The Additional Obligations of the Overseer
“Shepherd the flock of God in your care, . . . eagerly; . . . becoming examples to the flock.”—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
1. (a) For what additional obligations has God made provision? (b) What causes some Christians to reach out for these additional obligations?
IN THE previous article it was established that there are obligations resting on all Christians. All are obligated to God by reason of their indebtedness to God, by reason of their dedication vow and by reason of God’s commands or laws in the Christian system of things. In addition to the primary obligations that rest upon all Christians, God has made provision for Christians to reach out and take on additional obligations as congregation, circuit or district overseers, full-time pioneer ministers, missionaries or members of one of the Watch Tower Society’s Bethel homes. What is it that causes some to reach for additional obligations? It is a desire to do more. “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work.” (1 Tim. 3:1) This desire is voluntary but comes from a feeling of obligation to God. The depth of one’s love and devotion, the degree of appreciation and thankfulness to God, according to the full awareness of one’s indebtedness to God, all move one to see to what extent he is obligated to utilize his time and abilities to the greatest possible extent in Jehovah’s service.—Col. 1:9-11.
2, 3. (a) What scriptures indicate that the Christian should want to increase his service? (b) How did Jesus show that others should take on the obligations of shepherding?
2 Our dedication obligates us to seek the right kind of work. God’s undeserved kindness obligates the mature Christian to take on more good works. “By this undeserved kindness, indeed, you have been saved through faith; . . . it is God’s gift. . . . For we are a product of his work and were created in union with Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10; Col. 1:28, 29) And “to be made mighty” and to be “filled with all the fullness that God gives” implies a growing to greater capacity and taking on of greater responsibility. (Eph. 3:16, 19) Even as the “gifts in men” were to help the congregation to become a “full-grown man,” attaining to the measure of growth that belongs to the fullness of the Christ, so such gifts are to help the individual Christian to increase his capacity for service and take on individually more obligations.—Eph 4:8, 11-13.
3 Christ is the example; he was a good shepherd and never shied away from additional obligations. He trained his apostles to take on the obligations as shepherds and showed what was required. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister.” (Matt. 20:25, 26) He commanded them to be shepherds: “Shepherd my little sheep.” (John 21:15-17) Not only the apostles but others would have to take on the obligations of shepherds if they were to make disciples of people of all the nations. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 14:21-23; 20:18, 28) Therefore, the Christian who has the abilities and the qualifications is under obligation to reach out for additional privileges of service, and his love for God should motivate him to take on these obligations willingly.—1 Pet. 5:2.
4. (a) What qualifications should one have to become an overseer? (b) What are some obligations of an overseer according to the Scriptures?
4 What is required of an overseer? What obligations does he take on? How does he make himself available for this right kind of work? One must have the necessary spiritual qualifications as well as certain natural abilities. One must have had some experience in serving Jehovah and the opportunity to experience how Jehovah deals with those who apply his Word, and he must have developed a certain confidence in Jehovah. And one must be willing. The overseers have the obligation to “shepherd the flock of God . . . becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:2, 3) Each one must pay attention to his teaching. (1 Tim. 4:6, 11-16; Titus 1:9) He must be a preacher of the Word. (2 Tim. 4:2) And he must train others to be preachers. (2 Tim. 2:2) As a shepherd he must be able to feed spiritually and to lead and direct. In addition to initiating right works he has the obligation to inspect and correct things. As a shepherd he must protect the sheep from harm, and this involves reproving those who do wrong, and cleaning out wrongdoers where necessary. (1 Tim. 5:20, 21) The instruction booklet that is provided for all dedicated Christian witnesses and that explains the function of the congregation, states in this regard: “The congregation servant’s duties are numerous, but they can be summed up by saying he has the over-all supervision of the congregation and he should set the proper example himself in zeal and leadership.”
5, 6. (a) Outline the obligations of the overseer in the congregation today. (b) How is it possible for the overseer to care for all such?
5 So his obligations could be outlined as follows: He is first of all bound by the primary obligation resting on all Christians as outlined in the previous article. He must be a preacher of the good news and must take proper care of his wife and family spiritually and materially, and he must conduct himself in everything in an upright, honest and morally clean way. In addition he must take the lead in training and teaching others in the preaching work; he has the obligation to organize and administer the congregation needs in preaching, arranging for the training of others, arranging for proper coverage of territory by preaching, following through on all witness-work campaigns. He will arrange for the five different well-prepared meetings for the instruction of the entire congregation in Biblical teaching and practical counsel in preaching, seeing to it that all who share in the instructing are well prepared, qualified to teach.
