Traveling Overseers—Gifts in Men
“When he ascended on high he carried away captives; he gave gifts in men.”—EPHESIANS 4:8.
1. What new work was announced in this journal in 1894?
OVER a century ago, the Watch Tower announced something new. It was described as “Another Branch of the Work.” What did this new activity entail? It was the modern-day inauguration of the work of traveling overseers. The September 1, 1894, issue of this journal explained that henceforth qualified brothers would be visiting groups of Bible Students ‘for the purpose of building them up in the truth.’
2. Circuit and district overseers have what duties?
2 In the first century C.E., Christian congregations were visited by such overseers as Paul and Barnabas. These faithful men had the objective of ‘building up’ the congregations. (2 Corinthians 10:8) Today, we are blessed with thousands of men who are doing this in a systematic way. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has appointed them as circuit and district overseers. A circuit overseer serves about 20 congregations for a week each about twice a year, examining records, giving talks, and engaging in the field ministry with local Kingdom publishers. The district overseer is chairman for each of the annual circuit assemblies for a number of circuits, engages in the field ministry with the host congregations, and provides encouragement in Bible-based talks.
Their Self-Sacrificing Spirit
3. Why do traveling overseers need to have a self-sacrificing spirit?
3 Traveling overseers are constantly on the move. This in itself requires a self-sacrificing spirit. Traveling from one congregation to another can often be difficult, but these men and their wives do so with a joyful attitude. One circuit overseer said: “My wife is most supportive and uncomplaining . . . She deserves a lot of credit for her self-sacrificing spirit.” Some circuit overseers travel over 600 miles [1,000 km] between congregations. Many drive automobiles, but others get from one place to another by public transportation, by bicycle, on horseback, or on foot. One African circuit overseer even has to wade through a river with his wife on his shoulders in order to reach one congregation. On his missionary trips, the apostle Paul had to cope with heat and cold, hunger and thirst, sleepless nights, various dangers, and violent persecution. He also had “anxiety for all the congregations”—an experience common to traveling overseers today.—2 Corinthians 11:23-29.
4. What effect can health problems have on the lives of traveling overseers and their wives?
4 Like Paul’s companion Timothy, traveling overseers and their wives sometimes have health problems. (1 Timothy 5:23) This places extra stress on them. One circuit overseer’s wife explains: “Always being with the brothers is a strain when I am not feeling well. With the onset of menopause, I have found this especially difficult. Just having to pack all our belongings every week and move somewhere else is a real challenge. Often, I have to stop and pray to Jehovah to give me the strength to keep going.”
5. Despite various trials, what spirit has been shown by traveling overseers and their wives?
5 Despite health problems and other trials, traveling overseers and their wives find joy in their service and display self-sacrificing love. Some have risked their lives to render spiritual help in times of persecution or warfare. When visiting congregations, they have manifested a spirit similar to that of Paul, who told Thessalonian Christians: “We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.”—1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8.
6, 7. What positive influence can hardworking traveling overseers provide?
6 Like other elders in the Christian congregation, traveling overseers “work hard in speaking and teaching.” All such elders should “be reckoned worthy of double honor.” (1 Timothy 5:17) Their example can prove beneficial if, after ‘contemplating how their conduct turns out, we imitate their faith.’—Hebrews 13:7.
7 What effect have certain traveling elders had on others? “What a wonderful influence Brother P—— was in my life!” wrote one Witness of Jehovah. “He was a traveling overseer in Mexico from the year 1960 onward. As a child, I awaited his visits with expectation and joy. When I was ten years old, he told me, ‘You too are going to be a circuit overseer.’ During the difficult teenage years, I frequently sought him out because he always had words of wisdom to offer. He lived to shepherd the flock! Now that I am a circuit overseer, I always try to devote time to the young ones and to put theocratic goals before them as he did for me. Even in the final years of his life, despite problems with heart failure, Brother P—— always sought to offer an encouraging word. Just one day before his death in February 1995, he accompanied me to a special assembly day and put fine goals before a brother who is an architect. The brother immediately submitted an application to serve at Bethel.”
