Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 1 Timothy 3:1 (NIV).
Paul switches gears from talking about the roles of women in worship to the roles of elders. When the NIV uses the term “overseer” it’s referring to a church elder. If you aren’t familiar with what elders do, they are a group of senior lay members, usually but not always men, who help oversee the spiritual life of the church. In most churches, the lead pastor is the spiritual shepherd of the congregation, and he (or she) may have a staff of other pastors who work together in shepherding the faith-life of the church. Yet almost all churches have some kind of group, or council, of elders (or overseers) who help manage the tasks of the church. Efforts to reach lagging members, leading worship functions, managing large tasks or efforts: all these in addition to assisting the pastor in performing tasks of senior spiritual leadership.
When I think of church elders, I think of the elders in the church where I grew up in Oklahoma. They were older men – truly elder – and they were kind, grandfatherly, worthy of respect. Yet they were also pious, a bit aloof. I remember sitting in church when elders were installed and they were always serious. They were men – and women – I could look up to. Or I think of the elders in my church in Colorado, where the council of elders was always separate from the church council, and was usually comprised of older men who had years of experience.
My current church is comprised (mostly) of younger people, folks under middle age. The elders in this church are usually younger as well, many in their thirties or early forties. Some of the churches we have helped to plant have even younger elders. Yet one common thing runs through all age groups: overseers are given the noble task of helping to shepherd the Christian faith of the members of their church.
To be frank, the men and women who are church elders are doing the best they can. Though they’re usually people of upright character and patient temperament, in truth, they’re also just folks. Sometimes they mess up; sometimes they say and do stupid things like anyone else. I know of more than a few people who have been church elders who make me scratch my head; I’m sure they might say the same about me. Yet they still make the best decisions they can, still do the best they can with what they know at the time. That’s the reason they’re selected: because they’re doing a noble job and it’s their lot to do the best they can for the church they serve.
For further reading: Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:7, 1 Timothy 3:2
Lord, bless the men and women who lead churches as elders and overseers.