a primer on pastors (3)

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Sun., Mar. 18). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. The primary texts for this sermon are 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9; however, there will also be brief notice of Acts 20.35; 1 Timothy 5.17, James 5.14-15a, and 1 Peter 5.3. This is the third sermon in a five-part series on elders/shepherds (A Primer for Pastors) and is entitled What’s the Meaning of This? You’ll find these LIFE group discussion guides categorized each week here on my site under the category title, originally enough, “LIFE group guides.”

* BTW – You’ll notice we’re going old-school with the primary texts’s translation for this sermon; I’m workin’ out of the ol’ KJV for ya’ here.

Aim

To lay down a basic understanding of the work of a bishop/elder/overseer/shepherd/steward.

Word

This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3.1-7 KJV)

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1.5-9 KJV)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Tell us about a funny time when you misunderstood what you thought were clear directions.

2. My friends, spouse, etc. would say I’m quite capable of missing the point when _____ is the subject.

Dig

These questions are intended to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Count the number of qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3.1-7? Do the same for Titus 1.5-9?

2. List some Bible characters who weren’t trying to get “into ministry,” but God set them up anyway.

3. What specifically is in view here as to the behavior of elders’ children (1 Timothy 3.4-5; Titus 1.6)?

4. Scripture doesn’t condemn drinking wine, but it is consistently hard on its abuse (drunkenness). What texts other than 1 Timothy 3.3 and Titus 1.7 do you recall that speak against drunkenness?

5. According to Titus 1.9, what is the end in view regarding an elder’s ability to teach?

6. Name the four qualities noted in the latter part of the sermon from Acts 20.35; 1 Tim. 5.17; James 5.14 & 1 Pet. 5.3. Are any of those stated or clearly implied here in 1 Timothy 3.1-7 or Titus 1.5-9?

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us through his word. Choose some.

1. What traits are you surprised do not appear here in 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9? Why?

2. Why do you suppose these Scriptures are totally silent as to the qualities of an elder’s spouse?

3. Complete this sentence: the difference(s) between the qualities listed here to be an elder and the goals for maturity for me as a Christian is/are _____?

4. Reflect on this statement and comment: “The ‘qualifications’ of an elder are directly linked to, and find their meaning in, what an elder does (i.e. – their ‘job description,’ if you please)?”

5. What sort of temptations can you imagine the devil placing before an elder(s) with these traits?

6. An individual with these qualities and who serves as a church elder is in need of my _____?

elders: elders in the OT community (3)

 

The following is excerpted from a description of the Ibo tribesmen of Nigeria. This particular example has been picked because it describes so many characteristics which are typical of meetings in many of the tribal societies about which I have read. The author here uses “elder” and “leader” interchangeably.

“The day-to-day routine business (of an Ibo village) was carried out by persons referred to in government reports as ‘the elders.’ More important business was dealt with at village council meetings, for example, matters involving decisions affecting the whole community. … (a collection of villages is called a town.) Matters which affected all the villages in a town were determined at a town council meeting convened by the ‘elders’ of its component villages. … The members of the council meeting were graded on a basis of age into elders, … men, and young men. Age however was considerably modified by achievement. …”

“The meeting was opened by a village leader (i.e., an elder) who introduced and explained the subject to be discussed. Any person who wished was then free to address the meeting … Veteran leaders took care to speak towards the end of the discussion when they could judge the general feeling of the meeting and put forward arguments which would win general support …

“When the elders felt that the matter had been fully discussed and some degree of unanimity had been reached they … retired … to consult. They stood out of earshot of the meeting, literally putting their heads together. All appeared to be talking at once, but gradually the babble subsided as a decision was arrived at. They then returned to the meeting and one of them, ‘the spokesman,’ usually a leader accepted by his fellows as their best public speaker, announced the decision, pausing after each important point for the assembly to indicate its assent by acclamation.

“The assembly always accepted the elders’ decision for the simple reason that it was in fact their own decision. The elders, when they retired, were not making a new decision but consulting how to give precise definition and expression to the general feeling expressed by the meeting.”

One aspect of this meeting should be highlighted. Any man is welcomed to attend. Tribemen typically give two reasons for this: (1) the community wants a true consensus opinion on the matter at hand, and (2) this meeting provides a forum in which the younger men can see how a respectable person (an elder) conducts himself.