They Are Appreciated
8. Who are the “gifts in men” described in Ephesians chapter 4, and how do they benefit the congregation?
8 Traveling overseers and other elders favored with assignments of service by God’s undeserved kindness are called “gifts in men.” As Jehovah’s representative and Head of the congregation, Jesus has provided these spiritual men in order that we might be built up individually and attain to maturity. (Ephesians 4:8-15) Any gift deserves an expression of appreciation. Especially is this true of a gift that fortifies us to keep serving Jehovah. So, then, how can we display our appreciation for the work of traveling overseers? In what ways can we show that we ‘keep holding these men dear’?—Philippians 2:29.
9. In what ways can we show appreciation for traveling overseers?
9 When the circuit overseer’s visit is announced, we can start making plans to have a full share in the congregation’s activities for that week. Perhaps we can set aside extra time to support the field service arrangements during the visit. We may be able to serve as auxiliary pioneers during that month. Surely we will want to put the circuit overseer’s suggestions into practice in order to improve our ministry. Such a receptive spirit will benefit us and will reassure him that his visit is a useful one. Yes, traveling overseers visit the congregation to build us up, but they too need to be built up spiritually. There were times when Paul was in need of encouragement, and he often asked fellow Christians to pray for him. (Acts 28:15; Romans 15:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Colossians 4:2, 3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25) Present-day traveling overseers likewise need our prayers and encouragement.
10. How can we help to make a traveling overseer’s work a joy?
10 Have we told the circuit overseer and his wife how much we appreciate their visits? Do we thank him for the helpful counsel he gives us? Do we let him know when his field service suggestions increase our joy in the ministry? If we do, this will help to make his work a joy. (Hebrews 13:17) One circuit overseer in Spain particularly commented on how much he and his wife treasure the thank-you notes they have received after visiting congregations. “We keep these cards and read them when we are feeling low,” he says. “They are a source of real encouragement.”
11. Why should we let the circuit and district overseers’ wives know that they are loved and appreciated?
11 The traveling overseer’s wife surely benefits from words of commendation. She has made great sacrifices to assist her husband in this field of service. These faithful sisters forgo the natural desire to have their own home and, in many cases, also that of having children. Jephthah’s daughter was one of Jehovah’s servants who willingly relinquished her opportunity to have a husband and a family because of a vow her father made. (Judges 11:30-39) How was her sacrifice viewed? Judges 11:40 states: “From year to year the daughters of Israel would go to give commendation to the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite, four days in the year.” How fine it is when we make a point of telling the circuit and district overseers’ wives that they are loved and appreciated!
“Do Not Forget Hospitality”
12, 13. (a) What Scriptural basis is there for being hospitable to traveling overseers and their wives? (b) Illustrate how such hospitality can be mutually beneficial.
12 Showing hospitality is another way to display love and appreciation for those in the Christian traveling work. (Hebrews 13:2) The apostle John commended Gaius for extending hospitality to those visiting the congregation as traveling missionaries. John wrote: “Beloved one, you are doing a faithful work in whatever you do for the brothers, and strangers at that, who have borne witness to your love before the congregation. These you will please send on their way in a manner worthy of God. For it was in behalf of his name that they went forth, not taking anything from the people of the nations. We, therefore, are under obligation to receive such persons hospitably, that we may become fellow workers in the truth.” (3 John 5-8) Today, we can further the Kingdom-preaching activity by extending similar hospitality to traveling overseers and their wives. Of course, local elders should make sure that accommodations are satisfactory, but one district overseer said: “Our involvement with the brothers cannot be predicated on who can do something for us. We would not even want to give that impression. We must be willing to accept the hospitality of any of our brothers, rich or poor.”
13 Hospitality can be mutually beneficial. “In my family, we had the custom of inviting traveling overseers to stay with us,” recalls Jorge, a former circuit overseer now serving at Bethel. “I feel that these visits helped me more than I then realized. During my adolescence, I had spiritual problems. My mother was worried about this but did not know just how to help and therefore asked the circuit overseer to talk with me. At first I avoided him, since I was afraid of being criticized. But his friendly manner finally won me over. He invited me to have a meal with him one Monday, and I opened my heart because I felt sure that I was being understood. He listened carefully. His practical suggestions really worked, and I began to progress spiritually.”
