How Traveling Overseers Serve as Faithful Stewards
“In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.”—1 PETER 4:10.
1, 2. (a) How would you define the word “steward”? (b) Who are included among stewards used by God?
JEHOVAH uses all faithful Christians as stewards. A steward is often a servant in charge of a household. He may also manage his master’s business affairs. (Luke 16:1-3; Galatians 4:1, 2) Jesus called his body of loyal anointed ones on earth “the faithful steward.” To this steward he has committed “all his belongings,” including Kingdom-preaching activities.—Luke 12:42-44; Matthew 24:14, 45.
2 The apostle Peter said that all Christians are stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways. Each Christian has a place in which he can carry out a faithful stewardship. (1 Peter 4:10) Appointed Christian elders are stewards, and among them are traveling overseers. (Titus 1:7) How are these traveling elders to be viewed? What qualities and objectives should they have? And how can they accomplish the most good?
Grateful for Their Service
3. Why can traveling overseers be called “fine stewards”?
3 Writing to a traveling overseer and his wife, one Christian married couple said: “We would like to express our gratitude for all the time and love you have given to us. As a family, we have benefited greatly from all your encouragement and advice. We know that we have to continue growing spiritually, but with Jehovah’s help and with brothers and sisters like you, the growing pains are made easier.” Expressions like these are frequent because traveling overseers take a personal interest in fellow believers, just as a good steward cares well for a household’s needs. Some are outstanding speakers. Many excel in the preaching work, while others are known for their warmth and compassion. By cultivating and using such gifts in ministering to others, traveling overseers can rightly be called “fine stewards.”
4. What question will now be considered?
4 “What is looked for in stewards is for a man to be found faithful,” wrote the apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 4:2) Ministering to fellow Christians in a different congregation week after week is a unique and joyous privilege. Nevertheless, it is also a heavy responsibility. How, then, can traveling overseers faithfully and successfully carry out their stewardship?
Successfully Carrying Out Their Stewardship
5, 6. Why is prayerful reliance upon Jehovah so important in the life of a traveling overseer?
5 Prayerful reliance upon Jehovah is essential if traveling overseers are to be successful stewards. Because of their schedule and many responsibilities, they could sometimes feel weighed down. (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:4.) So they need to act in harmony with the psalmist David’s song: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Psalm 55:22) Comforting, too, are David’s words: “Blessed be Jehovah, who daily carries the load for us.”—Psalm 68:19.
6 Where did Paul get the strength to care for his spiritual responsibilities? “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me,” he wrote. (Philippians 4:13) Yes, Jehovah God was the Source of Paul’s strength. Similarly, Peter advised: “If anyone ministers, let him minister as dependent on the strength that God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11) One brother who was a traveling overseer for many years emphasized the need for reliance on God, stating: “Always look to Jehovah in handling problems, and seek the aid of his organization.”
7. How does balance play a part in a traveling overseer’s work?
7 Balance is needed by a successful traveling overseer. Like other Christians, he strives to “make sure of the more important things.” (Philippians 1:10)* When the local elders have questions about a certain matter, it is wise for them to consult with the visiting circuit overseer. (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22) Likely, his balanced observations and Scriptural counsel will prove to be very helpful as the elders continue handling the matter after he has left the congregation. Along somewhat similar lines, Paul told Timothy: “The things you heard from me with the support of many witnesses, these things commit to faithful men, who, in turn, will be adequately qualified to teach others.”—2 Timothy 2:2.
8. Why are Bible study, research, and meditation essential?
8 Scriptural study, research, and meditation are requisites for giving sound counsel. (Proverbs 15:28) One district overseer said: “When meeting with the elders, we should not be afraid to admit that we do not know the answer to a particular question.” Putting forth the effort to get “the mind of Christ” on a matter makes it possible to give Bible-based counsel that will help others to comply with God’s will. (1 Corinthians 2:16) Sometimes a traveling overseer needs to write to the Watch Tower Society for direction. In any case, faith in Jehovah and love for the truth are far more important than image or eloquence. Instead of coming with “an extravagance of speech or of wisdom,” Paul began his ministry in Corinth “in weakness and in fear and with much trembling.” Did this make him ineffective? On the contrary, it helped the Corinthians to have faith, “not in men’s wisdom, but in God’s power.”—1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
