What makes a healthy church? Have you ever been a part of a healthy church without healthy leaders? Timothy “TA” Ateek walks through the beginning of 1 Peter 5 and the importance of elders in the local church. This message is a charge to shepherds of the flock as well as the flock.
When Life Is H.A.R.D. | 1 Peter 5:6-14
Who’s in Charge at Watermark? | 1 Peter 5:1-5
Trusting in the Suffering | 1 Peter 4:12-19
The End Is Near | 1 Peter 4:1-11
What Christ Accomplished Through His Death, Burial, and Resurrection | 1 Peter 3:18-22
Hope in Jesus on Display | 1 Peter 3:8-17
The Key to a Better Marriage | 1 Peter 3:1-7
God’s Identity, Calling, and Example for You | 1 Peter 2:13-25
How To Find The Right Church | 1 Peter 2:4-12
3 Indicators of Spiritual Growth | 1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Battling Spiritual Amnesia | 1 Peter 1:13-21
Praise in Present Suffering | 1 Peter 1:3-12
Remember Who You Are | 1 Peter 1:1-2
What makes a good elder? Who are the elders at Watermark? Should we follow their lead? This message helps give a better understanding and appreciation for the gift of elders to the church. 1 Peter 5:1-5 gives us five important aspects of church leadership and the elder team at Watermark:
Isn't it awkward when someone fails to do what they're supposed to be doing? Like, when a leader fails to step up and lead, isn't that weird? It creates this moment of confusion. Right? Was anyone sitting there thinking, "Someone should be doing something right now. Someone has dropped the ball, not played their part"? It can cause confusion. It can cause disappointment.
Some of y'all are like, "I finally got my friend to agree to come to Watermark, and now Watermark is not on their A game." Some of y'all got excited for a minute. You were like, "Maybe we'll get to Costco early this morning. That's great." Sorry. Disappointment for you. That was all planned. The reason I show you that is it is awkward when a leader fails to lead, when someone fails to do what they're supposed to be doing.
As we step back into 1 Peter, chapter 5, this morning, Peter's message to the leaders, to the different churches in Asia Minor, is simply this: "Make sure you're doing what you're supposed to be doing." If you're new here at Watermark, we have been journeying verse by verse through the book of 1 Peter. This is the second-to-last week of the series.
Just to catch you up, Peter is a real person writing to real people who need real encouragement as they deal with real struggles in life. They are a group of people who have decided to follow Jesus, and because they've decided to follow Jesus, society has, in a sense, canceled them. They're being ostracized.
Here's the deal. When you stick out as a Christian and it costs you, the temptation is to start doing things to blend back in with the rest of society. Or when life becomes difficult as a follower of Jesus, the tendency or the temptation is simply to bail. So, Peter's message to his friends last week was this. First Peter 4:16 says, "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." His point is, "Hey, stand firm. Endure suffering. Don't be ashamed of the name of Jesus Christ. Instead, lean into it. Be unashamed in your faith."
This morning, what Peter is going to do is he's going to laser focus on the leaders in the church. He's just going to pull them in and say, "Guys, hey, if you are one of the leaders in the church, make sure you're actually leading. Make sure you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. Why? Because if the church is going to make it in the midst of trial and suffering, then there's never a more important time for the leaders to actually be leading."
Now, here is why this passage is so foundational for us today. We're going to get into this, and you're going to read it, and you're going to be like, "Oh man. This is just a message on elders and what they do." Let me tell you why this message is so important. You can't have a healthy church without healthy leaders. It's so good for you to hear this, because what you're going to hear is what you should expect from the elders here at Watermark Community Church.
The second reason this message is so important is because of where we are headed as a nation. We are at a point in time where Christianity, at least in this city… It's still socially acceptable to be a Christian, but it won't always be that way. We are headed in a direction where gospel-proclaiming, Christ-exalting churches are no longer being viewed as places of hope; they are being viewed as threats to freedom and flourishing in society.
So, as the heat gets turned up on gospel-proclaiming, Christ-exalting churches, we need to make sure we have leaders here at Watermark who are prepared to lead us through the fire. So, that's where we're going today. If you have a Bible, I want to invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter, chapter 5. Let me read you verses 1-5. Here's what Peter says.
"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"
Here's what I'm going to do as we look at this passage. I'm going to identify five essentials, five realities, concerning leadership within the church, and those five essentials are going to allow me to answer five questions about leadership here at Watermark. Here are the realities, and here are the questions.
