Pastors, Overseers and Elders, part 2

Last Friday, we looked at how three words are used to describe the same office in the local church. I want to look briefly at each word and why they are so important in describing the what these men do for the local church.

Pastor

A pastor is a shepherd. This word is used throughout the Scriptures to describe the kind of leadership God is looking for among His people. He even describes Himself as a shepherd (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11). The shepherd in the NT church is watching out over souls (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28) because wolves come in among God’s church attempting to destroy and steal. These wolves teach false doctrines and are very deceptive in leading souls away from sound doctrine. Sheep easily wander and they need a shepherd.

Overseers

The word bishop in some versions is the same as overseer in other versions. These men are looking over the local congregation among whom God has appointed them to serve.  That may mean they are helping to oversee that the needy among them are cared for properly (Acts 11:29-30). The elders may oversee tense situations and try to diffuse them as they did in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-26). As shepherds (pastors) they are overseeing that the flock of God is properly fed, so they will make sure the teaching and preaching offered is not only Biblical but also helpful for the growth of each member of the congregation. Sometimes they may have to oversee the discipline of an unruly brother or sister.

On a side note, there is no leadership in between the elders (overseers) of the local church and Jesus Christ. Men in their flawed wisdom have designed denominational structures that have no basis in Scripture and it has taken away from the simplicity of the New Testament pattern.

Elders

Elders by definition are older. They are seasoned men, both in life and in usage of the word of God. According to the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, these men are not to be novices. They have to be well equipped and able to teach God’s word, and also able to patiently confront those who contradict sound teaching. These men are married and have raised families, and have shepherded their own children to faith in Jesus. Peter commands the elders to live as examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4), so their lives must have demonstrated over time that they are worthy of our followership.

Elders, Pastors, Overseers…three words for the same men who lead local churches. Wise, experienced men who love Jesus and His word. They also love God’s people and want nothing more than to see them all go to heaven.

Pastors, Overseers and Elders

Pastors, Overseers and Elders: Three words used in Scripture to describe the exact same office in the church. Often in religious circles these terms are separated and applied to different offices in the church, e.g. one man is a pastor while another is an elder. However, we will see clearly from Scripture that they are one and the same. Together, these three descriptive words paint a composite picture of what these men are to do in Christ’s church.

Let’s look at the first example where these 3 terms are used together.

In Acts 20, while on his way to Jerusalem, the apostle Paul sent and called for the “elders” of the congregation in Ephesus (vs. 17). As he was giving them many final instructions and warnings, he said this:

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (bishops), to shepherd (pastor) the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

The elders of Ephesus were to oversee God’s church in Ephesus. The Greek word for overseers is also translated “bishop” (1 Timothy 3:1). So the elders were also the “bishops.” But there is another term used here by Paul and that is “shepherd,” which also means “pastor.” The congregation of God’s people at Ephesus was a flock of sheep in need of shepherds (pastors).

In today’s religious circles, the term “pastor” seems to be applied to anyone who stands in a pulpit and preaches. That is not the original sense of the word in the New Testament churches. The pastors of the congregations were the elders who were appointed to oversee (bishop) the church after meeting God’s requirements for the office (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Yes, in a sense, we all are shepherds when we lead others and teach them about God, but those called “pastors” in the New Testament were the elders.

Pastors, Overseers and Elders: One and the same office in the church

Here is the second passage where all 3 of these descriptive words are used in addressing the same office in the local congregation:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd (pastor) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight (bishops) not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Once again from Peter we see the elders were called to shepherd (pastor) God’s flock. They were to exercise oversight (be the bishops) of the souls entrusted to their charge.

So for next week, we will consider these three terms and why each one brings something special to the table when considering what these men do in the congregations.

Which is Worse?

I heard a quote by Mark Twain awhile back that has been on my mind.  “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”  I believe I heard it on a radio commercial and they were posing the question, “Which is worse, to be unable to read or to be able to read and choose not to?”

That concept has been rolling around in my mind and I think it can apply to many different situations.  Today I’d like us to consider the choices we make in light of other people’s situations.

I know a brother who was unable to attend the worship assembly because of health reasons.  One member called him and put his phone on speaker just so he could be part of the worship.  He wanted to be with his family that badly.  I know another brother who doesn’t even give a second thought to taking on more responsibilities at work that will keep him from assembling with the saints.  Which is worse, being unable to assemble or being able to assemble and choosing not to?

There is a father serving his country in Afghanistan and he is on a 12 month deployment.  Every chance he gets he calls his wife and kids, he gets on Face Time with them, and he’s constantly writing letters.  He is counting down the days to when he’ll be reunited with his family.  I know another father who is very, very successful in business.  He provides a tremendous standard of living for his family and is almost never home for dinner and rarely attends any family events.  Which is worse, being unable to spend time with your family or being able to and choosing not to?