Other Vital Qualities
9. Why is empathy needed by traveling elders?
9 Empathy helps traveling overseers to achieve good results. Peter urged all Christians to ‘show fellow feeling,’ or to be “sympathetic.” (1 Peter 3:8, footnote) One circuit overseer feels the need to ‘be interested in everyone in the congregation and be genuinely attentive.’ With a similar spirit, Paul wrote: “Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Such an attitude moves traveling overseers to make earnest efforts to understand the problems and circumstances of fellow believers. Then they can give upbuilding Scriptural counsel that can accomplish real good if it is applied. A circuit overseer who excels in showing empathy received this letter from a congregation near Turin, Italy: “If you want to be interesting, be interested; if you want to be pleasing, be pleasant; if you want to be loved, be lovable; if you want to be helped, be ready to help. This is what we have learned from you!”
10. What have circuit and district overseers said about being humble, and what example did Jesus set in this regard?
10 Being humble and approachable assists traveling overseers to do much good. One circuit overseer observed: “It is most important to maintain a humble attitude.” He would caution new traveling overseers: “Do not let yourselves be unduly influenced by the more affluent brothers because of what they may do for you, nor limit your friendship to such ones, but strive always to deal with others impartially.” (2 Chronicles 19:6, 7) And a truly humble traveling overseer will not have an exaggerated view of his own importance as a representative of the Society. A district overseer appropriately commented: “Be humble and willing to listen to the brothers. Always be approachable.” As the greatest man who ever lived, Jesus Christ could have made people feel uncomfortable, but he was so humble and approachable that even children felt at ease in his presence. (Matthew 18:5; Mark 10:13-16) Traveling overseers want children, teenagers, elderly ones—indeed anyone and everyone in the congregation—to feel free to approach them.
11. When it is needed, what can be the effect of an apology?
11 Of course, “we all stumble many times,” and no traveling overseer is immune to making mistakes. (James 3:2) When they make mistakes, a sincere apology gives other elders an example of humility. According to Proverbs 22:4, “the result of humility and the [reverential] fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life.” And do not all of God’s servants need to ‘be humble in walking with their God’? (Micah 6:8, 1960 Edition) When asked what advice he would have for a new traveling elder, one circuit overseer commented: “Have high respect and regard for all the brothers, and consider them as being better than you. You will learn much from the brothers. Stay humble. Be yourself. Do not put on airs.”—Philippians 2:3.
12. Why is zeal for the Christian ministry so significant?
12 Zeal for the Christian ministry lends weight to a traveling overseer’s words. In fact, when he and his wife set zealous examples in the evangelizing work, elders, their wives, and the rest of the congregation are encouraged to display zeal in their ministry. “Be zealous for the service,” urged one circuit overseer. He added: “I have found that, generally, the more zealous a congregation is in the ministry, the fewer problems they experience.” Another circuit overseer remarked: “I believe that if the elders work in the field with the brothers and sisters and help them to enjoy the ministry, this will result in peace of mind and the greatest satisfaction in serving Jehovah.” The apostle Paul ‘mustered up boldness to speak the good news of God to the Thessalonians with a great deal of struggling.’ No wonder they had fond memories of his visit and preaching activity and longed to see him again!—1 Thessalonians 2:1, 2; 3:6.
13. What does a traveling overseer take into account when working with fellow Christians in the field service?
13 When working with fellow Christians in the field ministry, a traveling overseer takes into account their circumstances and limitations. Although his suggestions may be helpful, he knows that some may be nervous when preaching with an experienced elder. In certain cases, therefore, encouragement may be more useful than counsel. When he accompanies publishers or pioneers on a Bible study, they may prefer that he conduct it. This is likely to acquaint them with some ways to improve their teaching methods.
14. Why can it be said that zealous traveling overseers stimulate zeal in others?
14 Zealous traveling overseers stimulate zeal in others. One circuit overseer in Uganda walked through the thick forest for an hour in order to accompany a brother on a Bible study that was making little progress. During their walk it rained so heavily that they arrived soaked to the skin. When the family of six learned that their visitor was a traveling overseer, they were very impressed. They knew that ministers of their church would never show such interest in the flock. The next Sunday, they attended their first meeting and expressed a desire to become Jehovah’s Witnesses.
15. What fine experience was enjoyed by a zealous circuit overseer in Mexico?
15 In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, one circuit overseer made an effort not really expected of him. He arranged to stay in a prison cell for four nights in order to visit a group of seven inmates who had become Kingdom publishers. For several days he accompanied these prisoners as they witnessed from cell to cell and conducted Bible studies. Because of the interest shown, some of these studies continued well into the night. “At the end of the visit, the inmates and I felt full of joy as a result of the mutual encouragement,” writes this zealous circuit overseer.
