OFFICES AT THE CHURCHPrint This Page.
There are only two offices in the church. One is that of a deacon and the other that of an elder or overseer.
In the Bible the work of the deacons is altogether for service; besides service they have no other responsibility. In the church God does not set up the deacons to be the authority. The deacons in the church are altogether for service, for ministering to others. The word deacon is the same word in Greek as the word minister in the phrase the minister of the word, meaning service for taking care of things. Therefore, in English you can call the deacons’ responsibility service or ministry.
Please remember that the so-called ministry is service. In Protestant Christianity the Episcopal Church likes to use this English word ministry; the Methodist Church likes to use the word service. Because the Methodists separated from the Episcopal Church and they feel that the Episcopal Church is too formal, they like to use the less formal word, even though these two are from the same word. All those in the Methodist Church say service and only rarely say ministry. As the Episcopal Church is a state church and has an official form, it uses ministry. In fact, both words refer to service.
Given to Those Who HaveSpiritual Understanding
The office of the deacons in the church is especially for service. Therefore, in the church it is best in the beginning to let all the brothers serve and take care of things. Some brothers, however, are stable, are reliable, and have spiritual weight before the Lord. The church can set these up to be the deacons. All the saints are deacons, but only those who are reliable and who have spiritual weight can be set up as deacons formally. This work is rather ordinary, but this office can be held only by those who are reliable. Only those who are reliable can be called by this name. We do not want the church to change deacons frequently. Therefore, we need to allow only those who are reliable and spiritual and who have spiritual understanding to be deacons.
I hope that when you go to different localities, you will pay attention to this matter. When there are brothers rising up in a locality and you want them to be deacons, do not by any means select those who only know how to do things but lack spiritual understanding. This is the greatest danger and temptation to a worker. Some brothers or sisters are especially gifted in doing things, and you would often like to set them up to be deacons. However, though many people know how to do things, they may want to bring their worldly mentality into the church. Their ability to do things is still in the worldly way. Worldly wisdom and worldly ability are brought into the church by them. Therefore, especially in selecting deacons, do not look only for those who do things diligently, but also for those who have the proper ways to do things.
By all means you should consider whether or not a person indeed has spiritual understanding in the Lord and has value on the spiritual side. Otherwise, worldly means, worldly ways, and worldly skills in doing things will often be brought into the church. Even though things may be handled very smoothly, for the church to be changed into a society by this one will cause a serious problem. Please remember that today we are in the church; therefore, we need to maintain the spiritual standard of the church and cannot lightly allow people to bring worldly skill and worldly wisdom into the church. I hope that the brothers and sisters will not depreciate talent, but neither should they love talent too much. If you are careless, worldly means will be brought into the church, and the future problems will be greater than those that would have occurred if nothing had ever been started. The problems will be so great that it will not be easy to resolve them.
I think the Bible has made the requirements for a deacon quite clear, and there is no need to speak more about the rest of them. I want you to see these two sides. On the one hand, a deacon must be a diligent person who can work with his own hands; on the other hand, he must have spiritual understanding and spiritual feeling. You can let this kind of person be a deacon.
The second office is that of an elder. The office of an elder is also spoken of often in the Bible.
For the Purpose of Taking Care of the Church
The office of the elder is for the purpose of taking care of the church, that is, for administrating the church.
Possibly Beinga Minister of the Word at the Same Time
The elder does not necessarily need to be a gifted person. In other words, he is not necessarily a minister of the word. If he is a minister of the word, he is even more worthy. In the Bible the ministry of the word is one thing, and an office in the church is another thing. The elders belong to the side of the office of the church and are altogether for executing, administrating, and overseeing the whole church. But the eldership is an office. At the same time an elder may or may not be a minister of the word. If he is a minister of the word, he is even more worthy. As Paul says, he is “worthy of double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). Because he is a minister of the word before God, being apt to teach, and an elder of the church at the same time, he is worthy of double honor.
The Basic Requirement Being Spirituality
The words in the Bible concerning the requirements for an elder are quite clear. There are two things which I wish to point out to the brothers and sisters. The basic requirement of an elder is that he should be one who has understanding in spiritual things. An elder should be a person who has spiritual value, who knows spiritual things, who has spiritual understanding, who knows the way in spiritual things, and whose spiritual course is clear. An elder needs to have considerable experience concerning spiritual things and to know before God what the spiritual condition of other children of God is; then he can take care of the church. On the spiritual side the elders must have this spiritual foundation. In addition, they need God-given abilities and gifts so that they can take care of the affairs of the church and administrate them. Such a person can be an elder of the church before God.