I read about a gospel preacher that was using flash cards and various other techniques to memorize the bible.  I’m not talking about a few key scriptures; he was working to memorize the entire bible, word for word!  He had recently been diagnosed with macular degeneration and knew that he would eventually lose his ability to see.  The thought of not being able to read God’s word absolutely broke his heart.  I know a brother in Christ who is a verified genius and an avid reader.  He can quote just about any famous literary work and knows facts about world history that could win him a spot on Jeopardy, but he is unable to teach a bible class because of his insufficient knowledge of God’s word.  Which is worse, being unable to study the word of God, or being able to and choosing not to?

I have the most vivid memories of a strong, godly man, powerfully preaching and teaching the word of God.  I also have vivid memories of that same man, frail and thin, with a body being eaten away by cancer, sitting on a stool to teach bible class because he didn’t have the strength to stand on his own two feet.  Another person I know is so busy with the activities of this life that they simply refuse to teach because they “couldn’t possibly find the time”.  Which is worse, being physically unable to teach a bible class, or being able to and choosing not to?

I don’t provide these examples to make you feel guilty or to criticize others.  The reality is that we all find time for the things that are important to us.  Our activity will clearly demonstrate our priorities.  Unfortunately, we often find out we had the wrong priorities when it is too late to do anything about it.

In John 6:27, after feeding the 5,000, Jesus encourages the crowd saying, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life”.  In Matthew 6 in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us “not to store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  The problem is that we get caught up in temporal thinking.  We get enamored with and fixated on the comforts of this life and it distracts us from the reality of eternal life and before we know it, we’ve wasted our existence on junk that won’t last.

I’m convinced that if we spent more time thinking about the eternal and less time thinking about the temporal we wouldn’t have to teach lessons on attendance, or beg people to teach a bible class, or guilt people into reading their bibles or spending time with their families.  All those things would fall into place naturally as we got our priorities eternally focused.

These are the mere edges of His ways

He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing. He binds up the water in His thick clouds, yet the clouds are not broken under it. He covers the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud over it. He drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters, at the boundary of light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at His rebuke. He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding He breaks up the storm. By His Spirit He adorned the heavens; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent. Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” (Job 26:7-14).

As Hurricane Matthew moves along the Florida coastline, our thoughts and prayers are with those in its path.

Nature is beautiful and awesome, but it can also be downright scary and devastating as well. We can’t control it nor can we predict it accurately. That being said, nature is created by an Almighty God, and Job pointed to nature to make a point about God.

“He binds up the water in thick clouds, yet the clouds are not broken under it…He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding He breaks up the storm.”

Can you even begin to imagine the power of a Being who created and has power over hurricanes? Meditate upon what Job said at the end of this passage:

Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?

These are the mere whispers of His ways!

If a hurricane is but a “mere whisper” from God, I shudder to think of what it would be like if God “thundered”! Let us all take time to reverence and be in awe of the mighty power of our God.

God is good, and God is all-powerful.

Strangers, Robbers and Hirelings

In John 10, we see the Good Shepherd contrasted with strangers, robbers and hirelings. While this is a valuable lesson about the nature of Jesus and His purpose, it also serves as great leadership training. What kind of leader am I?

A stranger

A stranger, Jesus said, “they simply will not follow, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (vs. 5). This is all about relationships. The stranger has no relationship with the sheep. He doesn’t know a thing about them, and they have no clue who he is. There was no time and energy spent to develop a relationship. But for the shepherd and his sheep it is entirely different. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd. The shepherd spends his life with the sheep, and he names each one. Sheep respond to their shepherd’s call because they have a relationship with him. Read Psalm 23 and see the intimacy that exists between shepherd and sheep.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

Thieves and Robbers

The shepherd enters through the door. He has the confident authority to enter the sheepfold. They are his sheep. A thief and a robber will “climb up some other way” because he knows he does not have the right to enter by the door (vs. 1). His motives are sinister and opportunistic. He comes “only to steal and kill and destroy” (10:10). Jesus is saying that the religious leaders that preceded Him in Israel were thieves and robbers. They were only out for nefarious purposes, but “the sheep did not hear them” (vs. 8). The Good Shepherd came to give life, even if that meant sacrificing His own life for the sheep.

Hireling (Hired Hand)

“He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep” (John 10:12-13).

