Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Kind of Pastor is Best: A Shepherd or an Overseer?

Recognizing this is an over-simplification, there are two basic kinds of pastors:  Shepherds with high mercy gifts and Overseers who watch over and direct the work of others.

Shepherds with strong mercy gifts are oriented towards being the primary care-giver to their congregations; almost like a Chaplain.  They are the ones doing all the teaching, all the funerals, all the weddings, all the visitation, all the discipling, and late-night phone calls.  They lead all the prayer groups, Bible studies, pot-lucks, and gatherings of any kind.  They know everyone by name, including the kids – sometimes even the pets.  They go to graduations, attend recitals, and remember birthdays.  In some instances there is a certain mystique that surrounds them, being perceived as the holy man who is the only one experienced enough to do such things.  However, there is a limit to how many people one man can personally care for.  Consequently, the church can never grow beyond that limit.

Overseers, on the other hand, are oriented towards ensuring their sheep are properly cared for by a group of shepherds, or under-shepherds, who are able to provide such ministry to a broader range of people.  Overseers are leaders of leaders.  They are willing to share the ministry with others.  They do some of the shepherding themselves (possessing a pastors heart) but give up most of it to others so more ministry can take place.  It’s really quite simple: more shepherds translates into more ministry, which equals more needs being met, which equals more kingdom impact and a broader ministry.

Let’s make a case for the Overseer for a moment:

In the OT, God clearly put Moses into such a role.  When Moses tried to do everything himself, arbitrating each and every situation as a solo Shepherd, he was unable to keep up with the demands.  He eventually reached a place of fatigue and burnout.  Furthermore, a lot of people were neglected because of his limitations as a one-man leader.  And, the people suffered for it.

It took the wisdom of his father-in-law, Jethro, employing the skills of an Overseer, to organize captains of fives, captains of tens, and captains of fifties to care for the people.

In the NT, the Holy Spirit birthed the Church by dropping 3,000 new converts into the laps of eleven very overwhelmed men.  It was a mega church mess if there ever was one.  It wasn’t long before the apostles realized they needed to pursue the role of Overseers while setting apart deacons for most of the shepherding tasks, (taking care of widows and running the food-distribution program).

The point is:  both Shepherds and Overseers are needed in churches

A hard working Shepherd can care for around seventy-to-eighty people.  If that pastor doesn’t bring in other Shepherds or under-shepherds and become a leader of leaders, he will become a bottleneck for ministry and growth.

Coincidentally, the average size of a typical church is around seventy-to-eighty people.  Hmmmm…

At Pace Community Church, we had 75 people at our first service.  That means the church outgrew me day one.  I had two choices:  I could operate as a Shepherd-pastor to the congregation (and probably remain at that size or lower); or I could learn a new set of skills and become an Overseer, ensuring that everyone was cared for – not only by me, but by others too – spreading the ministry around – and thereby positioning our church for more ministry and greater kingdom impact.

I decided to devote myself to becoming an Overseer.  And we grew.

It wasn’t easy.  Most who enter the ministry are, by nature, Shepherds with a shepherd’s heart and prefer to operate solo. 

And being a Shepherd (Chaplain to everyone) is appealing.  You get to be at the center of almost everything that’s going on.  You are the one at the hospital, at the wedding, drying the tears, holding the hand, and leading them to Christ.  You are the one doing all the baptizing, baby dedications, and administering communion.  You are the one who chairs every meeting and leads the charge to take every hill.  You are the “man of God”, the theological expert, and the reservoir of all wisdom.  And the accolades you receive from being solo are intoxicating.

Not so much for the Overseer.  You have to be willing to let go… to let others get the credit, see others take the hill, let others be praised.  You are not at the center of every life-event in the lives of those you love.  Instead, you hear stories of people praising a counselor, a Bible class teacher, another ministry leader, their small group leader, or a staff member.  Others get to make decisions, lead teams, do ministry, and share some of the light.

That was my journey. 

Yet, I'm the better for it... and so is PCC.

So why give up Shepherding in favor of Overseeing?  Simple.  Based on Romans 12:8, if you have the gift of leadership, you are called to lead.  And that’s what an Overseer does:  he is a leader of leaders.  Following Paul's advice to Timothy, a pastor has to train, select, and appoint others to carry out the volume of work.

In Scripture, both Shepherds and Overseers are needed.  The goal is not less care, but assured care.  Multiple ministers can do more than one minister.  It's as simple as that.

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