the weblog of Alan Knox

The Holy Spirit has made you overseers…

Posted by on Feb 28, 2007 in elders, office | 22 comments

We are currently attempting to recognize additional elders among the church. We believe that a pastor, an elder, and an overseer are the same. In other words, an elder is a pastor is an overseer.

Recently, someone brought this verse to our attention:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)

As we discussed this verse, and how we should apply it, we noticed the phrase “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” This brought up a very interesting question: At what point does a person become a pastor/elder/overseer?

According to Acts 20:28 (above), it is the Holy Spirit who makes someone a pastor. Does the Holy Spirit do this as a response to the actions of a church? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe that the Holy Spirit makes someone an overseer regardless of the actions or lack of actions of the church itself.

In other words, the Holy Spirit places someone in a group of believers and subsequently gives that person the responsibility of “caring for” (that is, being an overseer for) that group of believers. The church is then supposed to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit and to recognize that individual as an overseer.

If the church does not recognize that person as an overseer, the church’s action does not remove the responsibility from that person, because the responsiblity was given by the Holy Spirit not the church. If the church recognizes different people as overseers, the church’s action does not remove the responsibility from the first person, because the responsibility was given by the Holy Spirit not the church.

Now, this is not the way that we normally think of pastors/elders/overseers. However, it does seem to align with what Scripture says about the work of the Holy Spirit among a group of believers (especially Acts 20:28 above). How does a church ensure that the people the church recognizes as overseers are the same people that the Holy Spirit has made overseers?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-28-2007


    There are three different greek words–“tithemi” in Acts 20.28, “chairotoneo” in Acts 14.23, and “kathistemi” in Titus 1.5–that all seem to connote the idea of appointing someone to a position, or constituting them as occupying an office. You, being the Greek scholar, are going to have to sort out for me the nuances of each term, and whether they are referring to essentially the same thing, different aspects of the same thing, or different things altogether. If it is “essentially the same thing,” it seems plausible to me that the Holy Spirit uses the recognition of the congregation and /or the appointing of the “apostle” or “apostolic worker” (i.e. Titus) as a means towards constituting someone to the office of “elder” or “overseer.” That doesn’t mean that a potential elder should not already be exercising some of the gifts involved in eldership before he is officially recognized as an elder. But, I, until shown how that the passages I have mentioned here can be taken otherwise, tend to think that someone becomes an elder at the moment they are officially recognized as such by, or in front of, the congregation in which they are to serve.

    “Ordination” to me, is a related, but different subject, about which I have some thoughts as well, But that would probably be best for a separate post.

  2. 2-28-2007


    Great post, I would ask a further question, “How does the individual ensure that he has actually been made an overseer by the Holy Spirit?”


    Great questions, I look forward to reading Alan’s response.

    God’s Glory,

  3. 2-28-2007


    If you read my post on Eph 4:11, you’ll see that I see the person being gifted as separate from the person being in a position. Thus I would say that a person is gifted to pastor/teach and should exercise his gifts whether he is appointed to a position of elder or not. Official eldering requires recognition, but someone who is thus gifted should use their gift whether they are recognized or not. Much of this is wrapped around what I consider to be the central role of an elder: that is to be an example (1 Pet 5:3).

    As for the other appointing terms (Acts 14:23 & Titus 1:5) I am looking forward to hearing the greek scholar speak, but for my two cents I would say that those early churches were not mature enough to be able to recognize who was really a good example and so Paul appoints, led by the Holy Spirit, the ones who will be good example to the flock. This of how Paul speaks of the Cretans: they are “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Now compare that to Titus: “a true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4). Who was best suited at the time to recognize whom the Holy Spirit had gifted? Just a thought.