Simply put, a hired hand is just that. Money was placed in his hand and he did a job and went home afterwards. Did he care about the sheep? Not at all. What did his actions demonstrate? When the wolf came the hireling high-tailed it in order to save his backside.  This leaves the sheep defenseless and vulnerable…an easy lunch for the wolf. But the hired hand doesn’t care about that. It wasn’t worth losing his own skin, right? They are not his sheep anyway! He is not personally invested in the sheep. He is invested in himself. Jesus said the hireling “is not concerned about the sheep.”

Standing in stark contrast to the hireling is Jesus. He owns the sheep, and He is fully invested in their well-being. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Note how many times in John 10 Jesus spoke of laying down His life for His sheep.

What kind of leader are you?

In conclusion, take some time to meditate on what kind of leader you are in Christ’s church. Is your character like that of the Good Shepherd? Or are you merely a hireling that cares nothing about the sheep? Will you fight or flee when the wolf comes? Would the flock of God consider you a stranger because you have not invested yourself and your time to get to know your brethren? Or finally, are you a robber that is only seeking to get something out of God’s people? It’s something to think about.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14).

Sound Judgment

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he out to think; to think so as to have sound judgment, as God as allotted to each a measure of faith.”  Romans 12:3
Think so as to have sound judgment.  This is more difficult than it might appear, especially when considering the context of the various roles and gifts we have been given as members of the body of Christ.
The direct application is clear, we should be aware of becoming haughty or arrogant in regards to our own abilities, talents, and position within the body of Christ.  I have a tendency to get frustrated when I feel I’m not being used effectively.  When I feel my gifts are not appreciated or I’m not given an opportunity to use my gifts in the way I deem appropriate, it is very easy to slip into a mindset of arrogance.  I fail to have sound judgment and I begin to feel, and even act, superior to other members of the body.  One of the important aspects of sound judgment in this text is found in verses 4 and 5 “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Every member is part of the body and every individual should be connected to the other.  Ephesians 4:12 says the gifts are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” and verse 16 says the “the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”  When I get frustrated and become arrogant or haughty I’m failing to recognize what the purpose of my gifts are.  They are not for my own glorification and honor but for the building up of the body.  Sound judgment requires me to understand my place in the body and not put myself above others.
The indirect application of this passage is somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum.  To “not think more highly of himself than he out to think” implies there is a way we ought to think about ourselves.  We should consider ourselves and our gifts and understand our role in the body.  To consider ourselves worthless or useless is not to have sound judgment.  To compare ourselves to those in the spotlight and think “I can’t do that, I’m not as important as they are” is not having sound judgment.  Additionally, when we fail to embrace the gifts and roles we have been given and try to force ourselves to do other work, that is not having sound judgment.  The reality is that not everyone should teach publically or preach publically.  Not everyone is equipped to lead the song service or teach a children’s class.  Sometimes we are better equipped to serve behind the scenes, out of the spot light, yet still building up the body of Christ.  Too often we over emphasize the public roles in the body and underemphasize what is going on behind the scenes.  Sound judgment is embracing the gifts God has given us and using them to glorify Him and build up the body.
Here is my challenge for all of us this week:  increase your awareness of the members of your local body and the work they do.  Appreciate the leaders out in front but take a closer look at ALL the people behind the scenes that are so vital in the proper functioning of the body.  Say thanks, write a note, show some appreciation and find an additional area of service for yourself.

Stimulating Change

I Chronicles 29 records one of the great prayers of the bible.  It is a prayer offered by David after the people so willingly provided for the building of the temple.  One of my favorite phrases is in verse 14, “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this?  For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.”

But reading through this chapter the other day I took note of something that I previously glossed over.  Before the people are stimulated to give, before they begin to make sacrifice, David sets the example.  In verse 2 he says, “Now with all my ability I have provided for the house of my God”.  But David isn’t finished, he goes on to say in verse 3, “Moreover, in my delight in the house of my God, the treasure I have of gold and silver, I give to the house of my God, over and above all that I have already provided for the holy temple”.  In verse 5, he finally calls the people to action saying, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”   The text goes on to say that the people offered willingly and in verse 9, “Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly.”

Stimulating Change

David first sets the example with his own heart, delighting in the house of His God, and with his own actions, giving more and more and more of his possessions, and then he asks of the people.  Obviously, there is direct application as we consider our material possessions and our own spirit of generosity for the work of God but I think this example goes far beyond that.

Would you like people around you to be more loving?  Would you like others to show more mercy and forgiveness?  Is there a need in this world for gentleness and kindness?  I can complain and criticize and point out the negative I see around me or I can take a different approach.  I can fill my heart with the things of God.  I can fill myself with His love, His mercy, and His kindness and then set the example by generously giving those things to others.  Putting my heart, which has been filled by God, into action and treating others with kindness and mercy and love is how I will stimulate real change.

