Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. I Pet. 5:3
Godly shepherds are an asset to any assembly. They are men of God who labor to ensure the saints are fed well from the Word of God, protected from wolves in sheep’s clothing, and cared for with a genuine love. Such shepherds are to be honored and followed. (I Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7)
Sadly, many who have taken on the responsibility of overseeing the local assembly are not doing this good work. (I Tim. 3: 1) Some do not protect the sheep from false doctrine, while others fail to see that the sheep are fed we’ll. Others fail to lead the Lord’s people by way of example. In such cases, those who are normally an asset to a local assembly become a liability. They hang on to power at all cost, while doing little or none of the true work of shepherding.
Not only do they not do the work, many act as “lords” over the people. (I Pet. 5:3) Acting as dictators, they rule with a heavy hand and exhibit none of the love that is to be present in true shepherds.
Often these dictators hold the assembly captive. While doing none, or little of the work of shepherding, they want control and rule the assembly with an iron fist.
Misusing Scripture, they remind the people that they are to obey them that have the rule over you. (Heb. 13:7) Now it is certainly true that the saints are to obey those godly men who are leading God’s people in accordance with God’s Word; however, we must be reminded that the elders, or overseers of the local assembly are “under shepherds,” who care for the Lord’s sheep. (I Pet. 5:2) While they may have authority as from the Lord, that authority must be exercised in accordance with God’s Word, just as with civil authorities. (Rom. 13:1-6) However, when men simply take the title of “elder” and do not do the work” of the overseer, and rule the assembly according to their own whims and wishes, the assembly is not bound by Scripture to cower to them. In such cases, as with Peter, ” We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Now, having made this point, it is essential that we understand that this is not a call to overthrow those in assembly leadership because some do not agree with them. That has happened far too often in the last several decades! Those who had new ideas which the oversight felt were best not implemented caused the saints to rise up against the leadership. Many godly men who put many years and much effort into establishing a New Testament assembly were put out into the street. This is not what is being spoken of here.
Far be the thought, and let no saint or saints assume that such action is being suggested or encouraged.
Disagreement is one thing, and it is highly probable that today overseers who are determined to follow the Word of God will find disagreeable sheep among the Lord’s people, but a failure to lead in accordance with Scripture is another. Acting as if they are not accountable to the Chief Shepherd and holding an assembly captive is not in keeping with Scripture. Such rule should not be recognized by the saints as that which the Holy Spirit has raised up. (Acts 20:28)
Biblical leadership is leading by example. It is leading with a willing heart. It is sacrificial. It is to be done with a deep care for the sheep and loyalty to the Chief Shepherd. (John 10:11- 12; John 13:15; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:21; 5:2-4) Conversely it is not to be done for self gain and power.
Unfortunately some of those in assembly leadership see the assembly as “their” assembly rather than the Lord’s. In such cases they operate out of fear. Fear that they may lose control, and such fear often leads to dictatorial rule.
May the Head of the Church give grace to those who rule over His sheep as lords in order that they may see their own hearts and motives, and that they may become godly shepherds who lead the Lord’s people in accordance with God’s Word and in love.
May our assemblies be freed from the dictatorial rule of those who drive the sheep rather than lead them. How we need to pray that the Head of the Church will raise up godly leaders who lead by example and who serve and protect the saints while giving their lives for them.
Where oversight is controlling by force, may the Lord give wisdom to the saints to graciously confront them, and may the oversight graciously repent of their sin. On the other hand, may the saints be submissive to those who lead according to God’s Word.