    This makes me think of Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas are referred to as prophets or teachers (v. 1). Then the Holy Spirit tells the people to set them aside. The people do. Following which they are then subsequently refereed to as apostles (Acts 14:14). Now Eph 4:11 presents apostleship as a gift, not a position, thus I would say that in the Acts 13 passage we see them being gifted as apostles. There does not really seem to be enough time for the church to recognize their gifting by their actions since the Holy Spirit steps in and instructs them to appoint them to this “apostolic” (sent out) ministry. So we see the order: gifting comes first then appointing. Both come through the Holy Spirit. The only unknown is obedience of the gifted person and of the body of believers.

    Got to go …

  4. 2-28-2007


    I appreciate you and the seemingly unending work you do to edify the saints. So, thank you.

    In this post you write, “Does the Holy Spirit do this as a response to the actions of a church? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe that the Holy Spirit makes someone an overseer regardless of the actions or lack of actions of the church itself.”

    In response to this I find myself in somewhat of a mediating position between what you have written here and the comments of David Rogers. Perhaps it is not an “either…or” scenario, but a “both…and.” Let me explain.

    Based on this scripture we cannot deny that the H.S. makes overseers. But cannot it not be that He does so (makes elders) not only through the leading of the individual to “care for” and provide an example to the body, but also through the leading of the church to recognize the person in question? It seems that this may correct overemphasis in either direction.

    Now, I do understand that we live in a fallen world were the “both…and” rarely coincide. So, while a lack of recognition from the church doesn’t alleviate an individual’s responsibility to serve the body (as you rightly emphasized in this post), it does seem that the body suffers and the man is not the elder he should be in that he is not proving to be the example to the “flock” (not just a select few, but the congregation at large) that 1 Pet 5:3 indicates as important. So, greivance or quenching of the Spirit(which may be due to sin or blind obedience to “the way we’ve alway done it”) on either side of the “both…and process” seems to leave the church somewhat cheated in what God desires for Christ’s bride.

    In conclusion, I believe this phrase from Acts 20:28 teaches us an important lesson in the recognition of elders. Both the man in question and the church must be led by the Spirit for it to work according to God will. And what a perfect will it is, providing a heavenly checks and balance between the to-be elder and the congregation that is firmly grounded in the work of God himself in and among both parties.

    In Christ,

  5. 2-28-2007


    I agree with you that there are those within the church who have pastoral and/or teaching gifts who may not have been named to the position of elder, and they should put these gifts into practice appropriately as they have opportunity.

    However, I cannot imagine Paul, when he “sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church” (Acts 20.17) including anyone in this group who had not been officially recognized by the church as an elder.

  6. 2-28-2007


    The three verbs that you mention have overlapping semantic ranges – thus they can be used as synonyms. The only way to tell how one is being used is in context. For this discussion, I would not be opposed to assuming that they are synonym. I think it helps me explain what I’m trying to express in this post. The apostles in Acts 14:23 and Titus in Titus 1:5 “appoint” elders. In Acts 20:28 Paul says it is the Holy Spirit who “appoints” elders. Which comes first? I’m suggesting that the “appointment” by the Holy Spirit comes first, and that it comes whether or not people recognize his appointment by the Holy Spirit.

    One more thing, how do we know that Paul didn’t call for the “old men” in Ephesus?


    Great question! I think this is one of the questions that should constantly bring us to our knees. How does an individual know God’s will? I wish I knew a set of steps, but I don’t. One thing I believe is that God will reveal his will to his children.


    I think Acts 13 is an excellent example of what I am talking about in this post. The Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas, and the church sent Paul and Barnabas. If the church had decided to “send” Bill and Ted would that have gotten Paul and Barnabas off the hook? Would Paul and Barnabas still be required to go?


    Welcome back! I wish you would comment more, because your comments are always well-thought, challenging, and encouraging. Yes, it should certainly be both/and. I guess I’m asking, which comes first? Which “appointing” takes precedence? Does the Holy Spirit appoint as a result of the church’s appointment, or should the church appoint as a result of the Holy Spirit’s appointment?


  7. 2-28-2007


    Agreed … I would say that is why he sent for the elders: the ones holding the position, but who can only hold it because they have so been gifted by the Holy Spirit. See it is again the whole example concept. The body, as lead by the Spirit, recognizes the ones who are gifted and sets them up in a position to be examples.

