The Character to be Expressed in Overseers
It is with a keen sense of inadequacy and shortcoming that I write a few words on this topic. It is, however, with a heartfelt love for the “little flocks” that I attempt to write, hoping it will be for the good of the people of God.
It should perhaps be reemphasized that the Scriptures are very clear as to the plurality of overseers (Acts 20, vs. 17; Eph 4, 5:11). In describing these men as “shepherds” (pastors/teachers) the Holy Spirit stresses their godly-care. The word “elder” suggests maturity in example. “Overseer” implies diligent-perception and watchfulness. The qualifications for those who desire the work (not office) of an overseer are clearly outlined in I Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:9. The terms “elders” and “overseers”, are used interchangeably in these passages.
I would suggest that the qualifications for shepherds are seen in John 10, John 21 and Acts 20. The thought of the elder is in prominence.
The Shepherd – Godly Care
The motive for the shepherd of the little flock should be the love of Christ (2 Cor 5:14), love to Christ (John 21:15, 16, 17) and love for the Lord’s dear people (John 13: 34, 35) as he understands the cost and value of the flock (Acts 20:28).
The shepherd functions in many ways:
The shepherd goes before the flock (John 10:4) as an example and should never go where the flock would be exposed to danger, disease, or deception.
The shepherd leads the sheep into the green pastures of God’s Word (Psalm 23:2), where he has often been himself. The shepherd has heard the voice of the “Great Shepherd” and in turn calls the sheep to hear Him.
When the wolves come (and they will) and trouble and difficulty is the result, the hireling will flee but the shepherd stays (John 10:12,13). He is there to calm and settle the flock. The shepherd will encourage careful reception so that as far as is possible, the flock is spared the distress of disease and deception. The shepherd will create an environment in prayer meetings and Bible readings that will comfort, heal, help, strengthen against the storms that rage outside and even within the bosom of the lambs and sheep. He will listen to the bleating of the sheep and will respond appropriately.
If there is a fall or injury the shepherd will be active in the healing process in a scriptural and gentle manner. If disease invades (such as doctrinal error or inaccuracy) they will correct it by teaching from the Word of God. May God grant us the heart, the voice and the hand of the shepherd.
The Elder – Mature Example
Most who read these articles will understand that the elder is the same person as the overseer looked at from a slightly different perspective. Age is not the only requirement. The emphasis is on maturity and experience. It has often been observed that a lack of stability may occur if older, mature men are lacking. It would be understood that age is not the only requirement. The elder will be:
(1) An Example of a balance between grace and truth (John 1:14). He will have learned to control his emotions (1 Tim 3:3), “For the servant of the Lord must not strive” (2 Tim 2:24).
(2) Trustworthy – Maintain confidentiality from home to home, and in relation to the meeting where such is necessary.
(3) Not Easily Provoked – He will expect criticism of himself and fellow elders and will commit it to the One who, “when he was reviled, reviled not again” (I Peter 2:23), and will, to the greatest extent possible, leave it all with Him.
(4) A Peacemaker – Be a stabilizing influence. In almost any assembly there are personality clashes and differing temperaments. This was the case at Philippi between those mentioned in chapter 4. The elder will attempt to draw the hearts and minds of believers to the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5-8). He will be careful not to add to the problem. “Love will cover the multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8).
(5) An Encourager – The young need encouragement for growth and service. This was the case with Paul to John Mark as recorded in I Tim 4:11. He should attempt to guide the young to proper reading material, the study of Scripture, vocations and friends, giving teaching and counseling regarding a partner for life.
(6) A Learner – Hopefully, he will have learned from his experiences, some not so good, no doubt, and will pass help on to others.
The Overseer – Diligent Perceptions
Hebrews 13:17 tells us that the guides watch (with keen perception) for they must give account. The overseer is:
(1) Alert to false teaching. Currently in vogue in the religious world is the idea that our Lord Jesus finished suffering for sins in hell. Young Christians are facing this type of thing almost daily and need to be equipped to combat this with the Word of God (2 Tim 3:17).
(2) Attentive to young parents, for instance, who alert overseers as what is being taught in their children’s schools such as evolution, humanism, sex education providing teaching and guidance in relation to it (Eph 6:17).
(3) Sensitive to discouragement, and marriage and family problems in the assembly. Where possible, he will help to resolve such conflicts and problems.
(4) A Man of integrity. He will never act in response to pressure, but from a desire to do what is scriptural and right. The assembly is not controlled by lobbying or party agenda; and the godly overseer will refuse such attempts and will promote unity and peace.
(5) Careful. If discipline is proposed, he will be guided carefully and prayerfully by scripture to ensure that any action is unquestionably authorized by the Word of God.
(6) Unifier. He will seek unity amongst overseers on any topic prior to any action. At times, one brother may be alone in his view and yet be correct.
(7) Diligent. He observes younger men with a view to the future. In fellowship with the other overseers’ he encourages such as are fitted and called by the Holy Spirit and who will thus maintain scriptural assembly standards, to further their efforts in His work.