Overseer is the word used in the NASB, HCSV, and NIV. Other English translations interchange overseer for:
- church official (CEV)
- leader (NEB)
- bishop (KJV,RSV)
- pastor (LB)
- church leader (GNB)
A desire to serve is clearly a good thing. Today we sometimes call this desire the "call of God." Whether this is something we want to do, or feel called of God to do, Paul lists qualifications that need to be evident in the lives of those aspiring to serve.
Here is Paul's "job description" list of things in someone wanting to be an elder/pastor/overseer/leader/bishop:
- must be above reproach
- the husband of one wife
- able to teach
- not addicted to wine
- not pugnacious
- free from the love of money
- manages his own household well
- keep[s] his children under control with all dignity
- not a new convert
- ha[s] a good reputation with those outside the church
- ha[s] children who believe
- not accused of dissipation or rebellion
- not self-willed
- not quick-tempered
- not fond of sordid gain
- loving what is good
- holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching
A 27:1 ratio of character over job skills. Who we are is far more important than what we can do.
What a contrast to what is emphasized today. While character is indeed considered, the ratio often seems reversed and weighted towards job skills. Churches looking for ministers start with academic degrees, and post-graduate ministerial studies from accredited seminaries. We want to see high levels of communication skills, people skills, administrative skills, books published, experienced track record of successful ministry, etc.
What implications does this 27:1 ratio have for those of us who find ourselves serving as leaders, bishops, pastors, elders, or overseers? Why is character and the way we live our lives at home so important?
Paul seems to clearly think we have to be something before we can do something.
Recently we began a new approach to our ministry of church planting training. Instead of starting out with methods, materials, and models, we are first focusing on the individuals themselves who desire to serve. Character is really important. More important than job skills. One can get by on skill only for so long. After a while character always catches up.
After more than ten years of almost continuous work with so-called "lay leaders," I can say unequivocally that character matters. In our haste to see laborers sent out into the harvest fields, churches planted, baptisms reported, we too often turn a blind eye to known character flaws, or family/marriage situations. We assume these things are "none of our business" and that God is already dealing with them about these areas of concern. After all, "the work" is supreme. The end justifies the means. The Kingdom is first. We are all flawed--some more than others--but God somehow works around our faults to accomplish His purposes. Right?
I am a firm believer in that we are all ministers. All of us are "called" to the task of making disciples of the nations. We are indeed a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light... Yet to ignore or turn a blind eye to weak character traits in those desiring to serve always has its day of reckoning.
Sometimes wisdom dictates putting people on hold till they work through known personal issues. Sometimes it might mean NOT sending them until they give clear evidence of being able to control their temper, respect their husbands/wives, deal honestly with money issues, or be known for their hospitality, etc.
I write the above out of years of trying to work with individuals who come into the ministry with unresolved character flaws, and personal issues. Many have a keen desire to be used by God. They are gifted. Their energy levels far surpass my own. Yet over and over their down fall and failed ministry is tied directly to their own character deficiencies.
So, you think you might want to be a pastor? Missionary? Church planter? Christian worker? Youth minister? Evangelist? Great! Start by going down Paul's list and evaluate yourself carefully. Get others to do the same from their own perspective. Get help with those areas you might be weak in. It is in those weak areas that Satan will hit hardest. None of us is perfect, but scoring above average on the above list will make a huge difference in the impact your life will make as you serve the King of Kings.