    Now, while I try to understand this by making distinctions, I do recognize that in reality things are a lot less distinct than I make them sound.


    I love both/ands in the Bible … very eastern … 😉 No, really, I do think that too often we try to have a Waffle House theology (as Dr. Patterson would describe the clear cutting of the “extra” waffle so as to make nice and round) and forget that both/ands can be Scriptural.

  8. 2-28-2007

    Just a quick comment totally unrelated to topic of discussion but relevant to Acts 20:28. Notice the trinitarian implications of this verse (H.S., church of God, His blood). It is amazing how theocentric Paul is even when addressing issues of ecclesiology. Alan, I do hope to answer your questions a bit later.


  9. 2-28-2007


    As best as I can make out, the Holy Spirit first “calls” men to the ministry/office of “elder” in the church; then the congregation and/or apostle/apostolic worker confirm that calling when they “set them apart,” similar to the “setting apart” of Barnabas & Saul in Acts 13. Finally, at the same time the congregation/apostle/apostolic worker lays hands on the “elder” being “set apart,” the Holy Spirit “seals” that setting apart with a special “anointing” to fulfill the ministry to which they are being set apart. If such is indeed the case, I see no contradiction between both the Holy Spirit and the congregation/apostle/apostolic worker “appointing” elders.

    It seems to me that “elders” is a better translation in Acts 20.17 than “old men” because of the context of v. 28-30, indicating a particular responsibility they had to “feed the flock” and to “take heed” regarding “grievous wolves.” Do you see this any differently?



  10. 2-28-2007

    You asked of me “which comes first?Which “appointing” takes precedence? Does the Holy Spirit appoint as a result of the church’s appointment, or should the church appoint as a result of the Holy Spirit’s appointment?”

    Well, in response I’m inclined to say that the individual appointing comes first. Concerning precedence, I believe both appointments are necessary to a properly functioning elder role, and if the H.S. is the source of both, we should have no problem saying this. However, the individual appointing seems to take precedence in the sense that it is often (and hopefully)the means by which the Spirit moves the church to complete the “making” of an elder. Therefore, it seems that the H.S. appoints through the church as a result of the appointment in the individual’s life.

    I hope this makes sense?


  11. 2-28-2007


    While the Greek verb in Acts 20:28 has a wide domantic range, I’m not sure we can translate it “call”.


  12. 2-28-2007


    Someone in my office asked when you were going to get an account and start blogging. I second that motion…

    You said: “Well, in response I’m inclined to say that the individual appointing comes first.” Are you suggesting the appointing of the individual by the Spirit or by the church comes first?


  13. 2-28-2007


    I never meant to insinuate the verb in Acts 20.28 should be translated “call.” I get “called” from Acts 13:2. The suggestion I am proposing is that the “appointing” done by the Holy Spirit may well embrace the entire process of “call”, the “appointing” done by the congregation/apostle/apostolic worker, and the “sealing” and “anointing” taking place at the same time.

    Regarding Person A & B, I can see someone who has been gifted with a pastoral gifting exercising that gifting without at the same time having been recognized as an elder. That is well and fine. However, someone who had never been recognized by the congregation taking on responsibility for making and leading out in the implementation of supervisory decisions in the church does not seem to me like good order. And as 1 Cor. 14.33 says, “God is not the author of confusion.” It seems to me that the activity of “supervising” implies the recognition of the authority of the “supervisor” on the part of those being “supervised.”

    Do churches sometimes make mistakes? No doubt. However, I think there is a due process outlined in Scripture for rectifying the choice of an “elder” who is not living up to the qualifications (1 Tim. 5.19-20).

    As to the case of the potential elder “appointed” by the Holy Spirit, but not by the church, I find the precedent in Acts 15.28, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us” as a guide to not go against, or “jump the gun” of the official recognition of the church. In such a case, I believe it would be best for someone gifted and called to be an elder to wait on the official recognition of the church before pretending to “supervise” in the sense I have indicated above. Once again, I believe there are other types of “pastoral” ministry that do not necessarily involve this type of “supervision,” and for which the official recognition of the church is not a pre-requisite.

