The example of elders (1 Peter 5:1-4)

Peter slams together several ideas while trying to describe the eldering function for a body of believers. They are, he says, overseers, perched in the crow’s nest to get the big picture. But they do not stay high and lifted up, distant from the congregation: elders are also eager to serve. They swab decks and hoist bales, mindful that they’ve been given a position of caring for people, but never lording it over those entrusted to them.

To say it another way, the apostle reminds elders of how they can and should be examples to the flock, showing what it means to work for a boss, raise a family, make ends meet, figure ways to get cardio-vascular exercise, confront, rejoice, deal with bad news, celebrate victories, choose entertainment, interact with friends, and so on.

Years ago, back when TVs were the size of dormitory refrigerators, I was at lunch with several church planters. We were going around the table, sharing our weekly schedule. ‘I put in about 60 hours,’ one said. ’65 or 70 for me,’ said another. ’80 plus,’ smirked a third. We were young and strong, eager to impress. Then one of our number stopped us cold. ‘Is this the sort of life we’d want people in our congregations to emulate?’ he asked. That brought Peter’s remark into the real world, with conviction. We were serving as elders in our respective churches, but hadn’t stopped to consider ways we were threatening health, slighting relationships, glossing over simple delights. We hadn’t given sufficient care to the sort of message our lives were sending.

The elders’ example is not just a matter of spiritual piety that happens while they’re ‘at church’, either–note that Peter doesn’t specify (or limit) the scope of their influence. Instead he suggests that elders are ‘on’ wherever they might be; they are people who radiate a sense for life well lived, in every arena.

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