Peter reminds the elders that they have to care for Christ’s flock as shepherds. They do this by ‘exercising oversight’. The term ‘flock’ is a way of expressing endearment. Of course, they are God’s flock, the ones whom God loves and cares for. So Peter is reminding the elders that the ones they are looking after are those whom God is very tender towards. It is as if the apostle is saying, ‘Tend them in a manner as to how God would deal with them.’
The basic way in which they care for the flock is by ‘exercising oversight’. The idea here is superintendence of the flock. Clearly, the obvious feature of a superintendent is presence – it is impossible to function as an absent superintendent. Yet the temptation to keep one’s distance would be very strong in a time of difficulty or persecution. Peter is reminding the elders that they cannot abandon the flock that God has put in their care.
What did a literal shepherd do when he was caring for his flock? He provided them with food, he guided them through the day, and he protected them from danger. We can easily see how such applies to the role of an elder. He ensures that proper instruction is given, that proper decisions are made, and that dangers are pointed out and avoided. Those who are teaching elders will do this publicly but all elders are expected to do this for God’s flock. So we can imagine elders finding some of Christ’s suffering people or frightened people or about-to-deny him people and giving them appropriate encouragements from God’s Word. And in situations where persecution is not the problem, they have to ensure that other dangers, such as worldliness, does not affect God’s flock.