But what do individuals have to do to attain the status of elder in the community? Not every old man becomes an elder. What sets off certain individuals as “elders?”

Research has led me to descriptions of the characteristics (qualifications, if you will) of elders from a variety of societies. What is surprising is that an almost identical set of basic characteristics of elders of a local community appears in each of these societies. These qualifications usually include the following: (1) an elder is a senior member of a large extended family; (2) he is wealthy, but also generous and hospitable; (3) his character exemplifies the standards of ethics and morality which the community esteems most highly; (4) he is well-versed in his people’s “secret knowledge” (religious practices, customs, and history); and (5) he is known in his community for his oratorical skills, especially his skill of persuasion.

The first characteristic (family) gives him a significant constituency – and, consequently, a significant voice – in the community. The next two characteristics (generosity and moral/ethical uprightness) demonstrates to his family and the broader community that he has the interests of the community , not just his personal interests, at heart. The final two characteristics (knowledge and oratorical skills) are necessary tools for him to have if he is going to represent his group effectively. As in the example given above, consensus is central to the decision-making process. Even in criminal cases, it is felt that no settlement has been reached unless it is obvious that both parties in the case will agree with the correctness of the verdict of the elders before it is given. The elders, therefore, must be masters of persuasion. They must use their oratorical skills, along with their extensive knowledge of the community’s past for historical and legal precedents, to achieve a consensus, if one does not emerge naturally. If a consensus is not reached, there will probably be a rift in the community.

Similar characteristics can be inferred for Israel’s elders from the Old testament. A delineation of some of the principal characteristics of an Israelite elder appears in Job 29 and 31, Job’s final defense before his three friends. Job speaks of his earlier life as the life of the ideal elder. He describes his economic status in terms of the size of his family (his children) and of his herds (milk) and his orchards (oil) (29:5-6). Thus we know that he was the head of a large and wealthy family. He points to his generosity, hospitality, and ethics in the acts of benevolence which he performed habitually (29:12-16; see 31:1-40). He was famous for his skills in speaking and persuasion, holding the attention of all who came to the gate of the city (29:7,11,21-23). His fame apparently spread beyond his own relatives, for even “princes” and “nobles” stopped talking to listen to him (29:9-10), and he was like a “chief” and a “king” to the people (29:25). As is the case in similar societies, these characteristics of persuasive speech and wisdom would have been most significant for situations of potential community strife. The counsel of an elder like Job would have carried much weight.

Although Job 29 does not mention any knowledge of ancient traditions, laws, and stories, this characteristics of elders is mentioned elsewhere. For example, in Deut. 32:7, Moses invokes the people to turn to their “fathers” and their “elders” to hear the stories of God’s past deeds. In sum, typical characteristics of tribal elders are found in Israel’s description of her own elders.

(by Dr. Timothy Willis, Leaven; 2:1; pp.8-12)

elders: elders in the OT community (2)

 

A similar persistence in old tribal patterns is found in most countries in which a tribal society – i.e., a society which has a non-centralized political system – has been taken over by a state society with a centralized government. This is true whether the tribal peoples introduced the central government themselves (as in the Israelite monarchy) or whether government was imposed on them from outside by some other group. This persistence of old tribal structures, practices, and beliefs is due in large part to the kinship bases to these communities. The basic family unit is not the nuclear family (husband-wife-children), but the “extended family” or “minimal lineage.” An extended family consists of the oldest surviving member of a family and all of his descendants. A minimal lineage consists of one or more extended families all descended from a common ancestor who lived a few generations prior to the families currently living. Such a group may consist of 20-200 persons. In spite of this increased size, the minimal linage often functions much as we would expect a nuclear family to function. All the members of a minimal lineage feel common economic, emotional, moral, and legal responsibilities to one another. When one member is in need, the whole family steps in to help. When one members suffers, the whole family hurts. When one member sins, the whole family is shamed. When one member is accused of wrong or is physically threatened by others, the whole family must defend that member or bear the consequences. Elders arise from the ranks of senior members of the various extended families within these lineages.

