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Exercising Oversight but Not Lording It Over

Here is what the New Testament teaches on the role and responsibilities of a pastor-teacher.  I’ve underlined some of the operative words.  A Bible believing Christian cannot disregard this teaching.  But let me be quick to add, no one should be a pastor-teacher who does not meet the qualifications of 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.  That is the starting point!  It is the main protection against abuses. 

I also realize these verses can be used to manipulate people and lord it over people.  For instance when the author of Hebrews commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.”  This passage can be used, and has been used, to justify horrible abuses.  Nevertheless, it stands as God’s authoritative word.  We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water even if we’ve had terrible experiences with pastors.  We must wrestle with its meaning and follow its teaching.  

This requires proper interpretation and application.  For instance, no victim of sex abuse should ever listen to a pastor who instructs them not to involve law enforcement.  Such a request is in clear violation of Scripture (Rom 13:4).  That’s why universal obedience is owed to Jesus Christ alone.  He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4), the Overseer of our souls (1 Pet 2:25), and the Apostle of our faith (Heb 3:1). 

Rebellion against legitimate leaders is a real problem in Scripture (e.g., Num 16:1-35).  We must guard against it in our souls.  So too is lording over the sheep by leaders (e.g. Matt 20:24-28, Jude, 2 Pet 2).  We must guard against it also.  Both are equally problematic.  Peter’s words strike the balance.  Elders must “shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight…with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” 

Here are the main passages in the New Testament on the role and responsibilities of the pastor/elder/overseer. They must be honored even if they have been misused.  Granted, it is not always easy to find gifted and trustworthy pastors that are characterized by humility, integrity, servanthood, courage, love, power (divine enablement) and sound doctrine.  We must allow for imperfection but we must expose abuse and corruption.

Acts 20:28 Be on guard for yourselves [the elders] and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 

Rom 12:6-8 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; [7] if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; [8] or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. 

Gal 6:6 The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. 

Eph 4:11-13 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, [12] for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 

1 Thess 5:12-13 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, [13] and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. 

1 Tim 3:1-7 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  [2] An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, [3] not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. [4] He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of [manage] the church of God?), [6] and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. [7] And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 

1 Tim 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 

Titus 1:5-9 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, [6] namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. [7] For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, [8] but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, [9] holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching [Scripture], so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. 

1 Peter 5:1-3 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, [2] shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; [3] nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 

Heb 13:7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 

Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.


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