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shepherd the flock

In your service as an overseer, have you ever found yourself facing challenges and questions that you were totally unprepared for?

This is my first post and so it’s going to serve as an introduction to Oversight Today and to my vision for this project at the time of writing (in the second half of 2017). Undoubtedly the direction will continue to unfold but I wanted to articulate something of my vision as it stands at the moment.

Today’s Challenges

I am creating Oversight today with a few things in mind. First, we are facing challenges today that no generation of believers before us has had to face. As one example, more and more overseers are reeling over the realization of how widespread pornography is among believers and even in their own families. Our society is high pressure, fast-paced, increasingly disconnected by technology and growing in affluence. There are intergenerational issues and gaps that we have no idea how to address. Most recognize the need for progress but are unsure how to navigate that without neglecting long-held truths. We are regularly confronted with depression, anxiety, personality disorders. We are seeing highly-respected commended workers fall into moral sin and we are not sure how to help them, help their families, their victims or the assemblies impacted by these issues.

So the challenges we face today are multifaceted: they are doctrinal, cultural, generational, and complex.

My Concern

On that note, I think it’s important to disclose my own context and where I am coming from. I am speaking out of the experience of someone who is Canadian and has served as an overseer only in Western Canadian assemblies. If you’re from somewhere else you will hear me speak of issues that may not be as relevant or applicable in your culture. I have visited assemblies in Australia, New Zealand, Central America, Mexico, the USA and Canada. In the UK and in Asia and in Africa. Biblical truth is universal but its application is often more nuanced by culture than any of us realize. So if you’re from another part of the world, just keep the different contexts in mind.

But at the end of the day I want you to know that I am deeply concerned about assembly testimony. Especially in North America. I love the assembly of which I am a part. I covet the continuity of assembly testimony and its expansion around the world.

But I am also very concerned about the quantity of people leaving assemblies for evangelical groups. I don’t believe the responsibility for this departure should be entirely placed on the shoulders of those leaving. We need to explore how we can stop the bleeding by looking at our own way of gathering under the light of the Word of God. I do believe that Divine truth should result in blessing, and in increasing commitment and conviction to the things of God.

And so let me just tell you why I started Oversight Today, who it is for, and what we are going to be talking about.

Why Oversight Today?

I care about the young: and in many parts of Canada and the USA we’re losing them. That is a huge issue.

I also believe that assemblies as a group have stagnated. Sure, there are exceptions. But in a day gone by we produced scholars and study resources that were used for many years by evangelical Christians. Significant missionaries too. Men that found their roots, if not their lives, in assemblies: W.E. Vine, JN Darby, Thomas Newberry, Sir Robert Anderson, Hudson Taylor, HA Ironside, FF Bruce, Jim Elliot.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but how many men of this calibre have we produced in the last 30 years?

I believe that is because pride set in and we have rested on the coat-tails of these great men. We need to renew our passion for clear Bible teaching and renew an unquenchable thirst for searching the Scriptures. I hope that Oversight Today will help challenge us in this regard.

Legalism

I also hope to confront legalism. Part of this podcast and website will really just look like a social commentary on current conditions among us. And legalism is one of the most threatening conditions. If I have learned anything, legalism does not promote or assist personal or church growth. In fact, it has the opposite effect. And as elders, we are not identifying and calling out legalism for what it is. Nor are we identifying and remedying the ways in which legalistic teaching is being imposed and enforced.

I also am concerned that the younger generation are trying to become the agents of change in assemblies. While their concern for biblical truth and authenticity is priceless, and their energy is invaluable, I don’t feel they should be the change agents. I believe that mature, godly overseers should be the ones guiding the flock through change by ensuring that what is taught from our platforms is Biblical and practical in today’s context. Much of what we teach is based on values that are no longer relevant and those opinions are being taught with the same authoritativeness as Biblical truth. I will be challenging my fellow overseers to return to our Bibles and to seriously examine Scriptures and stop assuming that we have everything figured out.

A Fresh Take

I believe that we need to review assembly truth. We talk about assembly truth as something that belongs to us. We do this when we say things like, “You may hear others say [insert other truth here] but this is not what WE believe!” This language needs to be dropped from our vocabulary. Instead, we can raise the topic but then we need to say, “but the Scriptures teach…” and then actually open our Bibles and show what they teach. We’re allowed to have opinions and convictions but we need to identify them as such — and not hold onto them nearly as tightly as what is clearly Biblical.