The minimal lineage in the Old Testament is called a “father’s house” (beyt’ ab; pronounced “bait av”). This is most obvious from the story of Achan in Joshua 7:16-18. This is the man who caused Israel to be defeated at Ai by keeping goods captured at Jericho. God designated Achan as the culprit through lot-casting. By this method, he was able to narrow the field of candidates by working his way through the different levels in Israel’s tribal structure. First, he indicated the culprit’s tribe (Judah), then his “clan” (also translated “family”; Zerah), and then his “house” (Zabdi). Zabdi was Achan’s grandfather. Zabdi was deceased by this time. This is known because Achan was a grown man with a wife and children, and his father or grandfather would have been of the generation which died in the Wilderness. (On “father’s house,” see also Num. 1:1ff; 26:1ff). Still, Achan was considered to be part of Zabdi’s minimal lineage, the “house of Zabdi.”

The corporate responsibility of the minimal lineage is indicated most clearly by stories like that told in the book of Ruth, and by laws of redemptions (e.g., Lev. 25:47-49, which calls for one’s brother or uncle or uncle’s son to redeem one who has been sold into slavery to a foreigner). One must keep in mind this strong sense of family corporateness when one reads laws involving elders, because elders in tribal societies usually do not get involved in a dispute unless it affects more than one minimal lineage in a community. For example, in Deut. 21:18-21, there is a law requiring parents to hand over a rebellious son for punishment. This law seems extreme to us; however, the involvement of the city’s elders – among other things in the text – indicates that the son’s rebellion is such that it affects the reputation and well-being of the entire community.

Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions we have about elders in tribal communities is the way they interact with the rest of the members of their community. Because of our American society, we tend to impose our experiences with democratic representative bodies and typical business meetings upon what we read about with elders. For example, we often talk about elders as “officers” in the church, which gives a particular flavor to our perception of the way in which they exercise authority. I have found elderships in tribal societies to be more democratic and less business-like than we imagine. One brief example will illustrate this.

(by Tim Willis, Leaven; 2:1; pp.8-12)

elders: elders in the OT community (1)

 

All too rarely is the Old Testament consulted when conversation arises concerning the work of elders in Christ’s church today. This is unfortunate for the OT contains material very helpful to our understanding of the work of elders.

Though it’s been over twenty years now since Dr. Timothy Willis, a professor at Pepperdine University, presented his paper entitled Elders in the Old Testament Community to the Christian Scholars Conference in 1988, the quality of that work has not diminished with time. In the remainder of posts here this week concerning elders, I’ll reproduce the text of Dr. Willis’ presentation.* While it is the work of a scholar presented to an audience of scholars, I commend it to you for your reading and reflection. You might have to “wade through” or re-read some parts at the start, but it gets easier as you go on and I believe your attention and effort will certainly be rewarded. Enjoy.

Elders in the Old Testament Community
by Tim Willis

The role of elders has been a significant one among the churches of the Restoration Movement. The biblical basis for that role has been interpreted primarily from the prescriptions for elders (“presbyters”/”overseers”) set forth by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:6-8. Yet, we have reviewed those prescriptions through modern eyes; that is many of us conceive of this institution in light of our current society, in light of American democracy. We view an eldership in contrast to the ecclesiastical structures of other churches and see it a more “democratic” system. More specifically, we view elderships as part of an overall plan of God to protect our freedom of religion from the control of some distant governing board of the church. In addition to this, there has been a push in recent years to him to emphasize the spiritual aspects of elders, focusing on their roles as shepherds.

The purpose of this essay is to discuss some of the basic roles and functions of Israelite elders in the Old Testament as a backdrop to some general thoughts about elders of the New Testament church. Rule by elders is a rather common institution, found in communities based on strong kinship ties. When we realize this and its ramifications, we should get a new perspective on what God, through Paul, was trying to accomplish in calling for the appointment of elders in the churches of the first century.

Categories of Old Testament Elders

A thorough study of the elders of the Old Testament community is too complicated to be presented in one essay. My own research into this topic involves investigations of groups of elders in approximately four dozen tribal societies and tribal groups living in state societies for comparison with the elders of ancient Israel, as well as detailed exegesis of references to elders in the Old Testament. What follows is a bare outline of some of my central conclusions.