14. Why should we be appreciative rather than critical of traveling elders?
14 A traveling overseer tries to be spiritually helpful to young and old alike. Surely, then, we should show our appreciation for his efforts. However, what if we were to criticize him because of his weak points or compare him unfavorably with others who have visited the congregation? Likely, this would be very disheartening. It was not encouraging for Paul to hear criticisms of his work. Apparently, some Corinthian Christians were making disparaging remarks about his appearance and speaking ability. He himself quoted such critics as saying: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but his presence in person is weak and his speech contemptible.” (2 Corinthians 10:10) Happily, though, traveling overseers usually hear words of loving appreciation.
15, 16. How are traveling overseers and their wives affected by the love and zeal displayed by their fellow believers?
15 One circuit overseer in Latin America trudges a whole day along muddy trails in order to visit his spiritual brothers and sisters living in a zone controlled by guerrillas. “It is touching to see the way the brothers show their appreciation for the visit,” he writes. “Even though I have to make a great effort to get there, facing many dangers and hardships, all of this is rewarded by the love and zeal the brothers show.”
16 A circuit overseer in Africa writes: “Because of the love the brothers showed us, we loved the territory of Tanzania so much! Brothers were ready to learn from us, and they were happy to have us in their homes.” There was a loving and happy relationship between the apostle Paul and the first-century Christian married couple Aquila and Prisca. In fact, Paul said of them: “Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who have risked their own necks for my soul, to whom not only I but also all the congregations of the nations render thanks.” (Romans 16:3, 4) Traveling overseers and their wives are thankful to have as their friends modern-day Aquilas and Priscas who go out of their way to show hospitality and provide companionship.
Strengthening the Congregations
17. Why can it be said that there is wisdom behind the arrangement for traveling overseers, and where do they get their instruction?
17 Jesus said: “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matthew 11:19) The wisdom behind the traveling-overseer arrangement is evident in that it helps to strengthen the congregations of God’s people. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he and Silas successfully “went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.” The book of Acts tells us: “As they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.” (Acts 15:40, 41; 16:4, 5) Present-day traveling overseers receive spiritual instruction through the Scriptures and the publications of “the faithful and discreet slave,” as do all other Christians.—Matthew 24:45.
18. How do traveling overseers strengthen the congregations?
18 Yes, traveling elders must continue to feed at Jehovah’s spiritual table. They must be well acquainted with the methods and guidelines followed by God’s organization. Then such men can be a real blessing to others. By means of their fine example of zeal in the field service, they can help fellow believers to improve in the Christian ministry. The Bible-based talks given by these visiting elders upbuild listeners spiritually. By helping others to apply the counsel of God’s Word, serve in harmony with Jehovah’s people earth wide, and put to use the spiritual provisions made by God through the ‘faithful slave,’ traveling overseers strengthen the congregations they are privileged to visit.
19. What questions remain for consideration?
19 When Jehovah’s organization instituted the work of traveling elders among the Bible Students about a hundred years ago, this journal stated: “We shall watch for results and for the Lord’s further leading.” Jehovah’s leading has been clearly manifest. Because of his blessing and under the supervision of the Governing Body, this work has been expanded and refined over the years. As a result, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the earth are being made firm in the faith and are increasing in number from day to day. Evidently, Jehovah is blessing the self-sacrificing spirit of these gifts in men. But how can traveling overseers successfully carry out their work? What are their objectives? How can they achieve the most good?
How Would You Respond?
□ What are some duties of circuit and district overseers?
□ Why do traveling overseers need to have a self-sacrificing spirit?
□ How can appreciation be shown for the work of traveling elders and their wives?
□ What can traveling overseers do to make congregations firm in the faith?
[Picture on page 10]
Being on the move requires a spirit of self-sacrifice
[Picture on page 13]
Have you shown hospitality to traveling overseers and their wives?