The following was first given as a message at the May, 1999 Elders and
Workers Conference in Markham, Ontario.
In my travels among the assemblies it is evident that the general
spiritual condition of many of them is poor. Attendance is often a small portion of those
who would claim to be in fellowship. Worldliness has made inroads and it is manifested in
a lack of commitment to the local assembly and a strong commitment to careers, hobbies,
sports, and recreation.
Another very evident need is for godly oversight?men who are
committed to caring for the Lord?s sheep even though it means great personal
sacrifice. In many assemblies there is no identifiable leadership and the Lord?s
people go from week to week like sheep without a shepherd. In other gatherings, there are
those who have been identified as elders but do little or none of the work involved in
shepherding the Lord?s people. Thankfully, there are those assemblies with
identifiable and godly overseers who with personal sacrifice, care for the saints.
When he was about to leave the Ephesian elders for the last time, Paul
exhorted them, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the
which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath
purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) One danger that a shepherd faces is that
of neglecting himself. While expending himself for the Lord?s people he neglects his
own spiritual condition. In a similar way, one can get so involved in the Lord?s work
that the Lord Himself is set aside. Like those at Ephesus, one?s works, labour, and
patience may be commendable, but he has left his “first love.” (Rev. 2:1?4)
In addition to taking heed to himself, the shepherd must be on guard
for those grievous wolves who come from without with the desire to destroy the local
testimony. (Acts 20:29). This requires discernment as they will often come in sheep?s
clothing, speaking softly and acting graciously. (Rom. 16:18) Shepherds must also be on
the alert for those who arise from within the local fellowship who would desire to gain a
It is evident that those in oversight are subject to many dangers. The
adversary of the sheep and of the Chief Shepherd is constantly on the prowl, using his
many methods in an attempt to have the shepherds fall, leaving the sheep unguarded.
We will take a brief look at some of the dangers those in
oversight are subject to by looking at the experience of leaders in the Scriptures. We
should always learn from experience and, if possible, from the experience of
others?it is far less expensive!
In the beginning of 1 Samuel 10, Saul is privately anointed by Samuel
to be the king of Israel. Later in that same chapter Samuel calls the people together to
publicly present Saul to the nation. After Samuel works his way through the tribes and
families, Saul is selected but when the time came for him to be set before the people
“he could not be found.” (1?Sam. 10:21) How sad that after the Lord had
clearly marked him out that Saul would hide himself “among the stuff.”
At first glance one might mistakenly see this as humility but, in
reality, its was fear?timidity. In a similar way, it is possible for one whom the
Holy Spirit has clearly marked out as an overseer (Acts 20:28)?and only the Holy
Spirit can do so?to hide himself among the stuff.
Could it be that many in oversight who are failing to do the work lack
conviction that the Lord has raised them up to do this important work? Such a lack of
conviction will surely lead to being fearful and ineffective. If one believes he has been
raised up for this valuable work then he should move forward with a holy boldness to act
When the apostle Paul was called to be an apostle there was no
hesitancy. He clearly identified himself as “an apostle by the will of God.” He
clearly understood his calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter, likewise
understood his calling and identified himself as an elder. (1 Pet. 5:1). He in turn
exhorted other shepherds to “feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the
oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a
ready mind.” (1 Pet. 5:2) He encouraged not hesitancy, but definite action.
David, the shepherd, when coming upon the battle scene and beholding
Goliath taunting God?s people, did not exhibit timidity. As a true shepherd he moved
forward, knowing the battle was the Lord?s.
It was Paul who exhorted Timothy to stir up his gift and reminded him
that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a
sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7)
Now to have a definite conviction of one?s call to shepherd the
Lord?s people also requires humility. There is such a thing as holy boldness with
humility. The same Paul who clearly knew his unique calling also referred to himself as
the “chief of sinners,” “the least of all the apostles,” and
“less than the least of all saints.”
Certainly one danger for those in oversight is timidity: timidity that
comes from a lack of a conviction that the Holy Spirit has raised them up to shepherd the
Amazingly, the same one who was hiding “among the stuff” when
he was to be introduced to the nation of Israel as its new king is later found exercising
the power of his position to the point of ignoring God?s Word. The prophet Samuel had
clearly conveyed the message of the Lord to Saul. “Now go and smite Amalek, and
utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman,
infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” It could not be more clearly
When Saul failed to do as the Lord commanded, the prophet Samuel
reminds him, “When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head
of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?” The one who
was taken from among the smallest of tribes and least of the families was now taking
things into his own hands and thereby rejecting the Word of the Lord.
Saul offered the explanation that the animals which were not killed
were kept in order to offer them to the Lord. Samuel responds with those words that have
rung down through the centuries, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings
and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than
sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22) The great lesson here
is that obedience to God?s Word is better than good intentions!
So while one danger is that of timidity, another danger is that of
power. The overseer can, perhaps with good intentions, take things into his own hands and
neglect the Word of the Chief Shepherd. He may even act as a lord over “God?s
heritage.” Many have failed when placed into a position of leadership because they
could not control their power and authority. Sadly, down through the years many saints
have been “driven” rather than “led.” May the assemblies be spared the
misuse of power by those who provide oversight.
Scripture clearly informs us that Diotrephes “loveth to have the
preeminence.” (3 John 9) He left no room for others, even to the point of not
receiving the apostle John. It is often true in leadership that there is one who seeks to
have the chief seat among the brethren, even to the point of shutting out all others at
Paul addresses this competitive spirit in his epistle to the
Philippians. Apparently there was a spirit of competition among the saints there and Paul
writes, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind
let each esteem other better than themselves.” Paul also states that the saints were
not to concentrate on themselves. He writes, “Look not every man on his own things,
but every man also on the things of others.” (Phil. 2:3?4)
It is in this context that Paul brings in the ultimate example of the
Lord Jesus. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” What was
the mind of the Lord Jesus? The One who was very God did not concentrate on Himself. He
was “others minded,” and being so, He came from the heights of glory and took on
humanity and the form of a servant. He took the low place, even to the point of the cross,
with the good of others in view.
We see this clearly as we view Him in the upper room washing the feet
of His disciples. It was a ministry that needed to be done and, since none of the
disciples had the mind to do it, He did! How beautiful that mind and how much we need to
think upon it that it may in turn become ours.
We find in Scripture that overseeing the Lord?s sheep is to be
done by “servant leaders.” The Lord Himself said He “came not to be
ministered unto, but to minister.” May we entreat the Lord to provide those godly
overseers who lead by example and who serve in humility, not seeking the preeminence.