I am convinced that there were three distinct categories of man in ancient Israel designated in the Old Testament as “elders” (the Hebrew term zeqenim = bearded ones; this does not include numerous passages in which zeqenim refers to “old men” in juxtaposition to “boys” or “children”). The category of elders mentioned first in the Biblical text is “the elders of Israel,” sometimes said to have consisted of seventy man (Exodus 24; Numbers 11), which was a representative body for the entire nation. This body became the Sanhedrin sometime after the Babylonian exile. A second category of elders is a group of administrative advisors in the royal court called “elders of the king’s house” or, simply, “the elders” (see 2 Samuel 12:17; Genesis 24:2; 50:7; 1 Kings 12:6–15; Psalm 105:22). This body faded away after the fall of Jerusalem, but it’s memory was preserved in some apocalyptic literature (2 Enoch 4; Revelation 4:4,10; 19:4. A third category of elders is the elders of cities. It is this group of elders which was the institutional ancestor to the elders Paul prescribes in Timothy and Titus.

City elders

There are fourteen clear references in the Old Testament to city elders (Deuteronomy 19:12; 21:2-8; 21:19-20; 22:15-19; 25:7-9; Joshua 20:4-5; Judges 8:14-16; 11:5-11; Ruth 4:1-12; 1 Samuel 11:3; 16:4; 1 Kings 21:8-12; Ezra 10:14; Proverbs 31:23). Three official functions of these elders are mentioned. As one might expect, several passages speak of city elders serving in some judicial capacity. In reality, very few details about this role are given. Laws specifically mentioning the roles of city elders are given concerning only cases of murder (Deuteronomy 19:1-13; 21:1-9; Joshua 20:1-9), rebellious children (Deuteronomy 21.18-21), levirate marriages (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Ruth 4:1-12), and adultery (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). There are also a few examples of involvement of elders and land transactions (e.g., Ruth 4:1-12). Besides this, there are a few passages which mention how elders could function as representatives of their respective communities in dealing with outsiders (1 Samuel 16:1-5).

There is little evidence that the structure and functions of Israel’s city elders changed much over the centuries. The most significant changes came when the people were exiled into Assyria and Babylon, and during the subsequent Diaspora. Many Jews were transplanted to non-Jewish cities at that time. In those cities, they formed a sort of city within the city, a Jewish “district” or “quarter.” Leading men of the Jewish community serve as elders, with the communities religious life now revolving around the synagogue. Although the form of the societal structures of the cities in which they came to dwell were sometimes quite different from those of the past, the people still maintained old customs and beliefs in their new environment. This was the situation in many Jewish communities of the Roman Empire during the first century.

* The text of this presentation appeared in the winter quarter 1992 issue of the journal Leaven (2:1; pp.8-12).

who is qualified to serve as an elder?: remixed

 

To this point in our series on elders we’ve focused our attention on six, key Biblical texts that speak directly to the character and and conduct of elders/shepherds. Those six passages are: Acts 20.17-35, 1 Timothy 3.1-7, 5.17-22, Titus 1.5-9, James 5.14-16 and 1 Peter 5.1-5.

Those six passages of Scripture cover forty-seven verses and are made up of well over one thousand words (in the CEB). That’s no small amount of significant, detailed information. Is there a way to outline this material or condense it to make it manageable for presentation or discussion?

Since the material in these texts is designed to help us ask good questions to identify who God is raising up to serve as elders/shepherds of his flock, virtually all of the more obvious questions these texts raise can be broadly, but effectively, summarized in a dozen categories:

1. Are they obviously God-focused?
2. Is their character and behavior highly respectable?
3. Do they think clearly and manage their emotions well?
4. Are they giving and generous?
5. Does anything, or anyone, own them?
6. Is their family life healthy?
7. Do they play well with others?
8. Are they servants of the less fortunate, needy, and vulnerable?
9. Are they teachable and given to teaching?
10. Do they lead people rightly?
11. Is their motivation to serve because they’ve ‘got to’ or because they ‘get to’?
12. Is the timing right for their appointment?

Now that we have a clear perspective of what this patch of timber looks like, we’re better equipped to enter the forest and and start looking at the individual trees that make up the woods. We’ll treat the trees the ways we did the woods, wording matters in the form of questions.

