Recognized Leadership

As you’ve been reading through this edition of Truth and Tidings, you’ve been shown much truth regarding the qualifications, responsibilities and character of an overseer in the local assembly. Undoubtedly, many of you have recognized these characteristics in the overseers of the assembly you’re part of, and are grateful to God that you have such men who care for you, instruct you and guide you. We trust you have been able to avoid the pitfall of using these articles to find fault with the overseers you know.

This present article, however, will turn the focus toward those who are not overseers, and show from Scripture that there is an acceptable manner in which the assembly recognizes its oversight. The three chapters that deal with this subject are 1 Thessalonians 5, 1 Timothy 5 and Hebrews 13. We encourage you to read each of these passages prayerfully with a mind to find out why the Holy Spirit inspired the writer(s) to so clearly describe the recognition of assembly oversight. Each of these inspired writings is within a setting of a distressed and discomfited assembly. The Thessalonians were both persecuted and anxious about matters related to the Lord’s return. The Ephesians (Timothy was an overseer in Ephesus) were seeing rapidly declining conditions described in Paul’s two letters to young Timothy. In Hebrews, the believers were in danger of turning back to an old system. Such distressing, anxious and troubled times can easily cause a local assembly to become agitated and question its leadership regarding the path the assembly is on. This was true in early Church times, and it is true today. These three passages help us learn to depend upon and trust those whom God has put in this place of responsibility.

Let us remind ourselves that God is a God of order. He has wisely established order in government, in the workplace and in the home, and it should come as no surprise that He has established order in the local assembly. God raises up and equips men to serve as shepherds, guides and teachers of the assembly, to labor among the assembly, to warn, comfort and give support as need arises (1Th 5:12-14). As these men labor tirelessly for the sake of the Lord and His people, there is an acceptable response from the believers of the assembly toward its overseers.

The first thing the assembly can recognize is that overseers are raised up by God. Overseers don’t appoint themselves, they aren’t elected, and they aren’t selected by a central church leader (be careful of how you understand the Authorized Version’s use of the word “ordained” in Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5). In Acts 20:28 it is clear that the Holy Ghost makes the overseer, and the words of the Lord Jesus can be pointed out within this context: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (Mat 10:40).[1]

As a brother in the assembly gains experience, earns a favorable reputation, gains understanding of Scripture, and leads his home with the character that qualifies him for such a responsibility, he is in God’s schoolhouse, training to take this very serious role of leadership in the local assembly. Success in preparation leads to qualification for this important work. This is the second thing that can be recognized, that the overseer is prepared by God for this work.

Another important recognition is that the overseer is serving “as the steward of God, not selfwilled” (Titus 1:7). The reality is that all authority bestowed upon a human agent, be it in national or civic government, the home or the assembly, is ultimately God’s supreme authority being expressed through another. The care of the church of God has been entrusted by God to those whom He has raised up for such a service, and this governance is carried out with much sobriety, for the overseer is continually aware that he “must give account” (Heb 13:17) to God.  Again, God entrusts authority, and He holds to account those to whom authority has been entrusted. As you contemplate this, recognize the great burden borne by each one God has raised up to oversee His people.

Having briefly presented general principles regarding the recognition of assembly oversight, let us now move on to specific behaviors that can be demonstrated to recognize those whom God has put in a position of leadership.

Know Them (1Th 5:12)

Upon reading this passage, it becomes clear that those who lead the assembly (“are over you”) are doing a work for the Lord. They labor among the assembly in the affairs of God, and the believers will recognize, acknowledge, appreciate and value them. They will “know” those who lead them. This same word is used frequently in John 10 describing the relationship between the sheep and the true Shepherd. Notice verses 4 and 5 of that great chapter: “And the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”

Esteem Them (1Th 5:13)

Not only will the believers of the assembly know (or recognize) the leaders, but they will also “esteem them.” They will “esteem them very highly” and, even more, will “esteem them very highly in love.” Commentators are divided on whether the “very highly” is linked with the “esteem” or the “love” in this section, but can we not easily understand that the passage presses us to hold the overseer in very high regard? It is not because of personal connections, or some other preference, but because of the work they are engaged in as they shepherd the flock of God. It should be obvious that this verse removes any type of indignity or insult toward the overseers, or rebellion against them.

Honour Them (1Ti 5:17)

The overseers who lead the assembly well are found to be deserving of “double honour.” To honour is to estimate a true value, and the original word is frequently translated “price.” A related word is used of the Lord Jesus in 1 Peter 2:7: “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.” Again, it is obvious from the context that the overseer who “rules well” be assigned a very high valuation. What is not so obvious is what “double honour” means. The language suggests high spiritual valuation, but financial assistance is also found in the context of the chapter. This possibly means that the spiritual as well as the material value of the overseer be considered when necessary. In the affluent western world this would seem to be a rare necessity, but in some places the overseer may be required to devote time and energy to the shepherding of the flock that he would otherwise spend in secular employment.

Trust Them (1Ti 5:19)

In verse 17 of this chapter mention is made of the elder who “rules well.” This seems to imply that there may be elders who don’t rule well. And now in verse 19, the possibility of a sinning overseer is brought before us again. While it is not our intention to give undue attention to this possible failure, the possibility does exist and must be acknowledged. Equally possible, false accusation can be brought against an overseer, and this passage deals with that and the preservation of the elder’s reputation and esteem. The Old Testament principle is carried into the New: Let it be by the mouth of “two or three witnesses” that an accusation be made against an elder in the church.

Remember Them (Heb 13:7)

“Remember them” is a tender exhortation to these troubled believers to think back on those who have gone on before, who ruled well, who have left an example, who persevered to the end, “whose faith follow.” Much value can be had in “remembering” those who have influenced us from the Word of God, have guided the assembly in a past day, and were faithful to the “end of their conversation.” Let us not lament the current circumstances we find ourselves in without them, but instead let us live like they lived, serve the Lord like they served, and appreciate in our present overseers the same character we saw in those who have already finished their course.

Obey Them, Submit to Them (Heb 13:17)

As we consider the exhortation of this verse, we would draw your attention again to Titus 1:7. There we see that the guides of the assembly are “steward[s] of God; not selfwilled.” The assembly’s guides do so not with self-interest but as stewards of that which belongs to God, and it is commendable and scriptural that there be a cooperative spirit from those who make up the assembly. While obedience and submission are not behaviors that fit in well with our nature, we can be reminded that yielding to the oversight of the assembly is an acknowledgement of God’s order.

Salute Them (Heb 13:24)

The writer of the Hebrews epistle sends a closing greeting to the overseers mentioned in this chapter. The writer of this article takes this closing opportunity to encourage all to lovingly greet, encourage, appreciate, recognize, esteem, honour, trust and obey the overseers you know. They feed the flock of God, they watch for your souls, they labor among you, and they guide the people of God, maintaining order until the Lord returns.

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.