We're going to talk, first, about the reality of elders. I'm going to answer the question…Who's in charge at Watermark? Secondly, we're going to identify the role of elders and answer the question…What do the Watermark elders do?
Thirdly, we're going to look at the required motives of elders, and we're going to answer the question…What are the Watermark elders like? If you've ever wondered, I'm going to tell you. Fourthly, the reward for elders, and I'm going to answer the question…What do elders get out of it? Then, finally, we're going to look at the right response to elders, and I'm going to answer the question…What do you do? So, here we go.
Then he says, "…a witness of the sufferings of Christ…" Peter saw the sufferings of Christ, and now Peter testifies to the sufferings of Christ, and now Peter suffers as Christ suffered, just as the elders and the churches in Asia Minor will suffer as well. Then Paul reminds them, "Suffering and glory are linked." Jesus modeled that for us. Jesus suffered, and then he ascended into heaven where he sat down at the right hand of the Father and was given the name that is above every name. Suffering always precedes glory.
Paul is just writing and saying, "Look, guys. I know you're suffering right now. Don't forget. I'm writing to you as a fellow elder and as a fellow sufferer in the faith, but we are people who suffer knowing that glory is coming." What Peter is doing here is he's just helping us identify the reality of elders, that elders are a thing. In the first century, it appears that God planned for churches, local expressions of the universal church, to be led by elders. Let me unpack this for you really quickly just so everyone is on the same page in regard to elders.
First, it's an office. First Timothy 3:1: "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer…" Overseer is just a synonym for elder. It's an office, but it's also a calling. Did you see what Paul said? "If anyone aspires to the office…" The reality is some of y'all are going to hear what elders do, and you're going to be like, "That's a hard pass for me. I never want to be one. I'm thankful someone else wants to be one. I am not called to be an elder." It's a calling.
It's reserved for men who are qualified. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:2, "Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…" It's reserved for qualified men, and Paul goes on to list several qualifications. It's reserved for men who are qualified. It's also a localized plurality of leaders. Acts 14:23 says, "And when they had appointed elders…" That's plural. "…for them in every church…"
Peter says in chapter 5, verse 2, which we're looking at, "…shepherd the flock of God that is among you…" The point is when you look in Scriptures, there's not just one leader; there is a plurality of leaders, and they're localized. Elders were appointed for each church. The elders here at Watermark are to shepherd the flock that is among them. They're not responsible for every Christian in the world, but they are responsible for the Christians who identify Watermark as their church home.
Then, ultimately, the elders are the ones in charge. Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor…" First Peter 5:2, which we'll see in a second: "…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…" So, this is just good for us to clarify. If you want to know who is in charge here at Watermark, there is a group of five men who comprise an elder team: Blake Holmes, Kyle Thompson, Mickey Friedrich, Ben Caldwell, and Todd Anders, and soon Rob Thomas will become the sixth.
This is good for us to clarify, because Watermark has a fairly unique leadership structure. The tendency is to think that whoever is standing on the stage speaking is the person in charge. So, if you come to church twice a month, and you just happen to fall on the two Sundays I preach each month, you might look and be like, "Whoever that guy is, I guess that's the guy in charge." Or if you happen to come twice a month on the Sundays John Elmore is teaching, you might look at John and be like, "I don't know who he is, but I think that guy is in charge."
Or when Blake Holmes comes up here, and you see the title "Lead pastor" show up on the screen, you might conclude, "I guess that's the guy in charge." All of those assumptions would be wrong, because there isn't just one person in charge. Watermark is not just one person's church. If you want to know how the org chart works here at Watermark… At the top of the org chart is Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:18 says, "And he [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent."
Jesus isn't just significant here at Watermark; he is preeminent. He takes first place. He's at the head of the org chart. Verse 2 says, "Shepherd the flock of God." It's God's flock. You are ultimately the Chief Shepherd's sheep, yet Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd, has installed under-shepherds.
So, if you look at the org chart, there's Jesus Christ, and under Jesus Christ there are five men who make up the elder team. There's not an elder chairman who is the first among equals. There are just elders, and then one of those elders is the lead pastor who gives oversight to the staff. That's who's in charge here at Watermark. So, that's the reality of elders.
That's not helpful to us at all, because we live in Dallas, Texas, and we're surrounded by concrete. There's, like, one person here who has any experience with sheep. You're the one who's like, "I totally get this." The rest of us have no clue. But it's so important for us to understand the imagery of shepherds. Why? Because the Scripture is laced with imagery about shepherds.
