Oversight of the Flock of God


God’s wisdom and understanding is infinite.

Ps 147:5

5 Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours.

Isa 55:9-11

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: 11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

God, in his infinite wisdom, has ordained that elders be appointed over each flock (church) of the Lord’s people.

Acts 14:21-23

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, 22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

These elders in each flock are ordained (appointed) by God to be the overseers of the flock.

1 Peter 5:1-4

5 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Acts 20:17-32

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. 18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, 19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, 21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. 24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. 26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

We can see that the apostle Paul loved the church deeply, and loved and respected the elders in the church greatly. And that he had poured heart and soul into preparing them for the formidable task of shepherding and overseeing the flock. He called together the elders of the church at Ephesus and talked to them about their task, and how he had prepared them for it:

Acts 20:17-21

17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. 18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, 19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, 21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 20:26-27

26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

Sometimes, churches will digress from God’s arrangement regarding the oversight of the congregations. One way, in recent times, that some churches have fallen down in this respect, is to allow a doctrine called “Evangelistic Oversight” to make inroads into the organization of the church. And elders are sometimes as much as fault as preachers in this matter. Elders sometimes begin to relinquish control of the oversight of the congregation to enthusiastic preachers, and eventually the shepherding of the flock is in the hands of the preacher.

Unfortunately, this doctrine called “Evangelistic Oversight” has been around for years among some churches of Christ, culminating in the evangelist or preacher having oversite control over the congregation. In this situation the congregation may have elders or it may not have elders. It is sometimes called preacher rule, or in denominations, the pastor system. Brother Don Wright is the preacher at the Brown Street church of Christ in Akron, Ohio. He is to speak at the Orleans church gospel meeting, to be held this year on September 1-6. He has written an article in the Brown Street Beacon on the subject of Evangelistic Oversight. Also, brother H. E. Phillips, author of a booklet entitled “Scriptural elders and deacons,” has written a good article on Evangelistic Oversight. Also, an article by Allan Martin on The Pastor System was written and published several years ago in Gospel Truths periodical (J. T. Smith, editor). The first two articles by bros. Wright and Phillips can be accessed on the web, and the last article can be obtained by contacting bro. Martin at the Pekin church.

The above arrangement is not found in the Scriptures. As authorized by God, the congregation is composed of saints, with the bishops and deacons.

Phil 1:1

1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Bishops and deacons hold an office in the congregation.

1 Tim 3:1-13

3 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

There is no office of an evangelist. The evangelist has a work to do, the work of an evangelist, speaking and teaching the word of God.

2 Tim 4:1-5

4 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

Titus 2:1

2 But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:

Titus 2:15

15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Elders are to have the oversight of the flock (Acts 20:28, 1 Pet 5:2). Paul told the elders at Ephesus to “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28). By contrast, he told the evangelist Timothy to “Take heed unto yourself, and to the doctrine [teaching, ASV, NASV]” (1 Tim 4:16).

Titus, an evangelist, was appointed by Paul to speak to the brethren in Crete and teach them the truth (Titus 2:1-15), not to rule over or oversee them.

Titus 2:1-15

1 But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: 2 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. 3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. 6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. 7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, 8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. 9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; 10 Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. 11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. 15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Some say that in Titus 1:5 Paul was giving so-called “Evangelistic Oversight” to Titus over the brethren in Crete. Absolutely not so. The churches in Crete were lacking in organization. Paul was not able to spend a lot of time in Crete to get the churches properly organized. So, he left Titus in Crete and “appointed” him to finish the job. They were “wanting” in this respect, and Titus was told by Paul that he left him in Crete to “set in order the things that are wanting, and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).

Note that in Titus 1:5 Paul utilizes the grammatical term called “apposition” in his instructions to Titus. Apposition is “The placing of a word or expression beside another in explanation” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). The second phrase “ordain elders in every city,” explains what Paul was talking about in the first phrase, “set in order the things that are wanting.” The same grammatical approach is used in passages like Acts 4:18, Acts 22:16, 1 Tim 3:4, Titus 1:6, to name a few.

Paul’s clear instructions to Titus in this matter are given in Titus 1:4-9.

Titus 1:4-9

4 To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. 5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

See the definition below of “set in order.”

Strong’s Greek/Hebrew Definitions, NT:1930 to straighten further, i.e. (figuratively) arrange additionally:

Exegetical Dictionary NT:1930 e)pidiorqo/w epidiorthoœ set right (fully/in addition)

Titus 1:5, with obj. ‎ta\ lei/ponta‎: "so that you fully set right what is lacking."

