Are overseers failing to do their work because of the burden of deacon work they assume?
Overseers bear a heavy responsibility, given to them by the Lord (Acts 20:28; Heb 13:17). To handle God’s Word in a way that discourages them would displease the Lord (1Co 12:7). Overseers, sharing the same weaknesses that we all have, may unconsciously fall into counterproductive habits. Being able to step back and view their habits objectively could be helpful.
While qualifications for overseers are listed separately from those of deacons (1Ti 3:1-13), this does not eliminate the possibility that an elder could also be a deacon. Since spiritual service is the primary responsibility of deacons (1Ti 3:9, 10), overseers who are “apt to teach” likely serve as deacons. The question, however, likely deals with deacon service noted by the apostles as serving tables (Acts 6:2).
The priority for overseers is protecting and shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28). If the Lord has given them this work, He will not also give them work that interferes with this service. He never presses us beyond our limits (1Co 10:13; Psa 103:14), but gives us the needed physical help to fulfill our responsibilities (1Ti 4:10, “Preserver of all . . .” JND).
Perhaps some overseers need to make adjustments in their scheduling. The shepherds need to “know well the face of thy flock” (Pro 27:23, YLT), to visit with them, and to have appropriate food that will meet specific needs.
How could elders fulfill their responsibilities without being overburdened by “other things”?
The example in Acts 6 is clear, simple, and effective. Applying the principles may not be as easy as it appears. The Lord indicates that leadership is liable to exert control and to somehow obligate others to submit to it (Luke 22:25). His model of leadership is different: “So shall it not be among you” (Mark 10:43). The mind of those whom the Lord has made leaders is a servant mind (vv 43b, 44). Sometimes a sincere desire to “hold the truth” can be expressed in a carnal way by tightly holding the reins of control in the assembly.
The apostles shared their responsibilities where it was possible to do so. They could not share their apostolic responsibility, but they did share deacon service that was not essential to their apostolic responsibilities.
While overseers are responsible to “guide the flock” (Heb 13:7, mg), others can carry out many responsibilities under the elders’ guidance. Matters such as handling money, maintaining, decorating, or constructing a building in which to meet, planning meals, working with children, and preparing for gospel outreach can be entrusted to others. Some who are younger, capable, and willing, whether male or female, could effectively do this work.
The apostles’ example emphasizes that the primary qualifications for handling any responsibilities related to the assembly are spiritual (Acts 6:3). If elders feel that no others are spiritually qualified, they have a shepherd’s responsibility to foster such spiritual growth. And if elders feel that no one is willing to do the work, they would be wise to set a different tone in the assembly, making it clear that others are appreciated, needed, and welcomed in the assembly. Encouragement works wonders (Heb 3:13, JND)!
Is it not dishonoring to the Lord for a brother to pray publicly with a hand in his pocket?
Some may wonder if this question is the kind that should be answered in a forum like this. It is taking place when the eyes of all should be closed. The man praying may be completely unconscious he is doing this. Even if he is conscious of this, he may not regard it as dishonoring to the Lord.
Some relevant Biblical principles may, however, merit mention here. First, as a suggestion to listeners, we know that God has given instruction as to the content of public prayer (1Ti 2:1-2). Therefore, observers should be concerned, as God is, with the content of a brother’s prayers. Since the Scriptures anticipate that believers will say “Amen” when a brother prays (1Co 14:14-16), believers should listen carefully to what is said so they can affirm their fellowship with each of the brother’s petitions. Individuals assumed various postures in prayer. The Lord fell on His face (Mat 26:39), Paul kneeled (Acts 20:36), and the publican stood with his hands smiting his chest (Luke 18:13). Our posture in prayer conveys a message of intensity or submission or respect, but the message in the words is of greater importance. Some find it very difficult to speak publicly and we could well overlook their nervous habits for the joy of hearing them leading us in prayer.
On the other hand, the reminder of some principles could help those of us who pray publicly. Bible characters who were conscious of God’s presence were overwhelmed (Isa 6:5; Luke 5:8; Rev 1:17). Speaking to God is of far greater moment than speaking in the presence of fellowmen (Eccl 5:2), therefore focus on Him rather than them. A greater familiarity with the Lord in private prayer would deliver us from filling the time with well-worn sayings and whatever thoughts come to mind. If prayer grows out of a relationship to our Father (Luke 11:2), consciously speaking to a Father Whom we know will keep us from senseless repetition of “Father,” “our God and Father,” “our God,” and “Lord.” Knowing that He is omniscient and is completely aware of our hearts and thoughts (1Ki 8:39) might prevent us from posturing in prayer or stretching out our prayers when we have little to say.
Most of all, the purpose of responding to this question is not to foster criticism of public prayers, but to encourage all of us to a greater appreciation of moving and speaking in the presence of “the great God.” Let all who can respond to the privilege of praying publicly do so, but ever aim for deeper acquaintance with our Father, more genuine awe of His presence, and greater power with God in prayer.