I hope that you will not select an elder for the church who only knows how to handle practical affairs and how to direct things and yet has no spiritual understanding before God. I know that many localities have problems, and the failure is altogether related to selecting those who are famous in the world, who have position, who know how to handle practical affairs, who have ability, and who are experienced in the ways of the world to be elders in the church. Please remember that a person who is capable of handling practical affairs, managing a social organization, and taking care of a family may not necessarily be able to take care of the church. This is because the basic requirement in the church is to be spiritual.
Administrative Experiences Being Useless
There is a brother who has twenty years of administrative experience. Many brothers have come and asked me, “Why not ask that brother to be an elder?” I said, “His twenty years of administrative experience do not count as even one year in the church. They are useless. Even though he is a good Christian, he does not have enough understanding concerning spiritual things.” The church is spiritual, and a person must have spiritual weight before God. He must have spiritual ways and a condition of being spiritual in order to be an elder; otherwise, if this brother were to come in, he would produce problems immediately.
We would rather select one who has spiritual weight, even if he has no ability in handling practical affairs. Of course, it is best for him to have both aspects: to know the spiritual things and also to be able to handle practical affairs. If a person does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God? But this is only half of the matter. Does this mean that a person who can manage his own household can take care of the house of God? No, it does not! Being spiritual is the foundation. Not everyone who can manage his own household can take care of the church of God. Many people can manage their household well, but they are not even saved. Can we then invite them to take care of the church? Only one who has a way in spiritual things and who can also manage his household can be an elder and administrate the church of God.
Therefore, when you select a responsible brother, always select one who has spiritual weight, who has spiritual ways, and who does not easily become proud, overly excited, or puffed up. The life of this person before God needs to be reliable. Select one whose life is reliable, but do not select anyone who is proud. Select one who is stable, but not the so-called genius. On the spiritual side this person should be stable and firm, having spiritual insight, spiritual knowledge, and spiritual understanding before God. Only such a person can be selected.
Able to Manage His Own Household
After you have three, five, seven, or eight such people, you still have to examine them in the aspect of managing practical affairs. The one who can manage and administrate can be an overseer. If a person cannot manage his own household, he cannot take care of the church.
If the church were like a worldly organization, we would need to select only those who have ability. But the church is a spiritual organization; therefore, you must first take care of the question of spirituality and then look at the ability, at whether or not a particular one can take care of practical affairs. If he cannot manage practical affairs, neither can he be an elder. Only one who has knowledge in spiritual things and possesses ability in handling practical affairs will have very little problem in the church, and his condition will be quite reliable. Otherwise, he will be able to handle practical affairs, but he will cause damage on the spiritual side. That would not be right.
A brother, who has passed away, was an elder of a Christian group. During our early days in Shanghai, he often came to my place to talk. He was a good brother and really capable in handling practical affairs, and he was also zealous. But he had very little understanding in spiritual things, if any, and he was even more lacking in spiritual experience. One day he came to talk with me and said, “A sister among us sinned and cried loudly in the meeting. Mr. Nee, don’t you think that is funny?” After he finished speaking, he sat there and began to laugh loudly. An elder in a church considered it a laughable matter to see a sister confess her sins and cry. You can realize then his spiritual condition. Of course, he was the best in his group, but he could not bear responsibility in the church. He himself had never confessed his sins or wept to such an extent, so naturally he considered it funny when he saw someone weeping one day.
I am only citing an example. There may be several hundred cases like this in the church. To weep for your sins is an elementary matter in spiritual life, but this brother did not understand this at all. What shall we do if he also laughs at many other spiritual actions related to us? Such a one feels that all the spiritual things are strange and laughable and cannot comprehend one spiritual thing at all. If he becomes an elder, the church is finished with regard to its spiritual path.
Therefore, as to the requirements for an elder, the first relates to spiritual things, to spiritual understanding, and to spiritual experience.
