How are we to relate to an overseer and his authority?
The Lord takes believers from their culture to maintain Christian testimony within that culture. However, testimony has always suffered when Christians borrow the mores of their culture. Rejecting God’s authority, our society is anti-authoritarian and casual. We are in the world but not of it (John 17:11, 14). Rejecting society’s thinking, we recognize that God establishes authority; that authority is not our enemy but our ally. Submission to elders is a Biblical truth (Heb 13:17), therefore it is for our good (Deu 6:24).
Saul was anointed by God through Samuel to be king (1Sa 10:1), sadly reflecting the people’s sinful desire to be like the nations (8:19, 20). (Solemnly, God may allow among His people leadership that reflects their poor spiritual condition.) Despite this and Saul’s unreasoning oppression, David would not lift the sword against Saul, the Lord’s anointed (24:6). The same principle is evident in the New Testament. Gaius was part of an assembly in which Diotrephes exercised leadership (3Jo 10). Diotrephes rejected truth communicated by John, an apostle (v 9). When he came to the assembly, John intended to deal with Diotrephes because the issue was God’s truth. Notably, instead of hinting that Gaius should “dethrone” Diotrephes, John encouraged Gaius to continue in truth and love, to overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). Those two cases are worse than assembly believers face today, but the principle is clear: we are to respect authority established by God.
An authoritarian demeanor, however, is unbecoming to those who lead God’s people. Their mind set is to be that of a servant (Phi 2:3-8; Mar 10:42-45). Shepherds take their character from the Chief Shepherd (1Pe 5:1-4). He was approachable, so that even the outcasts of society felt free to come near and converse with Him (Luke 15:1; John 4:27). What a wonderful condition when the sheep and the shepherds in an assembly enjoy a free, open, mutually-edifying, accepting, and harmonious relationship!
In what ways can believers help an elder to fulfill his responsibility?
A primary responsibility is for believers to pray for their shepherds (Jam 5:16). They will one day give account to the Lord for the state of the flock (Heb 13:17). We can help them to watch over us with joy by submitting to the Word of God which they teach (vv 7, 17). Believers will also help overseers to care for them if they discuss with them their own struggles, concerns, and spiritual desires.
Such an ideal condition exists when the believers trust their overseers to know and care for them. Overseers earn that trust; it is not granted to a brother because the assembly recognizes him as an overseer. A brother expresses a genuine care for the believers, and therefore earns their confidence, long before the assembly recognizes him as an overseer (1Th 5:12). An overseer cannot demand respect, but his life, character, care, manner, sensitivity, and sincerity will command respect. That respect is a stewardship to be carefully guarded. Without it, he will scarcely be able to “take care of the church of God” (1Ti 3:5).
Why would an elder monopolize the assembly’s ministry and prayer?
This is a two-sided issue. Almost any overseer would prefer a more healthy condition in which he shares the weight of responsibility with others. He is likely concerned about one of two problems: either no one is willing to help or others’ help lacks spiritual character or Biblical soundness.
Part of the solution lies with the believers in the assembly. All service, worship, and prayer is for the Lord and His glory. Therefore, whatever the difficulties or sense of personal inadequacy, all believers (male or female) should prepare spiritually for the gatherings. Each male should seek the Lord’s help to contribute in a way that will honor the Lord. Private prayer where the only ear that evaluates is the Lord’s will help a brother to pray and worship publicly where the most important listening ear is the Lord’s.
A common goal for all believers is to increasingly contribute to the assembly words and thoughts that have a Scriptural truth and weight. The Lord faulted His people for bringing offerings that were merely convenient and lacking in value (Mal 1:8). God expected their best from His people (Num 18:12).
Another part of the solution depends on the overseer in question. Unconsciously, he may make it difficult for others to take part by being overly exacting in his expectations or critical in his manner. In some way, he may have the Elijah syndrome: “I only am left” (1Ki 19:10, 14). It is most gratifying that the Lord reserves for Himself some who are not as outstanding as Elijah and He accepts His children’s faulty expressions and limited thoughts of Himself. Where would any of us be if He accepted only perfection in us? In virtue of the glories of the Priest Who represents us, our God accepts our feeble offerings (Heb 9:24; 13:15). An overseer’s responsibility then is to work with the material God provides and to so nurture it that God receives increasing glory from it. Even if the increase seems very small, he continues to do what he can so the smoking flax is not quenched (Isa 42:3).
What do we do when an overseer assumes one-man ministry?
A spiritual approach is the only way to resolve a spiritual problem. The resolution of this issue must come from the presence of God. If the Lord uses a believer’s help in this situation, the believer will obtain the needed help in God’s presence (Heb 4:16). Prayer is our first recourse. Pray for the brother as his loving helper; don’t pray “against” him. Cultivate a positive, sincere, godly relationship with him. Appreciate whatever wholesome motivation he has. Discourage criticism; it will not help. By patiently waiting on the Lord, learn from Him what will be the most effective means to help the brother and communicate God’s concern to him. God’s means of helping the brother will not destroy or belittle him, but will produce through the correction a better man than he was before.