Please note a study on Ephesians 3:7-13 that discusses this subject in the context of preaching is available here.
1 Pe 5:1 ¶ The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
In these verses we have a perfect harmony of leadership and servanthood declared and defined by the Holy Spirit of God. The truths of this passage are sufficiently clear that the commentators largely agree and this essay will seek to expound the above passage using a synthesis of these commentators and my own beliefs. I will aim to show that leadership and servanthood are not so much antithetical concepts to be held in tension but that Servanthood to Christ will lead to correct leadership of the flock to those chosen to be in that position.
First from verse 1 we see that Peter addressed a group of recognized elders and that the group of elders was local, they were amongst the flock. Clark correctly points out that these elders are enjoined in verse 2 to be bishops; the bishopric was not a separate office but a function of the group of elders. So we see that Peter is addressing the leadership of the church.
Next to note Peter describes himself as a fellow elder; he does not give himself a position above the elders here despite the fact that he was the rock upon which the church was to be built. He does allude to the fact that he saw the sufferings of Christ, one of the conditions of the original apostles. This is interesting; it shows clearly that within the church hierarchy he had no authority to send this letter; he had apostolic authority too.
The final point of verse one is that Peter immediately directs attention forward to the glory to come. Paul similarly shows that current circumstances are not to be fair instead the believer is to suffer loss and hardship down here with an eye to future glory.
Verse 2 then gives the keynote of Christian oversight; the ability to feed the flock. The word of God is central to Christianity. It is the mechanism by which the unsaved are converted and then the converted grow. A leader that encourages the flock to extract knowledge from him that has been 'pre-digested' or worse yet derived from a source other than the Bible is much, much worse than useless. He is dangerous.
Having defined what an elder should do a number of safeguards are put in for those that may do it.
First it must not be done of constraint. A need does not create a calling. This is an interesting clarification of Servanthood. A servant reasonably can be constrained to do something. However the Bible clearly teaches that oversight is not a function that can be fulfilled through constraint. If you see the poor you feed them whatever your circumstance. If you see the sick you tend them irrespective of your mood. You do not take on a spiritual leadership role just because the local church needs it. The role of an elder is an extremely exacting one and the person acting upon it needs to do it with his whole heart. In particular he must want to do it. Conversely we are told that wanting to do it is a perfectly honorable thing.
Secondly it must not be done for personal gain; filthy lucre. As discussed in my previous essay the role of elder (especially of an elder laboring in the word) is the one role within the church for which there is a biblical mandate for paid ministry. However this verse clearly shows that this ability to 'feed from the flock' must have no part in the motivation towards this form of service: it must instead be motivated by sheer enthusiasm for the role. The reason is obvious. Eldership done properly is very hard and very exacting and someone capable of doing it properly would gain far greater fiscal benefit from secular employment. The money will not motivate them for long.
Verse 3 then tackles the whole notion of hierarchy. To the modern English eye this verse simply is an admonition again pride, which is perfectly valid. Barnes even goes as far as to suggest that this verse implies that an elder has no temporal power over his flock. However I think (along with Clark) that this is wrong. Elders were told not to act as Lord's because the other provisions of God's word would allow them to do so. For example the Bible tells the flock to obey those over them.
I think the correct interpretation of this verse goes back to the Roman agricultural system that was later manifest in English feudal system. Under this system a possession (usually land) would belong to an owner and he would allow people to survive in his land and he would then take a tithe of their work to support him. If you wish a Lord 'farmed' his land (or inheritance).
The point being made here is that the flock is not the heritage of the elders; they are the heritage of God. Thus an elder is not entitled to 'farm' the flock to meet his needs. Instead the elder is one of the flock and should be directing his full attention to encouraging the flock to service the needs of God and not the needs of the elder himself.
It is however the fourth verse that puts all of the above into perspective. Note first that the chief shepherd (the Lord Jesus Christ) is going to appear. The church on Earth is transient, it is not an end within itself it is a means to an end. Additionally when the Lord comes he is going to judge the work done by believers. In particular he is going to judge the work done by the overseers of His flock. Any fleecing that has been done will be judged with extreme disfavor. However for those that have done the will of God there will be a crown of glory that will not fade away.
We thus see that that role of oversight is one taken on by a man because of and in the context of his service of the needs of Christ. The elder is not accountable to the flock; he is accountable to Christ. The flock actually is accountable to the elder; Christianity is not a democracy. This gives the elder the option of taking unreasonable advantage here on earth; an option for which he will be accountable through eternity. However the elder also has the option of tending, serving and feeding his flock with all the energies at his disposal knowing that in doing so he is fulfilling the role that his master has given him. This will also be notified throughout eternity.