God has a plan for the organization of His church, and that plan is revealed in the New Testament. It is God’s desire for each local church to have mature brothers serving as elders/shepherds. What do the overseers owe the members of the flock and vice versa? Let us begin with the elders.
Elders, be an example –They must take heed to themselves (Acts 20:28) and be men “of good behavior” (1 Timothy 3:2). In short, they are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). In their speech, attitude, conduct, and habits, pastors are to set forth a godly pattern for others. For any of us, and that includes leaders, if others perceive that we are not living in harmony with what we teach, we will lose our influence with them (Romans 2:21,24).
Elders, shepherd the flock – “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you” (1 Peter 5:2 – Greek verb “ποιμάινω/poinmaino” means “to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep” [Thayer, word no. 4165]. This includes providing spiritual nourishment and training (Acts 20:32). They are to protect the flock against wolves (Ezekiel 34:1-3; Acts 20:28-32), strengthen the weak among the flock (Ezekiel. 34:4-6; Acts 20:35), and, in general, care for the flock. Just like the Good Shepherd, they must know the sheep and their needs, doing what is best for the flock, even if that means they sometimes must make unpleasant decisions. It is a tragedy when the sheep struggle to survive and grow because they are lacking proper pastoral care (Matthew 9:36).
Ekders, oversee – God wants these good brothers to serve as overseers of His flock (Acts 20:28). “Overseer” refers to “a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly” [“ἐπίσκοπος/episkopos,” Thayer, word no. 1985]. Overseers collectively have the responsibility to see to it that the right things are done by the right people in the right way. The shepherds’ authority to rule is God-given (1 Timothy 5:17). These men must maintain the heart of a persevering servant as they give their best efforts to “take care of the church of God” (1 Timothy 3:5).
Elders, take responsibility – Each individual pastor is “a steward of God” (Titus 1:7), accountable to God and the church for how he uses the blessings and duties granted to him. Elders are to take heed to the entire flock (Acts 20:28), in the process watching for the soul of each member (Hebrews 13:17). Their task is a most serious one, requiring their best effort. As they take the lead in organizing and planning the activities of the congregation, they delegate authority to deacons and others; yet, in the end, they ultimately are responsible for the church’s actions, including the teaching that is done in all classes and from the pulpit. We thank God for godly shepherds!
What about the Christians who are under the pastors’ oversight? What responsibilities do the members have to their elders? Members ought to support the elders’ efforts, lifting up their hands as Aaron and Hur did for Moses (Exodus 17:12).
Members should pray for their elders. If it is important to pray for civil leaders (1 Timothy 2:1,2), surely it is proper to pray for our spiritual leaders. Paul prayed with the elders from Ephesus (Acts 20:36). Shepherds appreciate the prayers of sheep!
Christians owe it to their elders to be considerate of them and their families. That is the way that we like others to treat us, and it is only right for elders to receive such thoughtful treatment (Matthew 7:12).
Members need to respect the authority of the elders. God-given authority is not to be mocked or disregarded. When Korah and others rose up against God’s appointed leaders, they were, in fact, rebelling against God Himself (Numbers 16:3,11).
Further, members need to recognize and esteem their overseers. Why? Because of their labor, their admonition, and their authority over us in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13). Yes, theirs is a case of “honor to whom honor” is due (Romans 13:7).
Submitting to those “who rule over” us is what the Lord expects of us (Hebrews 13:17). Pastors are not specifically named in this passage, but the verse says that those whom we are to obey are those who “watch out for” our souls – per other New Testament instruction, that refers to elders (1 Peter 5:1-3; Acts 20:17,28).
Saints also owe it to their elders to follow the instructions of 1 Timothy 5:17-19. First, “the elders who rule well” are to be “counted worthy of double honor” (5:17). That simply means that they are worthy of financial compensation for the service which they provide to the church (5:18). Such may not be feasible in every case, but it is authorized and has the potential to be a win-win situation for the church and her elders. Second, consider: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (5:19). God said it, not me. Let us respect God and the pastors enough to deal with them in the manner which He has prescribed.
At times, members may feel frustrated with or disappointed in their overseers. If that be the case, Christians still need to deal with them in a tenderhearted and courteous manner (1 Peter 3:8). That is true in our dealings with one another, regardless of the people or issues involved.
The overwhelming majority of us will never serve as elders; but, we can show our appreciation for and support the efforts of faithful pastors. And, may the overseers stay humble and strong, working lovingly together with the sheep whom they oversee.
— Roger D. Campbell