1. Are they obviously God-focused?

a. Can you picture the Holy Spirit of God raising them up to serve as an elder/shepherd/supervisor/steward? – Acts 20.28
b. Is their evidence that their prayer life is healthy, growing, and ever ready? – James 5.14-16
c. Do they operate by faith, trusting God to work and provide, not leaning on their own knowledge or strength? – James 5.15

2. Is their character and behavior highly respectable?

a. Are they without fault? – 1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.6
b. Are they godly? – Titus 1.8
c. Do they love what is good? – Titus 1.8
d. Are they honest? – 1 Timothy 3.2
e. Are they ethical? – Titus 1.8
f. Have they served the Lord no matter what they faced in life? – Acts 20.19
g. Can they stand the heat of false accusations? – 1 Timothy 5.19
h. Do they have a good reputation with those outside of the church? – 1 Timothy 3.7

3. Do they think clearly and manage their emotions well?

a. Are they modest about themselves? – 1 Timothy 3.2
b. Are they sober and reasonable in their thinking? – Titus 1.8
c. Are they stubborn? – Titus 1.7
d. Are they irritable? – Titus 1.7

4. Are they giving and generous?

a. Do they work hard at giving of themselves? – Acts 20.35
b. Are they greedy for or with anything? – 1 Timothy 3.3; Titus 1.7; 1 Peter 5.2
c. Are they without fault as managers of what God has already entrusted them? – Titus 1.7
d. Do they show hospitality? – 1 Timothy 3.2; Titus 1.8

5. Does anything, or anyone, own them?

a. Are they addicted to alcohol? – 1 Timothy 3.3; Titus 1.7
b. Are they self-controlled? – Titus 1.8
c. Would their appointment be the result of bias or the playing of favorites? – 1 Timothy 5.21

6. Is their family life healthy?

a. Are they faithful to their spouse? – 1 Tim. 3.2; Titus 1.6
b. Do they manage their household well, fostering respect and obedience in the lives of their children? – 1 Timothy 3.4-5
c. Are their children faithful, not self-indulgent or rebellious? – Titus 1.6

7. Do they play well with others?

a. Are they gentle? – 1 Timothy 3.3
b. Are they peaceable? – 1 Timothy 3.3
c. Do they bully anyone? – 1 Timothy 3.3; Titus 1.7
d. Could/would they help hold accountable those with whom they would serve? – Acts 20.28

8. Are they servants of the less fortunate, needy, and vulnerable?

a. Do they help the weak? – Acts 20.35
b. Do they visit the sick? – James 5.14-16

9. Are they teachable and given to teaching?

a. Do they pay attention to the reliable message they themselves are taught? – Titus 1.9
b. Do they understand and live the message of grace? – Acts 20.24b,32
c. Is there evidence they learn well from the example of exemplary others? – Acts 20.17-35
e. Is it their life’s objective to help others change their hearts and lives with faith in the Lord Jesus? – Acts 20.21
f. Are they capable speakers who encourage people and defend healthy instruction? – 1 Timothy 3.2; 5.17-18; Titus 1.9
g. Do they tell people what they need to hear or what they want to hear? – Acts 20.20,27
h. Would they handle receiving godly, public discipline well? – 1 Timothy 5.20

10. Do they lead people rightly?

a. Do they lead people? – 1 Timothy 5.17
b. Do they lead by example? – 1 Peter 5:3
c. Can they handle having and exercising authority? – 1 Peter 5.5
d. Would they be susceptible to succumbing to ruling over people? – 1 Peter 5.3
e. Would they serve people the way a shepherds serves their flock? – 1 Peter 5:2

11. Is their motivation to serve because they’ve ‘got to’ or because they ‘get to’?

a. Is it their goal to take on the responsibility of being a supervisor in the church? – 1 Timothy 3.1
b. Would they do their work as a shepherd voluntarily and for God? – 1 Peter 5.2

12. Is the timing right for their appointment?

a. Are they a new believer? – 1 Timothy 3.6
b. Would their appointment be hasty, unethical, or unwise? – 1 Timothy 5.22

As any church considers the appointment of elders/shepherds, whether for the first time or in augmentation of their existing leadership, I would humbly submit these questions as a good place to begin the examination of individuals God could be raising up to shepherd his people.

* Note: This outline is the latest version of one that began with a similar post on Feb. 6. The primary differences between this outline and the former revolve around (a) the inclusion here of material from Acts 20.17-35 and James 5.14-16 and (b) the order in which some of the material is presented.

a primer on pastors (2)

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Sun., Mar. 11). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning from Acts 20.17-35, 1 Timothy 5.17-22, James 5.14-16, and 1 Peter 5.1-5. This is the second sermon in a five-part series on elders/shepherds (A Primer for Pastors). You’ll find these discussion guides categorized each week here on my site under the category title LIFE group guides.

