Pastor as Overseer

If leadership is largely influence (Northouse, 2012), then pastors are leaders. Yet, this perspective on the pastorate is something that many evangelicals have shied away from. For example, one author and former pastor, Jared Wilson, questions the usefulness of the leadership approach to pastoral work. Wilson (2013) sardonically writes:

Enter the leadership cult. What we need is know-how, the publishing Powers-That-Be reason. We lack skills, practical helps, and insider tips, and they’ve got just the evangelical gurus to deliver the goods. Don’t you want to leverage your synergy and catalyze your visioneering? Don’t you want to know the seven highly effective and irrefutable laws of unlocking the mystery of who moved your cheese’s parachute? Are you a starfish or a spider? This is all key to revealing the quality ministry hidden inside of you and to taking your church to a whole ‘nother level. (p. 27)

He then goes on to cite the “417 Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership.”

No doubt you hear echoes of Stanley, Maxwell, Covey, and others in Wilson’s remarks. Having read some of these folks, I can certainly chuckle along with his sarcasm here. The “leadership cult” which he describes can become quite silly. The discussion of leadership can be too simple, too traits and skills driven. The focus can shift away from trusting God to trusting techniques. But in writing so derisively of pastoral work and leadership, I am afraid authors like Wilson will drive pastors away from all discussions of leadership in ministry. This is not helpful.

Pastors are leaders. They have important leadership functions, and we would be wise to consider what these functions are, and yes, how they differ from the world’s definition of leadership. For this reason, I appreciate a recent article from D.A. Carson on the pastor as overseer.

In his article, Some Reflections on Pastoral Leadership, Carson notes the threefold titling of the New Testament for the pastor. This office is synonymously referred to as pastor/elder/overseer.  Carson then remarks that a great deal of discussion surrounds the concepts of pastor and elder, but there has been little discussion about the pastor as overseer. Carson (2015) writes:

Almost no attention, however, has been paid to the particular overtones cast up by the word “overseer.” Of course, something of oversight is taking place if one is actively attempting to find and train new elders, or if one is leading the other elders and the congregation itself in a difficult instance of church discipline, or if one is laying out a long-term preaching/teaching program. But it is worth pausing to reflect on why, when the chief ecclesiastical office is mentioned, “overseer” is one of the three terms used to describe it. (p. 196)

He then describes a particular church that suffered a major decline. What caused the decline? Carson (2015) answers, “[O]ne big factor, perhaps the biggest, that contributed to this decline, it was that the man, though an able preacher, was a poor leader—i.e., he almost entirely ignored his episcopal responsibilities” (p. 196).

Carson (2015) then concludes his article with this salient paragraph:

As important and central as is the ministry of the Word of God, the thoughtful pastor/elder/overseer will devote time and energy to casting a vision, figuring out the steps for getting there, building the teams and structures needed for discharging ministry and training others, building others up, thinking through the various ways in which the gospel can be taught at multiple levels to multiple groups within the church, how to extend faithful evangelism and church planting, how to engage the surrounding world as faithful believers, and much more. Just because a person is an able preacher does not necessarily make him an able pastor/elder/overseer. Indeed, if he shows no propensity for godly oversight, then no matter how good a teacher he may be, he is not qualified to be a pastor/teacher/overseer. It is not for nothing that Scripture applies all three labels to the one office. (p. 197)

If it was not the preeminent New Testament scholar D.A. Carson writing this, we might be scandalized by this strong assertion. But I hope Carson’s remarks here will spark a deeper discussion about what it means to view the pastor as an overseer (i.e., leader). Let’s not go overboard with the “leadership gurus,” but let us also not neglect this important aspect of pastoral work.


Carson, D. A. (2015). Some Reflections on Pastoral Leadership. Themelios, 40(2). Retrieved from TGC.

Northouse, P. G. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th edition). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Wilson, J. C. (2013). The Pastor’s justification: Applying the work of Christ in your life and ministry. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

The Reading Pastor


“Let me share with you a realistic goal. There are too many pastors who never do any reading.  That goal is too low. There are also seminaries that recommend that we must spend every morning in study. That goal is too high. We need a realistic goal, and I say to pastors that every pastor could manage one hour of reading a day. In addition we ought to manage a morning, afternoon or evening every week, that is to say, a longer period of about four hours. One hour a day and one session a week is about ten hours in the week. We ought to be able to manage one book in ten hours, and one book a week is fifty or more a year. I really think that this is a reasonable target to set for oneself.”

John Stott, Problems of Christian Leadership, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2014), 36-37.

Book Review – Dangerous Calling

6_graphic_dangerous_callingI enjoy Paul Tripp and have been helped by his various ministries. In his book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Tripp offers some welcome insights on the ministry and challenge of pastoring.

While addressing a range of topics, the overarching theme of the book is this:

Pastors are no different than other believers and therefore they need as much soul care as the next person.

Tripp makes this point by reaching for the biblical illustration of the church as a body. He points out that if Christ is the head of the church, then everyone else is just body. That’s it. Body. So the super gifted pastor or the neophyte lay leader, it doesn’t matter. All comprise the body and therefore no one is a hero. No one is a savior. No one is above the need for Christ and his gospel.

Tripp’s simple observation opens up a world of implications. If it’s true that pastors are just people, then pastors need community, accountability, rest, repentance, healing, forgiveness and grace. It means pastors have problems. Pastors sin. Pastors get lonely. Pastors get angry. Pastors get discouraged. In other words, pastors do NOT inhabit a different category of Christian. Of course, this also applies to other leadership roles in the church.

That ministry leaders are human  seems obvious, but I have repeatedly seen people surprised by the imperfections of church leaders. Such reactions and unrealistic expectations can drive leaders further into isolation, the very thing Tripp warns against. For this reason, Dangerous Calling is a helpful reminder to us all. We are all the body of Christ, and we all need His grace. Let us extend that grace to one another regardless of title or position.