What should I do when I disagree with decisions made by the overseers in my assembly?
Not every oversight decision is an easy one, nor is every decision met with full approval by all, as we all have our assessment as to what “should have been done.” The easiest response – criticism – often carries with it destructive and far-reaching consequences. The Scriptures contain many examples of ill-advised murmuring against leadership: Aaron and Miriam’s accusing attitude (Num 12); the crisis at Kadesh-Barnea (Num 13-14); cross-cultural conflict between widows and allegations of negligence that unsettled the early church (Acts 6).
The key to answering this question lies not so much in one’s reaction to specific oversight decisions, but in one’s appreciation of, and submission to, the work of overseers. First, there is the RECOGNITION of their God-given responsibility and work. The Holy Spirit Himself has raised them up as shepherds over the flock (Acts 20:28) to feed, care, and guide the believers – to “watch” over the souls and well-being of the assembly. As they are considered laborers on behalf of the Chief Shepherd, they bear the ultimate responsibility before God for their judgments on specific matters (Heb 13:17). Barring clearly non-scriptural decisions, the sheep have but to obey and submit to them (that “have the rule over you”) while committing the ultimate determination to the sovereignty of God.
Another vital response involves a RESPECT for the overseers themselves and the difficulty of their work. Before moving in disagreement, the questions should be asked, “Am I praying for them?” “Do I appreciate that they are dealing in confidence about many weighty issues?” “Have I considered that I might not know or fully understand all the factors involved in passing judgment?” “Have I encouraged my overseers and shown respect and support for them?” “Am I one who causes grief to them as they seek to lead the flock (v17)?” Hebrews 13:7 reminds us of the impact of past leaders whose faith can be followed. Submission to oversight decisions and confidence in their leadership in the present time is certainly easier when love for Christ and for each believer is clearly evident in the lives of the shepherds. Overseers with these characteristics are easy to approach and the sheep should feel comfortable in speaking with them about their concerns.
There is also the need to REFLECT upon one’s own reaction to disagreeable decisions. Is the matter one of vital importance or is it a trivial pet-peeve? Is “my will” in view or the good of the assembly as a whole? If the matter is serious, the oversight should be approached, not to challenge them, but to seek their mind and wisdom. The disciples often approached their Lord for further insight, and happy is the assembly that has leaders who are approachable and willing to help saints in their understanding.
Sadly, not every assembly is marked by leaders with a true shepherd’s heart. In such situations, we need to pray the more earnestly, that God will overrule and that godly leaders will be molded and raised up to lead the Lord’s people.
I cannot find anything in the Bible which says that I need to be at all the meetings. Why is it expected of me?
The question of attendance at assembly meetings is not a new one. Even in apostolic days, there were those who apparently didn’t see the importance of meeting regularly with other believers as Hebrews 10:25 makes clear: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Sadly, what marked some in earlier days continues to mark our own times as some believers drift in when they “feel like it” or merely come to observe the Lord’s Supper and then disappear. Such attendance reveals either a cool, distant heart toward the Lord and His people, or a lack of understanding of what assembly fellowship encompasses.
It is noteworthy that the early church was marked by steadfastness (Acts 2:42). Their attendance wasn’t haphazard or sporadic. There are legitimate reasons that impact attendance on occasion, such as employment issues, illness, family responsibilities, etc., but when believers consistently miss meetings, it is a symptom of a spiritual problem and overseers become concerned when believers are “missing in action.”
Ultimately, it is the focus of our gathering that establishes its importance. The word used in Hebrews 10:25 is episynagoge – not just a “gathering together” but a “gathering together unto” Himself. Our Lord Himself is the object and center of our coming together as an assembly. As we gather in His Name, He has promised to be “in the midst” (Matt 18:20). If we knew that the Lord would be there in person, would we really want to miss the meeting? His presence made the difference everywhere He went, and it is our great privilege now to enjoy the fullness of His Person.
A second factor involving consistent attendance concerns the actual functioning of the assembly. Fellowship in a local church is pictured as a body with all of its varied parts and functions (1Cor 12). Although every part of our body is different, each is vital for health and vitality. In a similar way, every believer in an assembly is both vital and necessary for the maintenance of testimony. Some may be more visible or even more gifted, but every believer has a role to fill in the advance of the work. God’s placement is with divine wisdom and purpose (1Cor 12:18). We really do need each other; sadly, however, some believers feel that they are of little value or worth, and therefore fail to contribute.
Finally, I need to meet regularly with other believers for my own spiritual preservation and growth. Every meeting has a distinct focus and purpose. The Lord’s Supper keeps my affection for Christ warm and vibrant; the Bible reading stirs growth in the knowledge of Christ; the prayer meeting allows me to breath “heaven’s air,” while the gospel work keeps my vision of a lost world clear. In a cold, opposing world, I desperately need the fellowship, encouragement, and spiritual prods of fellow believers. Wonderfully, the local assembly is uniquely designed to reveal Christ’s glory and to sustain and strengthen us as believers.
Thomas missed one meeting and so missed the blessing of seeing the Lord. Let’s not do the same!