Bonus thought:  The word consecrated means “filled” or “fill”.  So the question David asks the people is “Who then is willing to FILL himself this day to the Lord?”  Do we look at sacrificing the material things of this world as emptying ourselves of things we’d like to hang on to or do we look at it as an opportunity to FILL ourselves to the Lord?

Let her alone

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me (Mark 14:6-7).

Jesus’ advice for His disciples that day was to “leave her alone.” If you are not familiar with the account of Mary anointing Jesus before His burial, please read John 12:1-8, Matthew 26:6-16 and Mark 14:3-11.

It is a beautiful picture of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, taking a costly fragrant oil and anointing Jesus’ head and feet. She wiped His feet with her hair, according to John’s account. To Jesus, this was a beautiful act of faith, humility and sacrifice.

To the disciples, however, this was disgusting, wasteful and unnecessary. Mark’s account says the disciples were indignant. They “scolded her.” “Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8). They all had different ideas on how she could and should have used that oil. Judas, according to John’s account, had his own selfish motives for saying she wasted that expensive oil. Regardless, they all criticized her sharply.

“Let Her Alone”

What Jesus said to His disciples is a mouthful, and we as God’s men today must hear these words of Jesus. When we become quick to criticize, cast judgment and condemn another servant of Christ, listen to Jesus first.

  • Let her alone. The best advice He could give them was to leave her alone. When we are quick to jump on someone and how they should have done something different or better, it would be good to remember these words.
  • She has done a good work for Me. Jesus corrected them on two fronts here. First, this was a good work, not a waste of money or a lack of good judgment. Secondly, this good work was done for Jesus. This was not about the disciples or the poor, this was about Mary and Jesus. That is where it needed to stay.
  • She has done this for My burial beforehand. Mary understood the teachings of Jesus clearly and knew what was coming. The twelve just didn’t get it (yet), but Mary did. Jesus had been plain about His coming death, but the twelve simply did not understand it (Matthew 16:22; Mark 9:10,32; Luke 9:44-46; 18:31-34; John 12:16).
  • Wherever the gospel is preached. Think of it, whenever Matthew, Mark or John is read in the whole world for 2000 years, this account has been preserved. What she did, what she understood, and her heart for Jesus was recorded by the Holy Spirit in her honor for the whole world to see. The very act the disciples criticized and judged so harshly is one that Jesus wanted billions to hear proclaimed as part of “the gospel.”

They refreshed my spirit

For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men.
(1 Corinthians 16:18)

Her name was Irene. She was an elderly sister in Columbus, Ohio who struggled with a host of physical ailments. It literally brought tears to her eyes to sit in the pews for a worship service because of the pain she was enduring. In her later years, I remember her hobbling through the doors of the church building, pulling an oxygen cart behind her.

What amazed me and put “oxygen” in my spiritual lungs was to see what she did when she entered the building. She came in smiling. Irene greeted everyone, especially any visitors. Holding her oxygen cart with one hand and shaking visitors’ hands with her other hand.

Her life was for Jesus and for others. She had the joy of the Lord in the midst of her pain and suffering. Her focus was not on her suffering but on how to encourage others.

Thanks, dear sweet Irene. See you in heaven.

Men, I write this to encourage you to look around in your congregations on Sunday and find someone like Irene and give them a hug. Go visit them next week and sit down with them and be refreshed in your spirit. Be thankful for those who teach us by their example the simple truths of humility, thankfulness and love.

They refreshed my spirit

Greater is He who is in you

You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4-6).

It may seem like evil is winning. We may groan, cry and sigh like Lot did over Sodom (2 Peter 2:8). Tears may flow down our eyes as they did for David and Jeremiah because people do not keep God’s law (Psalm 119:136; Jeremiah 9:1). Just as Elijah was tempted to despair, thinking he was all alone, we might begin to feel the same way (1 Kings 19).

Greater is He who is in you

In all of this, however, we must call our minds back to 1 John 4:4. Satan is not winning…Christ is victorious. The wickedness and evil people around you will not overwhelm and conquer you because God is in you. He is greater. God is greater than Satan. Do not despair. Please do not throw your hands up and ask, “What’s the use?”

If Jesus Christ lives within you, then you are overcoming the world. You can overcome the temptations of this world through Christ. With His strength you can withstand the blast of Satan’s blows. “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper…” (Isaiah 54:17). The Devil has thrown everything he has at God’s people and yet we still stand, because Jesus promised it (Matthew 16:18). Christ’s power, not our own, is working.

As I have heard many preachers say over the years about the book of Revelation, “I have read the end of the book and Jesus wins!”

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).