The most famous chapter in the Bible is Psalm 23. How does it start? "The Lord is my shepherd…" Jesus picks up the shepherd imagery in John 10:11. He says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." So, we should probably clue in to what it means for elders to be shepherds.
Remember who's writing this. It's Peter. After Peter denies Jesus three times, Jesus rises from the dead, and he has this really meaningful moment with Peter. Three different times, to kind of nullify Peter's denials, Jesus says to Peter, "Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep." So, Peter is like, "What Jesus said to me to do, now I'm telling you, leaders, to do." So, from one shepherd to another.
Here's the good news. If you go and look at all the shepherd imagery in the Bible, it becomes very clear what it means for elders to shepherd the flock of God. There are at least four things elders are supposed to do. The first one is shepherds lead the sheep. Elders are responsible for leading us, the flock. What does that mean? If you think about a shepherd with sheep, the shepherd is in charge of the path and the pace.
Put another way, the shepherd is in charge of the wheres and the whens…where we are going and how fast we are going there. The five elders here at Watermark are in charge of the path and the pace. They're in charge of discerning the path God has us on and how fast we are going to get there. That's why, last year, the elders reclarified for the body what the vision of the church is. We're to be transformed by Christ to love like Christ.
The elders reclarified what our core values are and what our strategic initiatives are right now. That's why it's so important… If you are a member here at Watermark, if the elders ever call a meeting, you should come, because they're going to lead the flock. They're going to clarify the wheres and the whens, the path and the pace.
Shepherds don't just lead; shepherds feed the sheep. I've been teaching Psalm 23 at The Porch, our young adult ministry, which means I've been studying a lot about shepherd imagery. I was reading one book written by a shepherd, Phillip Keller, on Psalm 23. He said if a sheep is hungry or ill-fed, it is very hard to make that sheep lie down, and that sheep will wander around, looking for something to eat until it is filled.
We are sheep. We'll do the same thing. Our souls are hungry if we are not looking to be fed by Jesus Christ. So, we will go to social media, to various influencers, or to self-help books in order to find nourishment for our souls. The elders are responsible for ensuring that the sheep here at Watermark are nourished on the Word of God.
What does Jesus say in Matthew 4? "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." That's why we primarily just teach verse by verse through books of the Bible. That's one of the ways elders can ensure that we are being nourished on meat from the Word of God. We don't get to avoid hard passages.
I'm going to be honest. When I found out I was teaching this passage today, I was like, "Woo-hoo. Passage on elders. Sounds amazing." But I love that we're talking about it. Why? It's foundational. If you don't understand this passage, you don't understand leadership within the church. You won't understand your role in the church. If you move one day or go to another church, this message is going to help clarify what you're looking for.
So, shepherds feed the sheep. Shepherds also protect the sheep. The elders are responsible for protecting this flock. In Acts 20:28-29, Paul is speaking to the elders in Ephesus. Listen to what he says. "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…"
The elders have a responsibility to protect the flock. That's why anytime John or I preach, we send our sermon manuscript to the elders first for their wisdom, for their discernment, for their encouragement. Really, what we're doing is we're just making sure we're not going to give you spiritual food poisoning by teaching you something that isn't true. The elders are protecting the flock.
Right now, Rob Thomas has been going through the elder process. It has been a six-month to yearlong process for Rob. Rob has had to write up thorough responses to 35 different theological issues. You can find those questions on our website. Why does he have to answer those questions? So that he is equipped to protect the flock.
Then shepherds care for the sheep. For elders to shepherd the flock of God, it means they lead the sheep, they feed the sheep, they protect the sheep, and they care for the sheep. Listen to the sobering words of Hebrews 13:17. "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account." Isn't that sobering?
Our elders will one day stand before the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and they will give an account for how they cared for each member's soul. That should bring you comfort that our elders here feel responsible for your soul. If you are a member here at Watermark, that's why membership starts over every year. Membership goes back to zero every January, and that's why you have to fill out the membership renewal form or the 4B form.
That's also why every member is supposed to be plugged into a Community Group, and every Community Group has a Community Group shepherd and a Community Group director. The elders are very involved, knowing what is going on. Why? Because that is how the elders can ensure that the soul of every member, every person who calls Watermark home, is being cared for.
That's why we don't just keep names on our books for decades so we can pad our numbers. The elders aren't responsible for having great numbers to share with the world. No, the elders are responsible for the souls of the sheep. So, that's the role of the elders. That's what the Watermark elders do. They lead, they feed, they protect, and they care for the sheep.
