Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing (Titus 1:7)
In an earlier devotion on Titus 1:5 we reminded ourselves of three New Testament words for “elder.” This is the verse where Paul said he left Titus behind in Crete to appoint elders in every town. I though it would be helpful to repeat a section of that devotion here:
“The word used here (Titus 1:5) for “elders” is “presbuteros”, which refers to an older man or an office of leadership, with experience implied. There are other words used for elder in the New Testament, such as “episcopos” which is translated “overseer” or “bishop”, and “poimen” which is translated “shepherd” or “pastor.” Of course, all three can be translated “elder.”
In today’s passage, the word “overseer” comes from the elder term “episcopos.” The old King James Version translates this word as “bishop.”
As I have worked with the three terms that describe an elder, I have discovered it is wise not to be too definitive in distinguishing them from one another. However, they do have some distinctive qualities.
For example the term “poimen” definitely focuses on the spiritual shepherding of individuals. But it also suggests the visionary leadership of a collective church body.
As well, this morning’s term “episcopos” has to do with the oversight of everything God has entrusted to His church, suggesting more of an administrative role. Yet, some of the things elders administrate are the systems that in turn shepherd people, such as small group Bible study structures.
I mention all of this to give some context to Paul’s idea that the “overseer” or “bishop” is not to be “overbearing.” The word used in the Greek for “overbearing” carries with it the idea of one who is arrogant or self-willed. If the term “overseer” refers to the administration of systems, or ministries in the church, then it is easy to understand the destructive nature of such an attitude.
A leader needs to be confident, but he also needs to be a good listener. He needs to respect the talents and passions of others and find a way to position people where God can best use them for His purposes. Leaders must know what they are doing, while not assuming to know everything.
If we miss this dynamic, in anything we lead, we will find ourselves controlling rather than leading, which is not at all what Paul had in mind when he used the term “overseer.” I think this is the point of his statement, “not overbearing.” The “overseeing” of the Lord’s church requires an understanding of human nature, a grasp of spiritual formation, and a glimpse of God’s will for His people. And in my experience, there has never been a time when I had a perfect handle on any of the three, let alone all of them at once.
Therefore, Paul’s instruction not to be “overbearing” is really a call to humility. And anyone who has been a leader for any amount of time probably knows a little bit about humility.
Dear God, help me oversee with Your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.