Pastor as Overseer (Bishop)

As leaders you can see what others cannot see, not because you have superior eyes, but because you are looking from a particular place. You are an “overseer.”

Consider the function of our eyes. Thank goodness, they are in our head, not somewhere on our arms or legs. They are located in the head for good reason. From that position, they can see most of the body, plus the environment around the body.

Your position as “eyes” in the body/congregation makes your role unique.

You note that I am calling forth one of the New Testament words for church leadership, namely, “episcopas,” (translated overseer or bishop). If we lay this concept alongside of Paul’s metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ and family systems’ theory, we end up having a potent way of conceptualizing pastoral leadership. If Christ is the mind of the Body (the system) whose directives we seek to em-body, then leaders, especially pastors, function as eyes. It is your location in the Body as pastoral “overseer”— not just your education, personality and ability — that makes possible the expression of your ministry.

In your distinctive position, you are given the time and freedom to crisscross your congregation in ways no member can. You can observe and experience the congregation and larger community like no member can. You can study the stories of God like no member can. Your work takes you from committee to committee, from family to family, from one age group to another. From this unique position you are able to see patterns, possibilities, needs that no one else can see. (Of course, from their positions in the “body,” they see what you cannot see.) So, from your “heady” place in the congregational system, you keep offering, “this is what I see,” along with the invitation, “what do you see from your angle of vision?” (Take notice, this be a position from which we invite, not dominate.)

I remember the “ah ha” moment for me. One year I declined to participate in the nomination committee meetings. I decided I was not needed. Capable lay members of the committee could do the work of nominating future leaders of the church. That was a mistake. I learned that I needed to be a part of the nominating process, not to control outcomes, but to share from my perspective. Sometimes, because of my position, I could offer observations and knowledge that helped match members’ gifts with opportunities and responsibilities.

This, too. “Overseeing eyes” call for limits, not just possibilities. If we are “eyes,” then we are not to be “arms and legs.” That would be called over-functioning, while other members of the body under-functioned. God forbid.

I am inviting you to revisit a seasoned word, “episcopas.” Imagine that, being a bishop.

– Mahan Siler

7 Responses to Pastor as Overseer (Bishop)

  1. Nancy Sehested says:

    I did the same thing one year as a pastor. I did not engage in the conversation with the nominating committee. The result had some serious implications for our leadership in the church. I have appreciated your perspective, Mahan, in reminding us pastors that our position is not for privilege but perspective. We have the unique opportunity to move in and out and around the community in ways that offer a perspective on the whole. We are indeed “overseers” in the best sense of that word. Thank you.


  2. Jerry Haas says:

    Great to hear a Baptist acknowledging the wisdom of an episcopal perspective! And in truth there is a perspective that those who hold the episcopal office in my tradition (United Methodist) offer that is unique. As a local church pastor, I treasured the opportunities I had to share my “episcopal” insights with lay leaders. Teaching the Stephen Ministry course was one such occasion — I came to see how my perspective really is different yet a function of the office more than a function of my brilliance.


  3. Stan Dotson says:

    Another “spectacular” post, Mahan. Made me think of the Sunday School text we had yesterday at our church–2 Kings 6, the story of Elisha (what a bishop he was!) seeing what nobody else could see, then praying for God to take away the sight of his enemies, the Syrians, then later praying for God to give them sight. It’s a great peacemaking story–and I appreciated greatly your insights on peacemaking at church last night.


  4. Vicki Hesse says:

    Thank you for your reflection. I especially like,** “this is what I see,” along with the invitation, “what do you see from your angle of vision?” ** which points to conversation – ‘logos.’


  5. Ben Wagener says:

    Functioning as the pastor for spiritual formation and not the senior pastor, I lead from the “second chair.”I regularly offer my perspectives on key pastoral care needs and where I think lay people can serve in church positions. As one person in a critical “overseer” position, I also need his perspectives so we can work together as a staff team and not as “lone rangers.”
    Sometimes we disagree on who can serve in a position and the type of pastoral care, but our conversation gives us two eyes to sense where calls to serve and care would best benefit the health of the church.


  6. Jonathan Sledge says:

    As one who is “overseen” rather than the overseer, I have learned to value the role and perspective of pastor more and more through the years. The committee work in which I have participated has given me ample opportunity to hear from and learn from the perspectives offered by my pastors. After batting around an idea for a time in committee or small group, I or someone else might ask our pastor, “What does this matter look like from your perspective?” The answer can sometimes shift the whole conversation. As the years have gone by, I’ve found myself thinking more and more from the perspective of overseer, though I do not formally have that role. But when modeled well by those who are in that role, the best lay leadership, I believe, will begin to rise to that expectation. Though we will always see only “in part”, my belief is that the invitation to see will only enhance our vision for the whole.


  7. Mahan Siler says:

    Thanks for the responses, along with the “amen” examples. Jonathan, I appreciate your voice as a lay leader. When lay and clergy leaders both take seriously their “overseeing” position, the church benefits in important ways.


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