Someone might hear the words of Hebrews 13, which says, "You will give an account for how you have cared for the souls of the sheep," and be like, "No, thank you. I'm busy enough trying to care for my own soul. I'm good." You want to make sure you find people who aren't going to have a "have to" heart. It's going to be a "want to" or a "get to" spirit.
Here is the reality. Elders must have a willing spirit. This is not something they should be forced into. I've spent enough time with the elders at Watermark to know being an elder is a very tough job. It is a lot of late nights and early mornings. It is a lot of stepping into the messiest situations in the church. Our elders just play one big game of Whac-A-Mole. You know that game at Chuck E. Cheese where you have that big mallet, and those things just keep popping up, and you just keep hitting them? That is their life.
One problem pops up, they knock it down, and another pops up. They are perpetual firemen. They are constantly putting out fires. In addition to that, there's a lot of criticism and emails laced with keyboard courage that come in. It's amazing what people are willing to say behind the safety of a keyboard. Our elders are like those inflatable punching bags for kids where you hit them and they just pop right back up.
It's amazing to me. As I've spent time with our elders… I mean, this just happened a few weeks ago. They're taking heat, taking criticism, and their mentality is, "You know what criticism is? It's an opportunity." I'm like, "Yeah, it's an opportunity." They're like, "It's an opportunity because maybe God is trying to teach us something here." I'm like, "Gosh! Y'all are way more godly than I am." It's truly amazing.
Here's my point. Being an elder is something you have to have a clear calling from God to do. Otherwise, the office of elder will beat you down, and you will see everything as an obligation instead of an opportunity. So, I just want you to be encouraged. I love that someone who's not an elder is giving this message. I can speak about the elders with complete confidence.
I want you to be encouraged. I have watched our five elders operate with willing hearts in the messiest situations. This is a group of men who sit there… I have watched them raise their hands and say, "Yeah, I want to be in that meeting. Yeah, I want to be a part of that. I feel strongly about stepping into that or helping navigate this difficult situation."
I remember there was something that came up for me that was urgent, that was pressing, so I called an elder. He was out of town, but I needed a meeting. He drove from out of town into town for the meeting, and then drove back out of town, and he did it with a completely willing spirit. I don't know if you know this, but our elders spend, on average, 15 to 20 hours a week on elder responsibilities, and they don't get paid for any of it.
Our elders believe so deeply in what God is doing at Watermark that they each have a God-given urgency to jump into the center of the hardest situations in the church, because they want to be part of God's story here at Watermark. Now remember what Peter said. Do you remember his wording? He says, "…not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you…"
That means you're to shepherd the flock in a way that reflects your Chief Shepherd. Your job, as an under-shepherd, is to reflect the Chief Shepherd. So, how does shepherding willingly reflect Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd? Well, Hebrews 12:2: "…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
Elders are to shepherd not under compulsion, but willingly, but also, "…not for shameful gain, but eagerly…" In the first century, leadership in the church, elders, would receive pay for doing it. Some people were corrupted by that, and they began to use godliness as a means for gain, as Paul identifies in 1 Timothy.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of news articles that highlight leaders within churches who have stolen funds from the church or used church funds to live a lavish lifestyle or have just used their platform at the church to build their own personal brand so they can get rich using the resources of the church.
Elders are to shepherd, not for shameful gain but… The wording is eagerly. The NIV translates it "eager to serve". Being an elder is not about getting something from the church; it's about giving something to the church. That's why I'm so encouraged by our five elders. They give 15 to 20 hours a week. They're not paid for it. Do you know what I've watched these men do? These men are strategically trying to simplify their day jobs so they have even more capacity to invest their time and energy here at Watermark.
So, it's not for shameful gain, but also, "…not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." Peter is writing to a culture where status and honor were everything, so the temptation is to grab for power. Power can be very dangerous. If you don't believe me, just watch The Lord of the Rings. You look at Gollum with that ring. "My precious!" Power can be intoxicating.
The reality is many of us walk around with insecurities in our hearts. There's a question in our spirits: "Am I significant? Am I respected?" So, it is very possible for men to step into the church and use their position in the church to scratch the itch of the insecurities that are in their souls. They feel significant or respected through pridefully getting people to do what they want them to do. But we have to remember Christ is our example. Christ says in Mark 10:
"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Just look at the cross. The night Jesus is going to be betrayed, he's washing the feet of his disciples. Then he willingly goes to the cross. He lays his life down on the cross for your sins and mine. Then he takes his life back. There is resurrection. Why? To serve us, to bring us into right relationship with God. I'm so encouraged that our elders in the church… I have watched them be okay not getting their way.