6 His obligation as a shepherd means to look after the spiritual needs of the congregation as a whole and as individuals, visiting the different ones and giving help and counsel according to their individual needs. He will be alert to help persons avoid falling into wrongdoing by giving warning counsel at the proper time. (Gal. 6:1) All this involves many details, maintaining oversight of the work of his many assistants, seeing to it that proper record is kept of activity by members of the congregation, that sufficient supplies of literature, magazines and material to advertise public talks are on hand to meet the needs, that all speakers are arranged for in advance, that the coverage of territory in house-to-house preaching is properly organized, and that the Kingdom Hall is maintained presentable and adequate for a place of instruction. The overseer has many obligations and he can perform them properly only by having the full cooperation and support of all in the congregation.
7. What obligations have become even more compelling for the overseer, and how did Jesus show this?
7 These obligations are very important because the lives of many people can be involved in his properly caring for their spiritual needs. But even so, as important as they are, the performing of these does not free the overseer from the primary obligation of preaching, from caring for his family obligations and leading a clean life. (Luke 11:42) Why, because of his position of overseer, his caring for these primary obligations becomes even more compelling, because he is the example or pattern that others will copy. “Everyone to whom much was given, much will be demanded of him; and the one whom people put in charge of much, they will demand more than usual of him.”—Luke 12:48.
8. What attitude will the overseer always show in his dealings with others?
8 Yet, in spite of the many important obligations that rest on the overseer, he will never become heady or high-minded. He will keep in mind he is only a slave of Jehovah, doing what he ought to do. (Luke 17:10) He will remember that the flock or congregation is not his but Jehovah’s and is under the care or the Fine Shepherd, Christ Jesus. (1 Pet. 5:3, 4) He will remain humble and modest and apply the methods Jehovah uses in dealing with His “sheep”: “Like a shepherd he [Jehovah] will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.”—Isa. 40:11.
9. (a) What are other obligations resting on some in the congregation? (b) What principle must each ministerial assistant keep in mind?
9 As for the assistant congregation servant, Bible study servant and other ministerial assistants, these all have the primary obligations mentioned in the previous article. (1 Tim. 3:8-13) Additionally, they must take the lead in teaching others from house to house, on back-calls and on Bible studies. And, in accord with the special assignment each one has received, he will care for all the details involved, whether it be the organizing and supervising of territory coverage, seeing to it that sufficient supplies of Bible literature and magazines are on hand, keeping proper records of service activity or accounts or conducting one or another of the instruction meetings. Each servant will be diligent to learn his job well and be faithful in its performance. “What is looked for in stewards is for a man to be found faithful.”—1 Cor. 4:2.
10. What obligations have traveling overseers taken on, and yet what must they keep in mind?
10 Then there are the traveling circuit and district overseers. These have also all the primary obligations of Christians, and they must take the lead in teaching others in all features of witnessing. These men have the responsibility of inspecting the congregation organizations and of instructing all those holding positions of responsibility in all their duties. In addition, they have obligations in connection with the organization and program of the semiannual circuit assemblies and other larger assemblies that are arranged. Yet, important and far-reaching as these are, they do not free these overseers from the primary obligations to preach, to study and, if married, to care for their wives, as well as leading clean, moral lives.
11. (a) What obligations have full-time ministers and missionaries taken on? (b) What Bible principle must these keep in mind, and who else should be guided by such?
11 Then there are the full-time pioneer and special pioneer ministers and missionaries. These too have all the primary obligations of preaching the good news and leading exemplary Christian lives. They have also taken on additional obligations of preaching a certain number of hours each month. And they have obligated themselves to adjust their lives and personal tastes in some respects to the particular needs of the territory; especially do missionaries have this obligation. The Bible principle here is: “I have made myself the slave to all, that I may gain the most persons. . . . I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23) Yes, the way people live, their habits and their way of thinking place definite obligations on the ministers who would help them; they must adapt themselves to such, be patient and be willing to endure many inconveniences without complaint as they help these persons get on the way of life. Those serving where the need is greater, as well as those thinking of doing this, would do well to keep this missionary principle of 1 Corinthians 9:19 in mind.
