In a recent issue of Expository Times, Chloe Lynch has an article on “In 1 Peter 5.1-5, who are the Presbyteroi and what is said about their role?” ExpT 123.11 (2012): 529-40.
On the Elders:
Who, then, are the elders in 1 Peter 5:1-5? It is proposed that they are those operating as leaders within the Christian communities to which Peter writes. The concept of eldership probably derived both from Jewish and Hellenistic contexts, in which elders had influence dependent upon community status. Whilst such elders might usually be chronologically older, this was not necessarily the case: authority rested on the prestige of the family of which the elder was head and upon being one ‘to whom respect can be given.’ This may have led the church to focus eventually on seniority in the faith (a Christian form of ‘prestige’ and basis for respect”) over chronological age.
On the role of Elders:
The elders’ role here is to lead. Yet Peter seeks to describe clearly the duties and style of such leadership. Not for Christian elders a leadership which benefits leaders and not followers: they must be shepherd-leaders who nurture, protect and guide God’s people without gaining great worldly advantage. Whilst probably modestly remunerated for their efforts, elders were not to be motivated thereby in overseeing their church communities. Rather, they were to serve willingly (to God’s standard of willingness), enthusiastic even, in the face of possibly increased persecution resulting from their role.
I am reminded of the Didaskalia which has two qualifications for an elder: he must be over 50 and he must have a beard!