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Overseeing vs. Looking Out

The Role of the Post Modernist Overseer in The Lord's Church

The word "overseer" (Gk. episkopos [ejpivskopo"]) is used a limited number of times in the New Testament, but it has significant implications for a proper understanding of leadership in the church. The Urban Dictionary defines "looking out" as being cool. Additional cultural derivatives de-escalate into derisions meaning to "look out for oneself".  Thus, the plight of the role of the post modernist overseer in the Lord's Church. Amid a reformational flurry of ordinations, consecrations, pastoral appointments, and episcopal and apostolic elevations, there is a dearth of qualified servant leaders available to fulfill the doctrinal, ecclesiastical and ecclesiological mandate of stewarding emerging clerics. The present cultural wars, observed in the church, disconnect religious leadership and congregational membership in the most irreparable manner and have negative impact on the spiritual health of the church, deteriorating rooted theology and confusing celebrated worship, while marring the experience of Christ in their respective communities. The disconnect between episcopates and pastors exists in the absence of active overseers whom, by cultural coercion, seek to look out for themselves instead of overseeing the flock of God.

The Acts of the Apostles provides rudimentary education on the biblical expectation of the overseer. The noun episkopos can be interpreted as overseer, guardian, bishop. While I contend the title is more of a task than a position in the church, its meaning in post modernity within our ethnic culture is woefully misrepresented.  Titles and tasks, or tasks and titles (as it should be), are strangely interwoven and yet diametrically opposite in practical demonstration. Paul's charge to the church in his farewell was to remind the church leaders, or elders, to take primary leadership as the pastor among the other elders in the local church.  James fulfilled the role of overseer in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21). His responsibility, as is every overseer's, is to watch out over the flock and nurture them to a healthy existence.  The task of the overseer can only be accomplished satisfactorily if the overseer first "take heed to themselves."  Paul's full impartation  and subsequent commission is to provide self-care in conjunction with congregational care for the whole flock. The task includes feeding them the word of God and committing or rendering their lives in protection of the flock from ravening wolves. The title of overseers suggest that the task has been performed with critical approval of practical guidance and government of the flock. The Apostle Paul greets the bishops and overseers in his epistle to the church at Philippi (1:1), recognizing their general leadership responsibilities (bishops) and recognized positions of service (deacons or elders) before it came to be described as a specific office recognized by some Christian traditions. 

The kerfuffle of task and title since the designation of specific offices within the church has migrated to our present dilemma. To what point is an overseer eager to serve without compensation, renumeration, over exaggerated visibility, or reputation? The prerequisite of such servant is the willingness to serve as a bridge between the bishop and the pastor in order to advance the kingdom of God in their respective communities. The overseer must manage the dynamic tension which exist between serving and ruling. Bishop Eric Garnes poignantly ascribes the overseer as the second chariot.  The appointment of such needed "middle managers" is necessary for the construction and efficiency of the bishop's ecclesiology. The relationship among the overseer and bishop in our cultural modernity requires full execution and implementation of authority and submission. Both tasks, which define each title, must reside in the office to which they have been so appointed. Looking out for oneself without overseeing the task at hand has created a disjunctive within our religious order. Costuming and title bearing seems to be replacing authentic leadership and sacrificial service, leaving our emerging clerics desperate for resourcing and developmental leadership. The overseer must provide, at the middle manager level, best practices to advance ministry, scholarly contributions to knowledge, and creative strategies for pastors and ministry leaders who desire to fulfill their pastoral mandate. Overseers must lay the organizational and commercial  ground work for the pastor's success to free the bishop to minister, to Pastor the pastor, and foment the vision of the work in that community.

The role of the post modernist overseer is to blatantly reject the tenets of the emerging church, rebuff the notion of ascension without merit or portfolio, and defend the organic call of servant leadership. Overseers are not closet despots awaiting the demise of their leader, nor should they be opportunist who serve at the convenience of their life schedule or designated hobby.  Overseers must resist temptation to attention addiction and seek not to serve to fill an emotional deficit created from some other life disappointment.  The task is too vast, the need is too great, the resources are too scarce, and the training too long to invest in persons who revel in the business of the holiness hustle, and not the compulsion of kingdom ministry.  Looking out for one's self diminishes the sovereignty of God percolating your gifts for future assignment. We serve to serve, not to be seen or rewarded for our personal ambition. The internal struggle, which feeds overseers to outshine their bishops, is typical of those who seek material success without being significantly missional. Bishops, beware of the functional overseer who values the platform you provide more than the relationship you extend. Elisha's words and works were missional. Gehazi's  service to the prophet was marginal and material, fueled by self ambition. This servant's service culminated in the transfer of a disease rather than the anointing from his mentor.  He voided his candidacy to extend prophetic service to others because you can't transfer to others what has not transformed you.

The biblical, moral and ethical qualifications require righteous parity in each aspect of the overseer's life. The personal, public and professional life of the Servant's server is to be above reproach. Self care, family care and public fidelity to spouse and family shields them from unwarranted attacks of the enemy who attempts to thwart the objective of the kingdom as expressed in the life of the church.  New comers to salvation and ministry, or spiritually undeveloped volunteers need not apply to this privileged position. It takes time to learn scripture,  build one's reputation, create healthy relationships within ministry and establish the trust of one's leader.  The overseer's priority to serve effectively must always be larger than one's platform on which to serve. The privilege of the task is greater than the costume of the title.  

Our nation is experiencing unprecedented change. Cultural shifts are voluminous while technological advances have catapulted us into uncharted seas of relationship and meaning. The servant's role, more specifically, the role of the post modernist overseer, must cling with clenched fist to the purity of service, fidelity of leadership, passion of spirit and selflessness of task to the service by privilege and not obligation. Pouring water on the hands of the prophet gives us the distinction of overseeing the flock without looking out for ourselves.

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