12. What obligations do those have who serve at one of the Society’s Bethel homes, offices or printeries?
12 Those serving at one of the Society’s branch offices and Bethel homes, from where literature and magazines are sent out to the congregations, are also under the primary Christian obligations. In addition, by applying for and accepting service at the Bethel home, such have taken on the obligation of cooperating with the entire arrangement in the home, of being trustworthy and dependable and of taking proper care of the assigned work. These persons have the obligation of striving for better quality work and increasing production. Conscientious care of the equipment and materials entrusted to these is an obligation. Those assigned to care for correspondence have the obligation to be diligent, prompt and to give good counsel based on the Bible, and to do this with the urgent desire to help, showing love, kindness and helpfulness.
QUALIFYING TO MEET THE OBLIGATIONS OF AN OVERSEER
13. (a) What Scriptural qualifications are needed by the overseer? (b) What Scriptural principle applies in determining when one should be recommended, and how might one prepare himself for such service?
13 If one is an overseer, or is reaching out for the fine work of an overseer, it is good to know exactly which qualifications are needed. Primarily, there are the Scriptural qualifications as outlined at 1 Timothy 3:1-10 and Titus 1:1-9. He must possess the fruits of the spirit. (Gal. 5:22, 23) He must be a mature, well-balanced Christian, well grounded in the Scriptures and present truth. These qualifications he must have before being appointed as an overseer. “Also, let these be tested as to fitness first, then let them serve as ministers, as they are free from accusation.” (1 Tim. 3:10; Ex. 18:21) There are also certain natural qualifications or abilities needed in caring for the obligations, and these can be developed with effort, study and training. By knowing what these are the one taking on the obligation of an overseer can know how to prepare himself, and know in what way he should strive for advancement.
14, 15. (a) What skills should especially be developed by an overseer so that he can properly care for his assignment? (b) Why are these so important?
14 Some of these qualifications might be put in the category of skills. For example, the overseer must be skilled in the art of teaching. (1 Tim. 3:2; 4:13, 16; 2 Tim. 2:2, 15, 24; 4:2; Titus 1:9) He must be able to teach sound doctrine from the Bible, to explain prophecy clearly and to give counsel on living according to Bible principles. He must be able to teach so that his listeners understand and are filled with a desire to apply the knowledge. The overseer must also be skilled in teaching others how to teach, skilled in teaching his assistants in their duties, skilled in planning the instruction meetings so that a variety of effective teaching methods is used, talks, discussions, question and answer, and demonstrations or live scenes. By making use of the book Qualified to Be Ministers and observing the teaching methods used in the Society’s literature and at assemblies the overseer will have many ideas to use.
15 He needs skill in comprehending or grasping the ideas in what he reads and hears, seeing the main points and their relationship, so that he can explain such to others. He needs skill in speaking so that he can formulate his ideas and express them clearly and coherently. (Eph. 3:18-21) Another skill is the art of listening. It is very important for the overseer to learn to be a good listener, to hear what is actually being said, not merely what he thinks is being said. Only in this way can he really help persons in need of spiritual advice. Only by being a good listener can he really apply needed counsel given to him. He must learn to remember oral instructions accurately. He needs some skill in writing, being able to formulate properly questions to the Society, and to make reports on certain situations. He must learn to write completely, clearly and comprehensively, avoiding ambiguity.
16. For what knowledge should the overseer strive?
16 Another category of qualifications could be called knowledge, knowledge of Bible teachings, prophecy and Biblical history, as well as Bible principles. Yes, a grasp of that entire body of teaching that we know as “the truth.” “Keep holding the pattern of healthful words which you heard from me.” (2 Tim. 1:13) Then there is a knowledge of the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses, its history and function and its operating policy. In addition, there is knowledge of a special nature, pertaining to the congregation, keeping records, accounting, and a knowledge of the practical things pertaining to the care of the Kingdom Hall. All this knowledge can be learned.
17. (a) What habits should the overseer form? (b) How can his habits affect others?
