Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it — not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother, I have written this short letter to encourage you, and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Why not celebrate Elders? The letter has grappled with some demanding dimensions of trying to live as Christians in a hostile environment. Peter decides his last word should be to the Elders. There were Elders long before anyone felt the need for a hierarchy of clergy or founded a theological college. The Elders Meeting, often including a minister but sometimes not, is the core leadership group in every United Reformed Church. At its best, it is a joyful, prayerful, mutually accountable, counter-cultural gathering where different gifts are all welcomed and respected regardless of education, wealth or power. As you picture the Elders you have known, maybe some fit well what Peter has in mind. People who are constant, Christlike, under shepherds, focused on the deepest needs of the flock, perhaps despite all manner of issues in their own lives. People who lead by gracious, holy example and are too humble to notice they are doing so. Peter warns us not to slip into celebrating mere “soft skills” but to recognise that these are front line warriors in a profound battle with the forces of evil. The key to victory are the sufferings of Christ, not outdoing the rapacious appetite of a lion. And if that seems a bit remote from the jobs to be done at church tomorrow morning, Peter throws another shaft of light on his point with his footnote. Here is Silvanus being a good Elder and getting on with the job that needs to be done. He achieves fewer stained glass windows than Peter but is ready to be scribe, and patiently go back and rewrite the words every time Peter changes his mind. Then he will take risks of which we know nothing to get the letter delivered. There is a crown of glory for Silvanus too.
Servant Lord, Thank you for those you call to be leaders, especially those humble enough to lead in your way. We pray for those serving as Elders – those in prominent roles, using their gifts in highly visible ways those in background roles, using their gifts where nobody notices those making worship possible tomorrow. Keep them safe from the lions and, when their work is done, kiss them with their crowns. Amen
John Ellis, Synod Area Leader, West Kent & East Sussex