I have to confess some selfish motives too: I need this project to help me become a better overseer. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to older shepherds talk about some way that they are serving their flock. And whatever it is that they are doing: it’s not even in my repertoire. Honestly, I’ve felt rebuked because I realize that there are many ways that I fail to serve. Or that I could serve more effectively. Or even that there’s a complete gap in the way that I’m serving. While I’ve felt rebuked, these were also lightbulb moments. I learned from them and as we do some interviews as part of Oversight Today I’m definitely looking forward to this aspect as well.

Who is Oversight Today For?

Oversight Today is for overseers. Overseers who want to scrutinize and be scrutinized by the word of God.

It is not for younger christians. If you are a younger Christian you may certainly let your overseers know about Oversight Today.

But please know: this is not a platform.

It is not a cause.

It is not a rebellion.

I am not the saviour of the Gospel Halls.

This is just a channel for one elder to speak to other elders from week to week about real issues that we’re seeing in our assemblies. It’s also a place to identify and examine broader trends amongst us. You’re welcome to listen in: in fact, if you have any aspirations to be an overseer one day, please do listen!.

Young or old: if you disagree with what I say, please let me know. I don’t have the corner on truth. I am assuming going into this that in the future there are some episodes I’m going to have to come back to and rewrite and re-record. After all, my very premise is that we don’t have everything figured out — naturally, that must include me.

So this content is for my fellow overseers. I’m on the border — in terms of age — between the boomers and the millennials. It is my belief that God is calling me to join in the work that He is already doing to bridge that gap. We need both generations. The young generation are not rebels whose wings need to be clipped. Nor are the older generation the enemy: they don’t need to be pushed aside or bypassed. They are worthy of respect; we need all the grey hair we can get in our assemblies.

But for us to come through the next 10 years without a significant loss to assembly testimony, we’re going to have to get back into the Word of God as overseers and we’re going to have to equip ourselves to handle the modern problems that we are facing.

What Am I Going to be Talking About on Oversight Today?

On that note, I am organizing the content of Oversight Today in to three areas: You’ll see these on my site.

  1. Gathering
  2. Leadership
  3. Shepherding

Gathering is about assembly practice and function. We’ll be going through assembly truth in a systematic format and searching the Scriptures — hopefully without the assumption that we have already perfectly and fully interpreted and implemented everything the Word of God teaches about gathering. I think it’s prideful to speak from the perspective that we are the one and only group of people who know how to operate a local church. That’s just prideful thinking and it’s kept us back from being Berean and continuing to search the Scriptures. If in any way we have had more illumination, how much greater our responsibility to continue to examine and reexamine the foundations for soundness? Surely we cannot assume we have it all down pat?

The second area of focus is Leadership, which is about how we guide the flock of God. We’ll be talking about things like:

  • change management,
  • how we support our missionaries,
  • how to deal with burnout as a leader in the assembly.

Hopefully lots of practical topics can be covered in this area over time.

And then we’ll be talking about Shepherding. In this we’re going to get into some very specific topics like how to help a young brother who is addicted to pornography. What to do when one of the saints in your assembly is suicidal. How to help marriages. But I’ll also be covering interpersonal skills like active listening and conflict resolution.

Those are the three areas: gathering, leadership and shepherding. Some of the topics are going to be quite familiar and comfortable. Others are going to be very controversial. I only hope that I am able to present them in a respectful, God-fearing and Biblical manner and to have responses in kind from those of you who also care deeply about assembly testimony.

Format

The format will often be a monologue. Sometimes an interview because I certainly have a litany of areas that I need help in as an overseer. Perhaps sometimes a Q&A format.

In the survey of overseers that I sent out in March of 2017 I also noted that most overseers prefer to read books. So: you’ll be able to listen to the audio here on the site, or as a podcast via iTunes or other sources. And with time, these blog posts on specific areas will become books, Lord willing.

One of the prominent themes from the survey was how pressed for time overseers are. I want to respect this. My promise to you is that future episodes will only take the time that is needed to properly address the topic at hand. I hope that you’ll find time to listen in during commutes, or when you’re out jogging or perhaps even read the blog posts on Saturday evening when you have some quiet time.

That’s my introduction. I thought it was only fair to be open and transparent about where I’m coming from, where my values lie, and how I hope to serve current needs via Oversight Today.

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About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.