Aim

To lay down a basic understanding of the work of a bishop/elder/overseer/shepherd/steward.

Word

Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. … In all this I have given you an example … (Acts 20.28,35 NRSV)

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.” Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels, I warn you to keep these instructions without prejudice, doing nothing on the basis of partiality. Do not ordain anyone hastily, and do not participate in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5.17-22 NRSV)

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (James 5.14-16 NRSV)

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5.1-5 NRSV)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Tell us of a time someone falsely accused of something and you didn’t handle it quite so well.

2. Tell us of a time you either got stiffed or were remunerated particularly well for work you did.

Dig

These questions are intended to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Paul says he’s a model of shepherding (Acts 20.17-35). How often do the words “I” or “me” occur?

2. What temptations do you see elders warned not to succumb to in these four passages?

3. What stated or implied responsibilities do congregants have toward their elders in these texts?

4. In these texts, what problems or troubles in the lives of others do you see elders dealing with?

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us through his word. Choose some.

1. How does trust in God play a role in all four of the preceding Scriptures?

2. What does it mean (and not mean) to “keep watch” over and to “tend” people? How is that done?

3. What burdens could come from constantly helping others with their troubles? What blessings?

4. What role does humility play in being an elder? In being a congregant under their charge?

5. A fellow Christian asks you, “When and why should I follow the lead of elders?” How do you reply?

6. What are your thoughts as to how you should live your life in light of the responsibility of elders?

questions on elders: why “supervisor?”

 

The clear majority of English translations render the word episkopos in 1 Tim. 3.1-2 and Titus 1.7 by means of one of two words: “bishop” (ASV, KJV, KNT, NAB, NRSV, Phillips, REB) or “overseer” (ESV, HCS, NASB, NCV, NIV 2011, TNIV).

Other renderings exist, but nowhere near in number to the use of the word “bishop” or “overseer.” For example: “church leader” (Good News), “church official” (CEV), “elder” (NLT), “leader” (The Message), and “presiding elder” (NJB).

But, we need not ask “With what rendering am I most familiar?,” but, “What does the word episkopos actually mean?” Surely the Spirit of God, working with the apostle Paul’s spirit, had good reason for this word choice, and if so, what might it have been?

To answer that question, lend your ear to Dr. Everett Ferguson, a long-time professor from years past at Abilene Christian University. Dr. Ferguson is a highly respected and internationally recognized scholar whose special expertise is in early church history. He is easily one of the finest scholars who has ever lived to stand within the heritage of Churches of Christ in modern times, having few true peers in his field within our heritage. In commenting on the way the word episkopos was commonly used outside of Scripture in New Testament times, Dr. Ferguson says it was:

“… used … for various kinds of managers, foremen, supervisors, and inspectors. It could refer to state officials with various civic functions, to supervisors at sanctuaries … to construction foremen, and in an educational context to tutors. … In a religious sense it could be used of the gods, who exercised providence and watched over compacts. … Whereas ‘elder’ emphasized more the age, experience, and judiciousness of the leaders of Christian communities, ‘bishop’ [episkopos] emphasized the more active side of their work in managing affairs, guarding the group, and directing activities.” (The Church of Christ, pp.322-323)

And so, when Paul spoke of church leadership and selected by the Spirit’s guidance the word episkopos to describe their place and purpose, he was simply choosing to use the word commonly understood by all in his time for someone who watched over others, guided their efforts, and generally supervised what all a group of people did.

In light of this fact, and if the conveyance of the original meaning of a foreign word in terms commonly utilized and understood today is the objective of translation, then it could easily and well be argued that the Common English Bible‘s choice of rendering the word episkopos with the word “supervisor” is, refreshingly so, the most accurate and truly communicative rendering of all the choices available to most English readers in the United States today.

No doubt, all too many people in the everyday, workday world have had the troubling experience of working under an unqualified or destructive supervisor. At the same time, a great many have been blessed with the joy of working under well-qualified and constructive supervision. If our experience has been primarily with the former, we ought not allow such experience to rob a very helpful word of its true meaning. Surely, the author of Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul, would be the first to agree.

* For more on the use of the word episkopos, as well as other words used directly in regard to the function and role of church elders, note an earlier post of mine on Feb. 2 of this year.