Thayers lexicon NT:1930 e)pidiorqo/w (see ‎dio/rqwsis‎): to set in order besides or further (what still remains to be set in order (cf. ‎e)pi/‎, D. 4)): Titus 1:5,

Paul did not give Titus a long-term assignment. Titus was to expeditiously finish the job, and meet up with Paul in Nicopolis by wintertime.

Titus 3:12

12 When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter.

Commentaries give credence to the understanding that Paul was giving Titus a temporary assignment to get the churches properly organized on the island of Crete.

The Bible exposition commentary: New Testament

Titus 1:5-9

One reason Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete was that he might organize the local assemblies and "set in order" the things that were lacking. That phrase is a medical term; it was applied to the setting of a crooked limb. Titus was not the spiritual dictator of the island, but he was Paul's official apostolic representative with authority to work. It had been Paul's policy to ordain elders in the churches he had established (Acts 14:23), but he had not been able to stay in Crete long enough to accomplish this task.

Barnes’ notes

Titus 1:5

[That thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting] Margin, "left undone." The Greek is: "the things that are left;" that is, those which were left unfinished; referring, doubtless, to arrangements which had been commenced, but which for some cause had been left incomplete. Whether this had occurred because he had been driven away by persecution, or called away by important duties demanding his attention elsewhere, cannot now be determined. The word rendered "set in order", ‎epidiorthoosee‎, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means, properly, "to make straight upon, and then to put further to rights, to arrange further." Robinson, Lexicon -There were things left unfinished which he was to complete. One of these things, and perhaps the principal, was to appoint elders in the various cities where the gospel had been preached.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown

Titus 1:5: For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

Left I thee - 'behind' (Alford), when I left the island: not implying permanence of commission (cf. 1 Tim 1:3)

In Crete - now Candia.

Set in order, [‎epidiorthoosee‎] - 'that thou mightest follow up (the work begun by me), setting right the things wanting,' which I was unable to complete through the shortness of my stay in Crete. Christianity, doubtless, had long existed there: some Cretians heard Peter's preaching on Pentecost (Acts 2:11). The number of Jews in Crete was large (Titus 1:10); and it is likely that those scattered in the persecution of Stephen (Acts 11:19) preached to them, as they did to those of Cyprus, etc. Paul also was there on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:7-12). So the Gospel was sure to reach Crete early. But until Paul's later visit, after his first imprisonment at Rome, the Cretian Christians were without proper church organization. This Paul began, and commissioned (before leaving Crete) Titus to go on with: now he reminds him of that commission.

Ordain, [‎katasteesees‎] - 'constitute.'

In every city, [‎kata ‎‎polin‎] - 'from city to city.'

As I had appointed thee, [‎dietaxameen‎] - "set in order:" 'directed thee:' prescribing the act, as also the manner, which latter includes the qualifications required in a presbyter. The "elders" here are called 'bishops,' Titus 1:7. Elder marks the dignity in relation to the college of presbyters; bishop, the duties of office in relation to the flock. From the unsound state of the Cretian Christians we see the danger of the want of church government. The appointment of presbyters was designed to check idle talk, by setting forth the 'faithful word.'

We should take a careful look at just what Paul is saying. Titus was not told to confine his activities to just one congregation. He was appointed to travel through the entire island of Crete, and ordain elders in “every city.” And, there is no indication whatsoever that Paul was giving “Evangelistic Oversight” to Titus to oversee or exercise rule over one church or many churches. Nothing in the Scriptures say that or so indicate.

He is talking about Titus setting in order that which was lacking by appointing elders in congregations, not overseeing congregations. Use common sense. Obviously, Paul was appointing Titus to take care of a particular case, which Paul, due to his own particular circumstances, was not able to handle. It obviously is not the norm for all evangelists to follow today.

If Paul was giving “Evangelistic Oversight” to Titus (which he was not), and if he is implying that evangelists today should exercise the same (and there is no indication that he was so implying), then evangelists today would need to be careful to extend their so-called “oversight” to a wide region. They would be required to not confine their activities to just one church, but rather travel throughout a wide region, and see that all the churches in that entire region are under their control. And we would have the “area bishop” approach that eventually infested the early church and led to the induction of a Pope.

There is great danger in leaving churches unorganized. God, in his infinite wisdom, desires to have elders placed in every church (Acts 14:23) to oversee the flock (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Humans, in their wisdom, sometimes make all sorts of reasons and excuses as to why elders are not good for a congregation, and leave the office open. This only encourages evangelists to take over. We should make every effort to accomplish God’s will in this matter, and have elders appointed in the congregation. When we as members discourage the accomplishment of God’s will in this matter, and encourage the evangelist to take upon himself the duties of elders, we become enablers of that which defeats the Lord’s purpose.

Allan Martin, August 19, 2019