The Authority of Elders

1 Peter 5:2- shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly

As the leaders of congregations, elders have many duties. First off, they are responsible for the teaching of the flock. This means not only must they take an active role in teaching but that they keep an eye on what is being taught. It is they who protect the flock, fighting false doctrine whenever it rears its ugly head and addressing any sin within the congregation. Finally, they are to care the members, putting their needs above their own and serving them dutifully and faithfully. This demands that they know their members well and to love them enough to sometimes put up with difficult people.

Though we only listed three duties, they have a wide range of applications that can be both difficult and time consuming. However, there are those who wish go beyond their God-given duties and add more than is allowed. This begs the question on where the authority of elders ends. Before any man becomes an elder, he must know the answer to this question and have the humility to not go beyond God’s boundaries.

First off, he is not to go beyond God’s word. This goes without saying but there are many who fail to understand this. The authority goes to their heads and they believe that they can do as they please. In situations where this happens, the congregation accepts false teachings and as such the congregation is hurt as a whole. Their overall relationship with God is destroyed.

Second, he is only in charge of the congregation he is an elder of. As seen in our main passage, 1 Peter 5:2, the apostle tells the elders to shepherd their flock. Though this responsibility is daunting in and of itself, there are those who desire to go beyond this. They wish to see the elders of one congregation oversee the work of many and in essence “sponsor” them. For many, the original intention is good but regardless it does more harm than they realize. It falls under the first category we mentioned and tarnishes not only their relationship with God but also those of other congregations as well.

Lastly, he is not in it for himself. The author has not heard of many cases of this but there are men who become elders desiring the power and prestige it can bring. In these cases, they use their position to achieve their own desires and the good of the congregation comes second. These men have missed the point of being elders. They are there not only to serve God but also the congregation. Their goal must be to see their group grow spiritually and without this desire they will not be effective leaders.

The job of an elder is not always easy but as Paul says in 1 Timothy 3, it is a good and necessary work. Though we did not cover them here, the qualifications alone are hard to live up to and then the work itself is not easy. However, all men should desire to fit the standard if not have the position itself. Those that do strive to become elders must understand these qualifications and exactly what the job entails before making this decision. One final note though is that elders do not become them of their own initiative but are appointed by others. Though this is the case, the choice to accept is still the man’s and he must understand it thoroughly. Let us all take time to study every aspect of God’s word, including this.