17 Habits are also a field of qualifications in which the overseer can make advancement. He will want to develop useful and upbuilding habits. It is good to take stock of oneself once in a while. Those habits that are not upbuilding should be broken, because habits can develop into a pattern of thinking. Avoid associations that spoil useful habits. (1 Cor. 15:33) Form good study habits, the habit of regular meeting attendance and regularly sharing in preaching. Form the useful habit of getting started in good time with your assignments, whether a short student talk, service meeting assignment or hour talk. Good habits of speech in everyday life, of dress and posture will be good for the overseer, because others will be inclined to imitate him. And the same applies to his habits of eating, drinking and relaxation; let these be moderate. 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 2:2.
18. What attitudes should be developed by the overseer, and what especially is important?
18 A fourth field of qualifications is attitude. This should be positive, a willingness to do with your might what you can do, and the attitude should be cheerful. “Always rejoice in the Lord. Once more I will say, Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16) Do all you can to be helpful and considerate of others. Be willing to admit your own mistakes and learn from them. Show respect for God’s visible organization, be cooperative and be quick to obey theocratic instructions and be willing to accept counsel.
19. (a) How do some feel about taking on additional obligations as overseers? (b) What help did Paul have that is available to all Christians?
19 By being aware of these fields of natural qualifications for performing the obligations of an overseer, one can better understand where to work for improvement. But some feel unable to take on more responsibility than they have in caring for their families and in preaching the good news. Others who have been overseers have given up, being unable to bear the burden of responsibility. Now, why? Is it because the burdens are too great? Can only a few very capable persons bear them? Did not the apostle Paul write: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me”? (Phil. 4:13) Is Jehovah’s hand limited? Not at all.
20, 21. (a) What things could be the cause of the burdens’ becoming too great for an overseer? (b) What Bible principles must he learn if he will be able to assume these obligations?
20 Those who feel that the burdens of secular work and their family are so great that they do not have the spiritual stamina to bear more can grow spiritually. It may also be a matter of attitude. Does one accept the additional burdens willingly, with rejoicing, or is it with resentment? The burdens of the office will not be too great if one maintains his spiritual health and is happy. Jehovah will impart power to such an overseer. But resentment undermines one’s strength, wearing it down. It may be that one who had to give up failed to strive for advancement in the natural qualifications needed, or he failed in the spiritual qualifications. It may be that the overseer failed to learn how to cast his anxiety on Jehovah. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God . . . while you throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:6, 7) Have you learned how to cast your anxiety upon Jehovah? It requires a willingness to wait on Jehovah instead of insisting on having things worked out the way you want. But it is one’s hoping in Jehovah and waiting upon him that gives strength. (Isa. 40:31) Anxiety can become a burden if an overseer is a perfectionist, demanding too much of others as well as himself. The overseer may be discouraged because he feels he does not have enough capable assistants, but he must learn to work with those he has available, helping them to grow, even as he has been helped.
21 Of course, pressure could come from anxiety over other things, dissatisfaction with one’s secular work, anxiety over material things, desire for things of this world that are unnecessary. “Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your bodies as to what you will wear.” (Matt. 6:25-33; 1 Tim. 6:1-10) This is very sound advice from one who had many burdens to bear. And very important: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6, 7) This is vital counsel for every overseer who wishes to succeed in his assignment, and he must learn it well.
22, 23. (a) How does one make himself available for the responsibilities of an overseer? (b) What Scriptural principles will help him succeed?
22 How does one make himself available for the responsibilities of being an overseer? Not by pushing himself forward, flattering an overseer or telling of one’s own superior qualities for the assignment. Nor is it by trying to build up a sentiment for support among others in the congregation by criticizing the present servants after the manner of Absalom. (2 Sam. 15:2-6) No, it is, rather, by first properly performing all the primary obligations of Christians mentioned in the previous article. By making advancement in developing the fruits of the spirit. Then demonstrating zeal, diligence and regularity in supporting all congregation meetings and service activity. Taking part in the training program, showing willingness to help others, and all such things. These are observable to others. It was in this way that Timothy made himself available for additional responsibilities. “He was well reported on by the brothers.” (Acts 16:2; 1 Tim. 4:12-16) It is also vital to be faithful in the performance of every obligation, no matter how small or insignificant it may appear. “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.”—Luke 16:10.
23 So all you who can, reach out for the additional obligations, the fine work of being an overseer. And you who are overseers, assume your additional obligations. “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.”—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.