16. Why is it so beneficial when traveling overseers and their wives provide encouragement?
16 Traveling overseers try to be encouraging. When Paul visited the congregations in Macedonia, he ‘encouraged them with many a word.’ (Acts 20:1, 2) Words of encouragement can be very helpful in directing both young and old toward spiritual goals. At one large branch office of the Watch Tower Society, an informal survey revealed that circuit overseers had encouraged nearly 20 percent of the volunteers to take up full-time service. By her fine example as a full-time Kingdom proclaimer, the traveling overseer’s wife also proves to be a great source of encouragement.
17. How does one elderly circuit overseer feel about his privilege of rendering aid to others?
17 Older ones and depressed souls are particularly in need of encouragement. One elderly circuit overseer writes: “The facet of my work that generates an unspeakable inner joy is the privilege of rendering aid to the inactive and feeble ones among God’s flock. The words of Romans 1:11, 12 have special meaning for me, as I derive immense encouragement and strength while ‘imparting some spiritual gift to such ones in order for them to be made firm.’”
Rewards of Their Joyful Work
18. What Scriptural objectives do traveling overseers have?
18 Traveling overseers have the best interests of fellow believers at heart. They want to strengthen the congregations and build them up spiritually. (Acts 15:41) One traveling overseer works hard “to give encouragement, provide refreshment, and promote a desire to fulfill the ministry and continue living the truth.” (3 John 3) Another one seeks to stabilize fellow believers in the faith. (Colossians 2:6, 7) Remember that the traveling overseer is a “genuine yokefellow,” not a master over the faith of others. (Philippians 4:3; 2 Corinthians 1:24) His visit is an occasion for encouragement and extra activity, as well as an opportunity for the body of elders to review progress made and consider future goals. By his words and example, congregation publishers, pioneers, ministerial servants, and elders can expect to be built up and stimulated for the work ahead. (Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:11.) So, then, wholeheartedly support the circuit overseer’s visits, and take full advantage of the service rendered by the district overseer.
19, 20. How have traveling overseers and their wives been rewarded for their faithful service?
19 Traveling overseers and their wives are richly rewarded for their faithful service, and they can be confident that Jehovah will bless them for the good they do. (Proverbs 19:17; Ephesians 6:8) Georg and Magdalena are an elderly couple who served for many years in the traveling work. At a convention in Luxembourg, Magdalena was approached by a person to whom she had given a witness over 20 years earlier. This Jewish woman’s interest in the truth was aroused by the Bible literature Magdalena left with her, and in time she was baptized. Georg was approached by a spiritual sister who remembered his visit to her home nearly 40 years ago. His enthusiastic presentation of the good news ultimately led both her and her husband to accept the truth. Needless to say, both Georg and Magdalena were overjoyed.
20 Paul’s fruitful ministry in Ephesus brought him joy and may have moved him to quote Jesus’ words: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) Since traveling work involves constant giving, those engaging in it experience happiness, especially when they become aware of the good results of their labor. One circuit overseer who helped a discouraged elder was told in a letter: “You have been a great ‘strengthening aid’ in my spiritual life—more than you know. . . . You will never fully know how much help you have been to a modern-day Asaph, whose ‘feet had almost turned aside.’”—Colossians 4:11; Psalm 73:2.
21. Why would you say that 1 Corinthians 15:58 applies to the activities of traveling overseers?
21 An elderly Christian who was in the circuit work for years likes to think of 1 Corinthians 15:58, where Paul urged: “Become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.” Traveling overseers surely have much to do in the Lord’s work. And how grateful we are that they serve so joyfully as faithful stewards of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness!
See the article “Can You Be Happy With Much to Do?” in The Watchtower, May 15, 1991, pages 28-31.
How Would You Respond?
□ Why can traveling overseers be viewed as “fine stewards”?
□ What are some factors that help circuit and district overseers to accomplish much good?
□ Why are humility and zeal so important for those engaging in the traveling work?
□ What fine objectives do traveling overseers have?
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Traveling overseers seek to encourage fellow believers
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Young and old alike can benefit from association with traveling overseers and their wives
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The traveling overseer’s zealous ministry promotes zeal in others