Are church leaders to be lords and rulers over the Church as most denominational churches have in place? Christ’s Spirit put in place church elders (Acts 20:28ff, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). The Apostle Peter instructed his fellow elders by defining what it means for elders to shepherd the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Shepherding and pasturing mean the same thing, and therefore church elders are the shepherds and pastors of the congregation. In 1 Peter 5, Peter defined shepherding to be “overseeing” and “examples” to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3). The word “overseer” is an exact translation from its Greek word (cf. Lat. “bishop”). As Peter defined shepherding to mean overseeing, the Apostle Paul also specified that “overseers are to shepherd the Church of the Lord”. The Holy Spirit placed elders in each church to protect the flock from men, who are wolves speaking perverse things (Acts 20:28-30). Therefore, one responsibility of elders is “to exhort in sound doctrine and rebuke the antagonist” (Titus 1:9). Christians should encourage church elders in their shepherding that they do so with joy and not grief (Heb. 13:17).
Elders shepherd by being examples (1 Pet. 5:3). The word “example” comes from the Greek, tupos, meaning a type, pattern, and model. This is all in contrast to the instruction against lording over (or against) the congregation (1 Pet. 5:3). Elders lead by example, and the congregation should not expect them to rule over them. The idea of “ruling” elders comes from a misleading interpretation. The Greek word that is sometimes misinterpreted “rule” is proisteimi, which literally means “stand-before”. The word is used to teach the work of leading with diligence (Rom. 12:8) and through good works (Titus 3:8, 14). Leading with diligence and in doing good works is leading by example. The concept is that elders lead by standing before others, and not by ruling them. Elders are to care for God’s Church by leading it as they lead their own households by example and not by lording (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 5:17, 1 Thess. 5:12; cf. 3:12).
Since elders are instructed not to lord over the flock, this must have been and must still be a serious concern. What does “lording over” mean? The Greek word for “lording” appears 4 times in the New Testament. Besides 1 Peter 5, Jesus used the word to describe how the Nations are lorded over by their rulers and how his disciples must lead in a different way by being servants in His kingdom (Matt. 20:25, Mark 10:42), and the other occurrence of this word described how an evil spirit lorded over the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:16). Elders lead by example, pasturing the flock toward sound teaching, standing against false teaching, and managing the congregation (Titus 1:7, Acts 11:30).
Church elders are God’s stewards, which literally means the manager of the house (Titus 1:7). Likewise, Hebrews 13 instructs Christians to be persuaded toward and yield to those esteemed among them, which must include the elders. The word “esteem” is also sometimes misinterpreted as “ruling” (Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). Christians are instructed to esteem all others above themselves (Phil. 2:3, cf. 2:6-8, Acts 15:22, 2 Thess. 3:15, 1 Tim. 6:1). Clearly, this does not mean that everyone is to rule and lord over us. In the New Testament, this word is used in esteeming Christ (1 Tim. 1:12), appears 21 times for esteeming civil leaders (Luke 3:1, etc.), and for not esteeming someone as an enemy (2 Thess. 3:15). Four times, Christians are instructed to esteem their church leaders and those who labor among them (1 Thess. 5:12-13, Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). May all Christians do this and especially esteem the elders.