  14. 2-28-2007


    While I have some questions about the pastor’s responsibility in making “supervisory decisions in the church”, I think that would be a post for another day. So, for now, let’s assume that a pastor does make “supervisory decisions in the church”.

    Are there differences in responsibilities to God between a person who the Holy Spirit has appointed as an overseer and a person who the church has appointed as an overseer?


  15. 2-28-2007


    I guess what I am trying to say is I don’t think the Holy Spirit appoints people as overseers if the church does not do the same. The two “appointments” are linked together.

    I can see, though, the possibility of the church appointing someone that the Holy Spirit has not appointed.

  16. 2-28-2007


    You said that you see the possibility of the church appointing someone that the Holy Spirit has not appointed. Do you not see the possibility of the opposite happening? Is it not possible (and probable) that the church has not appointed someone that the Holy Spirit has appointed? Is the church always obedient in this aspect?


  17. 3-1-2007


    I guess my answer hinges upon a good understanding of the three greek verbs mentioned in my first comment on this post. As I would understand it now, I would say it is possible that the Holy Spirit might “call” and “gift” someone for eldership, but the actual “appointing” is not consummated until the congregation/apostle/apostolic worker joins in the process.

  18. 3-1-2007


    I appreciate your concern. Here are the lexicon entries for the three verbs in question in the three passages:

    Acts 14:23 – χειροτονήσαντες – Aorist Active Participle Nominative Masculine Plural from χειροτονέω – choose or elect (by raising hands), appoint, install

    Acts 20:28 – εθετο – Aorist Middle Indicative 3rd Singular from τιθημι – 1. (active or passive voice) put, place, lay, set up 2. (middle voice) put, place, lay, arrange, fix, establish, make, destine

    Titus 1:3 – καταστήσης – Aorist Active Subjunctive 2nd Singular from καθίστημι – 1. bring, conduct, take 2. appoint, put in charge, authorize 3. make, cause

    As I mentioned earlier, these verbs have a wide semantic range, but are generally synonymous. If there is a difference, it seems that χειροτονέω from Acts 14:23 would be the weaker version (choosing by vote, for example), while the middle voice of τιθημι (Acts 20:28) and καθίστημι (Titus 1:3) would be stronger.

    Again, it would be difficult for me to see how Acts 20:28 could be translated “the Holy Spirit ‘calls’ or ‘gifts’ you to be overseers”.


  19. 3-1-2007


    To answer the question that you asked almost 24 hrs ago (sorry, I do not have internet at the house), I believe the appointment of the individual by the Holy Spirit comes first. Yet, I want to be very careful to not seperate the “two appointments” too much because I see them both as necessary to biblical eldership.

    Have a good day


  20. 3-1-2007


    I agree with you. I agree that the appointing by the Holy Spirit comes first, and that the two “appointings” should not be separated too much. But, since I know that I can make decisions that are not Spirit-led, and groups of believers can make decisions that are not Spirit-led, and even churches can make decisions that are not Spirit-led, I recognize that these two “appointments” can be separated, and sometimes are separated.


  21. 3-1-2007


    I agree! Many times they “are” seperated wrongfully and that is a blemish that we should try to correct in His stregnth. Other times they “can” and must be seperated in order for the individual to remain obedient (spirit-led)in the midst of a disobedient community. In our current elder search at Messiah Baptist, this is a solemn reminder that we dare not take either side of the Divine appointing lightly, lest we distort biblical eldership or leave it incomplete. My prayer is that we as individuals and as a body will surrender this decision to Him and follow where he leads.

    Thanks again for the great convesation on Biblical and relevant topics.

  22. 3-1-2007


    I enjoyed discussing this issue (and others) with you over lunch today. I thought we would be very close in our understanding of how the Holy Spirit and the church works to appoint elders, and we are. I look forward to continue discussing this and other things with you.



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