Sunday, April 8, 2012

Elders/Overseers Are Important But Not That Important

In the life of Christ's church it is important that we we keep a biblical perspective on the role of elders/overseers (I'm using these two terms interchangeably in this post). It is far to easy to go to one of two extremes. On the one side, within the institutional framework elders/overseers (usually referred to as "pastors") are treated as far more important than they are. On the other side, many within simple church life act as if elders carry little to no importance at all. Neither of these extremes is biblical.

When we look in scripture, we see that elders/overseers are important but not that important. In other words, they are significant to the life of the church, but in a limited capacity. There are a few passages that speak to the importance of elders. Acts 20 and I Peter 5 are examples of these.

The reality is, however, that there are few passages that deal with elders/overseers. When compared to the amount of information directed to the church as a whole, the total written to/about elders and overseers is very small. For example, many of the NT letters do not even mention elders/overseers. If they were extremely important to the life of the church, then more attention would be given to them.

Where can we find a proper perspective on the importance of elders/overseers? Paul helps us with this in his opening to the church in Philippi. He writes the following:

"Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons." Philippians 1:1

In the very first verse of this epistle we see Paul's perspective on the relative importance of elders/overseers. Paul mentions them, but they have only secondary importance. As with most of Paul's other letters, he addresses the entire church in the city. His intent is for the application to be to all the saints. When Paul uses the word "saints," he is referring to all the saved within Philippi. Notice that Paul does not view the elders/overseers as more saintly than anyone else.

Paul sees the elders/overseers as being with the church. They are a part of the body. They are not above the body, but with the body. They are not outsiders, but rather a component of the church family.

We must note, however, that Paul does take the time to mention the overseers specifically. He would not do this if they did not have an important role to play. While they are less important than the church as a whole, their role is nonetheless significant. It is to be exercised within the body life of the entire church.

This one little verse helps us understand and keep a biblical perspective on the relative importance that elders/overseers play within the body. The challenge to all of us is to hold this perspective.

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