I have watched the men on our elder team defer to one another. There are times they don't get their way, and they are okay with that if it is the best for the body. You have men willing to serve. I mean, you see Blake Holmes, who's our lead pastor and elder. He stands greeting people at the door, putting stickers on kids and adults.
We have elders who you're going to find in the nursery sometimes and serving in children's ministry. You're going to see our elders at different times picking up trash and moving chairs. Why? Because none of that is beneath them. Remember, they're not called kings; they're called shepherds. Shepherd is a lowly term in the Scriptures, yet the people in the greatest leadership are the greatest servants.
But do you know what our elders get out of eldering? It's the hope that one day they will hear these words from the Chief Shepherd: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master." There is no greater delight to the soul than to know the delight of God in you.
Here's what you need to know. Peter's wording is a little bit weird where he says, "You who are younger, be subject to the elders." All I need you to know, for the sake of time, is that Peter is talking to everyone in the church who is not an elder. So, that's me and that's you. Here's his call. Here's what we are to do. We are to be subject to the elders. It means we're to recognize their leadership. We're to recognize their position. We're to follow their leadership.
As long as they are leading us toward Christlikeness, we should follow them. So, what does that practically look like? Well, I would say a few things. First, if you call Watermark your church home but you're not a member, take a step toward membership as soon as possible. Get involved in a Community Group so that your soul can be cared for by our elders.
When there are things that happen at Watermark that are not your preference or aren't the way you would do things, let me just encourage you: be very careful with keyboard courage. Then let me challenge you. Do not major in minors. The goal for all of us is humility. Humility includes being okay not getting your way. It includes believing that your way isn't always the best way. Remember, Jesus is the example for all of us. Philippians, chapter 2:
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
The only reason anyone in here has been made right with God is because of the humility of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ laid down his life for you and me. He went to the cross for you and me. He made payment for all of our sins. He rose from the dead for you and me. He is the example. Humility is the goal.
Here's the reality. Humility looks good on everyone, but we need to be clear. A church cannot glorify Jesus when its people refuse to be like Jesus. God will not bless a church marked by pride. May we be a people who are marked by humility. As I close, let me encourage you to do a few things. Here is what I want to encourage you to do in light of everything we have discussed this morning.
Pray for our elders. Pray for their relationships with Jesus. Pray for their marriages. Pray for their kids. Pray for their relationships with one another. Pray for their jobs. Pray God's protection over them. Pray for our elders.
Encourage our elders. Don't assume they know that you're grateful for what they do. Stop them in the hall and tell them, "Thank you." Send them an email just to say, "Thank you." Write them a note telling them how grateful you are for the 15 to 20 hours a week they put in, free of charge, to leading this place.
Seek forgiveness from our elders. If there's any point where you haven't assumed the best, or there are times where you have majored in minors or have asserted your preference in an arrogant way, then let me encourage you to seek their forgiveness.
Live like an elder. I would encourage you to write down 1 Timothy, chapter 3, because in 1 Timothy 3, it spells out the qualifications for elders. Paul writes, "Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money." These are all great things to aspire to. Focus on one each day or one each week. Live like an elder, and I promise you will look a lot more like Jesus.
Follow Jesus like our elders follow Jesus. Our elders are great leaders because they are first great followers. So, let me encourage you. If you've never surrendered your life to the Chief Shepherd, here is the reality. Isaiah 53 would say, "All we like sheep have gone astray; each of has turned to his own way," which simply means you are never right with God just by you trying hard to be good.
In God's eyes, we're not good people or bad people; we're spiritually dead people who need to be made alive, yet we are made alive because Jesus Christ was put to death and then took his life back. Jesus says in John 10:11, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." He died so you could live. Do you know him? If you don't, then my encouragement is for you to know the one whom our shepherds call Shepherd. Let's pray together.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the leaders here at the church. Thank you for Blake, for Kyle, for Todd, for Mickey, for Ben, and for Rob. Thank you for how you have wired them, for how you've gifted them. I thank you for how you have called them to serve. I thank you for how they selflessly give of their lives for the sake of this body. Lord, I pray we would be a healthy church.
God, as the heat gets turned up in our world for churches like this one and others around the Metroplex that proclaim the gospel and exalt Jesus, Lord, I pray that you would use our leadership to lead us through the fire. God, may we be people today who encourage our leaders, celebrate them, and ask forgiveness from them. Ultimately, may we follow you, like they follow you. We need you. We love you. Thank you for what you're doing here at Watermark. We trust you. In Jesus' name, amen.