To be an elder, a person also needs to be reliable. Do not consider someone who behaves like a drunkard, wandering around doing nothing. Sometimes his condition is good and at other times it is bad. Such a person cannot manage the church. The one who manages the church must be quite stable and quite reliable. At the same time, he should also be able to manage his own household. Without this, he is not qualified.
Therefore, do not reverse the foundation and the building. Do not select a person who can handle only practical affairs well. Such a person can be a deacon at the most, but never an elder. At the most he can be one who only receives instructions in the church; he cannot give instructions.
The Exclusive Responsibility of the ChurchBeing the Care of Spiritual Matters
Perhaps I can give another illustration. Suppose that today you meet a very intelligent and capable person. If he goes to work in a hospital, at the most you can ask him to handle practical affairs, but you cannot ask him to be the chief physician. At the most you can ask him to manage business affairs, but not to diagnose diseases. A hospital is a professional organization, not a business organization. There may be a person in a business school who is very intelligent and very capable of handling things, but you cannot ask him to be a dean, a principal, or a department chairman immediately. At the most you can invite him to take care of only general affairs, because the other positions are specialized and can be held only by those who have special knowledge.
There may be a very bright person in a business corporation, but you cannot ask him to be the manager of business operations immediately, because business operations are specialized. Similarly, the church is an organization that specializes in spiritual things. Therefore, you may ask only those who know the trade to do the job.
You need to know that the church is spiritual and that practical affairs are only secondary. Therefore, when you select an elder in a certain locality, you should first consider him from the spiritual viewpoint. Afterward, you have to see whether or not he knows how to direct, oversee, and lead. This brother must be one who has insight and knowledge in spiritual things, who has been built up in them, and who also has the capability in practical affairs. Then, when there are spiritual matters, he will not cause problems. Therefore, I hope the brothers will pay special attention to these things. Do not lightly select a person to be an elder. When you make a selection, pay attention to the spiritual aspect first, and then pay attention to the practical aspect.
Giving Help to the Elders
When you go out, your responsibility is great. For what reason? You will remember that Paul lived in Ephesus for a period of time and that there were elders there (Acts 20). However, while Paul was living in Ephesus, he granted the elders much help. Therefore, when he left, he could say these words to the elders: “Take heed...among whom the Holy Spirit has placed you as overseers” (v. 28). Paul personally imparted spiritual help to the elders. He did not merely appoint them and hand things over to them and then stop there. Paul continued to help them and to teach them how to be elders.
Later, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete and charged them to appoint elders. If you read the first Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus, you will see that it was not merely a matter of appointing elders and then stopping there, but also of helping the elders to serve together along with them. Paul charged these two young apostles, Timothy and Titus, to appoint elders in the churches and to guide them in their serving. In the first Epistle to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus, there are several charges like this. If you have time to read these Epistles, you will see that Paul charged Timothy and Titus to work together with the elders in the church. “These things I write to you....But if I delay, I write that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:14-15).
What is the significance here? If you appoint elders in a locality, you cannot assume that once you have appointed them your job is done. You also cannot assume that you can let them go on by themselves since all of the responsibilities are in their hands, that is, let them make mistakes by themselves. Rather, after you have appointed elders in a locality, you need to observe how they go on, and you need to help them. In many things you need to teach them and watch them. Only then can you again appoint, arrange, and teach elders in another place. Otherwise, a local church is at a standstill once it is set up. Here is a group of people who have never taken care of the affairs of the church. Although they have some spiritual experience, they do not know how to handle the affairs of the church. It would be strange to expect such inexperienced ones not to make mistakes.
Therefore, today your responsibility is great. At every opportunity you need to help the elders learn to be proper elders. Many people in their daily life speak lightly and make jokes. When they come to the church and serve, they also speak lightly and make jokes. So you need to help them. Every time their attitude becomes loose or light, you need to say, “Brothers, this is a spiritual matter, and this is something before God. You should not speak in a loose way and laugh like this.” Thus, you stop this. When some people do their job in the world, they speak lightly and criticize loosely. Then they bring this habit into the church. Whenever you hear criticism or loose talk, you should say, “Here you need to obey and not give your opinions. We do not need to give opinions, but we need to learn to obey.” Thus, you stop this.
In their spiritual service some may resort to manipulation or maneuvering. In such a case, you should tell them, “Brothers, among God’s children we do not manipulate, nor do we maneuver. We deal with situations; we do not avoid them.” Those who are able to deal with issues before God can be elders, not those who are able to avoid issues.
