Elders and overseers

Overseer is the translation of Episkopos, where the word Bisshop comes from. Elders comes from presbys which means elderly in years. In Israel the elderly with life experience where in charge.

Almost all churches have elders in their leadership.


  • A council of elders is the biblical form of leadership in the church

  • Elders should be chosen by the members

  • Elders should be wise old men

  • People without believing children should also be able to become an elder

  • Woman are not allowed to be an elder

How you can also look at it

Why don’t we have overseers in the Protestant church? Titus gets the task to appoint elders (elderly) as overseers who are able to encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Timothy should tell them overseers should be experienced people who show by their way of living they understand what the gospel is all about.

In the churches they are send to, they both have do deal with people who tell al lot of nonsense and learn wrong things to the church. That’s why Tim and Titus should appoint people who are able to correct this. What Paul does is describe how they can recognize capable people.

Why do we always have to make things complicated when it is about the bible? The bible itself teaches us it is all about the heart, that the law is written in our hearts, that the Word became flesh. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

And still, as soon as possible, we turn a recommendation into a law of whitch not one jot or one tittle should be altered. This way we put something that was alive in a dead form without any flexibility.

And exactly this was the problem in Efese and Crete. They were fighting each other over the right application of bible verses. It too revolved around laws and rules and knowledge and appearance. Mercy was far fetched and love as well.

So, what does Paul say: Go and seek people who show in their lives what a gospel of love and mercy looks like and who are capable to teach this to others.

And what do we do:

It says “the husband of one wife” so only a man can be an overseer, a woman can’t be. But for a man without a wife it is okay to be an overseer.

It says “having faithful children”, so if your children aren’t believers, you don’t qualify. But if you don’t have any children, you do.

And so we explain everything in a certain way and say our explanation is the one and only truth and we are prepared to defend it al all costs.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Every church has some wise people around who have experienced life. They are the people that have become gentle and loving by the things they went through. They have been there and know what life can throw at you. That’s why they can encourage other people. They have learned how to rely on God. He is their rock and their shield. From experience they know what is important and what not. So they can help people who have gone astray to find the right track again. They can remove sharp edges from a debate, separate the important form the not so important issues. These are the overseers. They can led people in personal and spiritual areas. Men as an example for men, women as an example for women. (Titus 2:2-5).

These are the go to people if you have questions, because you know you won’t get a platitude as an advice.

It can be useful if it is generally known who these overseers are. As a member you know who you can approach safely. At the other hand these people get the authority to address me if I start telling wrong things to the people around me.

These people shouldn’t be obligated to go to meetings about evangelism events of a shortness of volunteers at the children’s ministry. That usually isn’t their strong point. Leading an organisation is an entirely different cup of tea.

So I to plea for overseers with a living faith, lifes experience and wisdom because of their age. Loving merciful, conscientious men and women who can stand firm. You will see this reflecting in their own life by the functioning of their own families or companies, the way they talk about their boss or other people, how they handle money, etc. You also can tell a lot from how other people talk about them. These people should be able to encourage but also to correct if necessary and they should be able to explain it. These are the people who are allowed to speak freely to the others about their beliefs, faith and doctrines, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (Free after Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and 2)

picture is form Grace Weston, The Overseer