord, not only provides more ministry care, but offers some important safeguards.

a. First, a plurality of elders helps protect the church against error – a group of leaders is not as easily led astray as one person is.

b. Second, a plurality of elders preserves the church from imbalance – Since there are a variety of personality types and temperaments a group of men can balance each other out. And since no one person has every spiritual gift, a group of elders will have more of a balance of spiritual gifts and can round each other out.

c. Third, a plurality of elders protects the church from discontinuity – if the church is led by a single or dominant leader and they vacate the position, then the church faces a major disruption. But when there is a plurality of elders, if and when an elder needs to step down or away from the role there is no major disruption to the church.

F. Back to verse 1: Did you notice that Peter appealed to these elders on the basis of being a fellow elder?

1. Peter could have addressed them from his position of an apostle, but he didn’t want to flex his apostolic muscle.

2. He humbly wrote as a fellow elder, thus modeling leadership that doesn’t “lord it over” others.

II. The Motives of Elders

A. Peter continued: 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… (5:2)

1. Peter tells elders that they must do the work of a shepherd – leading, feeding, guarding and caring for the flock.

2. Notice who’s flock they are caring for.

3. The church belongs to God; it is His flock, not ours.

4. All of us who serve as shepherds are simply under-shepherds caring for a flock that belongs to God.

B. Peter mentions two motives that must be guarded against in the shepherd’s heart.

1. The first motive has to do with serving willingly and voluntarily, rather than under compulsion.

2. About elders, Paul wrote: Here is a trustworthy saying: if anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Tim. 3:1)

3. Being an elder is a noble task, and those who set their hearts on being an elder, for the right reasons, are desiring something good.

4. There are many men who meet the qualifications for being an elder, but they do not desire to be in the role – and it is certainly not a role for everyone.

5. No one should feel pressure to serve as an elder – no one should fill the role because they have been coerced or feel obligated.

6. The “no one else will do it” mentality is not one we want our elders to have.

7. The right motive includes having a willingness to serve as an elder.

8. We need shepherds who are passionate for God’s family and for reaching the lost.

C. The second motive that must be guarded against has to do with serving only for financial gain.

1. One of the basic qualifications for elders mentioned by Paul made it clear that an elder must not be pre-occupied with money and materialism.

2. Paul said he must not be a “lover of money.” (1 Tim. 3:3), and he must not pursue “dishonest gain” (Titus 1:7).

3. The love of money is nowhere uglier than when it is found in Christian ministries.

4. Much damage has been done to the reputation of Christianity by those Christian leaders who have become financially rich by fleecing the church.

5. That doesn’t mean that a Christian worker doesn’t deserve to be paid; but there is a big difference between receiving money and serving money.

6. Paul taught that those who minister the Word have a right to live by that ministry (1 Cor. 9:7-14).

7. That was true for both evangelists and elders. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul wrote: The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Tim. 5:17-18)

8. Nevertheless, no true shepherd should need financial gain to motivate him to serve, rather he should be eager to serve regardless of the financial compensation.

9. Christian leaders need to be examples of financial stewardship and should seek to live modestly and simply with an obvious investment in heavenly treasures rather than earthly treasures.

III. The Manner that Elders Lead

A. Peter concludes this section, saying: not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (5:3-4)

1. There is a big difference between leadership and dictatorship.

2. Sheep need to be led, not ruled.

3. Elders are to be overseers not overlords.

4. Shepherds are not sovereigns, but servants.

5. Jesus is the only sovereign Lord with absolute authority.

6. There is no place in church leadership for arbitrary, arrogant and excessively restrictive rule.

B. Do you remember when Jesus was teaching His disciples about the difference between spiritual leadership and worldly leadership?

1. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:25-28)

2. So rather than lord it over the sheep, shepherds are called to be examples to the flock.

3. People are certainly much more willing to follow leaders who are practicing what they preach, thus giving them a good example to follow.

4. Paul encouraged people to follow him as he followed Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)

5. We elders should seek to imitate Christ and encourage others to imitate the Christ they see in us.

6. Of course, this doesn’t mean that elders are always perfect examples.

7. Part of being a good example for the flock includes modeling repentance.

8. When any of us elders falls short in some way, we should set the example of being quick to humbly repent and ask for forgiveness.

9. Have you seen the bumper sticker: “Don’t follow me, I’m lost, too!”? That should not be the mantra of the elders of the church.

10. We should lead by good example – We should know the way and encourage others to follow.

C. Here’s a story that illustrates the great, humble leadership of Abraham Lincoln.

1. On one occasion, it appears that Abraham Lincoln got caught up in wanting to please a certain politician, so he issued a command to transfer certain regiments within his army.

2. When the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, received the order, he refused to carry it out.

3. He declared that the president was a fool.

4. Word got back to President Lincoln concerning what Stanton had said.

5. Lincoln responded, saying, “If Stanton said I’m a fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I’ll see for myself.”

6. Lincoln went to Stanton and asked him about it. As the two men talked, the President quickly realized that his decision was a serious mistake, and without hesitation, withdrew it.

7. That’s great example for leaders to follow.

8. That’s a great example for husbands and wives, parents, neighbors, and co-workers to follow.

D. Listen to this story about Adolf Hitler that illustrates what a cold, self-centered ruler he was.

1. In the fall of 1942, Hitler was on a train going to his new headquarters.

2. His army was in trouble at Stalingrad – the Russian front.

3. Hitler was sitting down to supper in his rosewood paneled dinning car on his special train.

4. A freight car happened to stop on an adjacent track.

5. The freight car contained a company of starving and wounded German soldiers returning from the eastern front.

6. The soldiers stared in astonishment at Hitler enjoying his meal just a few yards away.

7. Without as much as a gesture of greeting in their direction, Hitler ordered his servant to close the shades.

8. How’s that for caring for the flock you are leading?


A. I like what Peter wrote in verse 4: And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1. Peter referred to Jesus as the Chief Shepherd, certainly one of the more meaningful titles of Jesus.

2. Jesus is also called the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11) and the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20-21).

3. When our Chief Shepherd returns, He will give unfading crowns of glory to the faithful shepherds of His flock.

4. What a joy it will be to receive a crown of glory and then to place our crowns at His feet.

5. The reward of eternal glory ought to be all the reason any shepherd needs to keep him serving faithfully.

6. The promise of future rewards for Christian faithfulness and service is something Peter has been using throughout this letter as incentive.

7. God will reward all the faithful, both followers and leaders.

B. Shepherding the flock of God is a serious, sobering responsibility, and we elders are accountable to God for our ministry to the flock.

1. Certainly, we, elders face a daunting task that cannot be done except through the power and wisdom of God.

2. But the eternal reward for faithful service is certainly worth it.

3. The goal of all Christians, especially elders, should be to hear these words from the Chief Shepherd: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Mt. 25:23)


The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 1 Peter, by John MacArthur, Moody Publishing, 2004

The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1 Peter, by Warren Wiersbe, Victor Books, 1989

1 Peter, The NIV Application Commentary, Scot McKnight, Zondervan, 1996

The Necessity of Leadership, Sermon by Keith Davis,

Why We Need Elders, Sermon by Glenn Durham,

An Overview of Leadership, Sermon by Jeffery Anselmi,

Who is the Church Boss? Sermon by Larry Wise,