Some people may have long been in a position of being the head of a household or a master; therefore, their attitude is quite hard, their words impolite, and their spirits not tender. You need to help them see that their words should be strong and firm but that their spirit should be tender. They need both in order to take care of church affairs.
These are all details, but they are basic. It would be too poor if the elders in the church were afraid of problems and tried to avoid them. It would also be poor if the elders always manipulated things in the church, holding back what needed to be spoken and failing to rebuke when it was needed. People like this cannot be elders. This does not mean that an elder in the church should always look for causes to be angry or for things to rebuke or that he should handle church affairs with harshness. The church needs a person whose spirit is broken before God, who has been smitten by God, who has no personal feeling, and who is soft before God yet firm in handling things.
You need to frequently help the brothers in this way. Then spontaneously when they come to the church, they will not be careless. Their harshness will not be brought into the church. They need to know that they are in the church and not in their home or in an office. We need to use spiritual words to guide them step by step. After a period of time they will be able to take care of the church properly.
THE MEETING OF THE OVERSEERS
In every locality all the responsible brothers (those who are elders and overseers) should have an overseers’ meeting every week. You can give this meeting any name. You may call it the overseers’ meeting or a shepherding meeting. This is the time for the responsible brothers to pray together and to receive the brothers and sisters. This is something they must do.
I know of a certain church (not in China) where the responsible brothers decided to meet for a whole day once a week. Starting in the morning, everyone brought his food and labored together to pray and consider every item of the things in the church.
Perhaps we may not have that much time; then at least once a week the leading brothers should meet together for half a day or a few hours.
Considering Things before Godduring the First Half of the Meeting
During the first half of the meeting (perhaps after lunch from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00, 3:00, or 4:00 p.m.), the elders should close their doors and not care for anything else but the affairs of the church. Seriously consider and arrange things before God and discuss them item by item. Sometimes you can also have discussions like those in 1 Corinthians 14 to fellowship the light that you have received. However, do not make decisions based upon your discussions. In the Bible there are discussions in order to deal with things, but discussion is for seeking light and not for making decisions. Discussion is to discover facts and lay them out but not for making decisions. During that time the brothers should discuss, consider, and pray over all the things item by item.
Receiving Brothersduring the Second Half of the Meeting
During the second half of the meeting, set aside a time to receive brothers. You should wait there whether or not brothers come to see you. We must by all means set aside time to receive the brothers and sisters. This will be helpful to the work and to the church.
The Workers Meeting Together with the Overseers
At the same time you workers should stand beside the elders and be with them. In that day or half day, you should be with them and watch them. There are things you need to tell them. Their light attitude should be corrected. Their attitude should be proper. Remind them that they are dealing with spiritual matters. When people come to ask questions, teach the elders how to answer and how to explain. In the beginning you may answer when some brothers come to ask questions. After those brothers leave, tell the elders why you answered in that way, why you said it in those words, what scriptural basis you have, and what feeling you have. In some cases you may need to rebuke a brother who comes. When that brother leaves, you need to tell them why you rebuked him. After a period of time, let them handle it and sit back and watch.
Producing a Few Reliable, Responsible Brothers
We believe that when everyone serves, this is the church. The church service is the service of the Body. It is not a matter of two or three persons serving, but the whole church serving. Therefore, when you go out to work, it would be a big mistake if you could not cause all the brothers to come forth to serve. When you go out, you may lead many to be saved and bring them into service, yet if you cannot produce a few reliable brothers to bear the responsibility of the church, your going out will be a total failure. I hope that when you go out this time, you will be very busy. But do not be busy in an ordinary way, because there is much work you have to initiate. There is a great amount of work for you to do. It is all before you. One item of this work is to produce a few responsible brothers in each locality. By no means should you work in a way that only you yourself know how to bear responsibility, yet you are not able to help others do so.
The principle of the church is that the Lord Jesus put Himself in the twelve, the twelve in the three thousand, and the three thousand in tens of thousands. You put yourself in many responsible brothers, the responsible brothers in many brothers and sisters, and many brothers and sisters in many sinners. You should continue to spread in such a way. Perhaps when you come back to Kuling after many years, you will have grown spiritually. But if you cannot reproduce your growth in three, five, eight, or ten brothers, I will recognize this as a grave failure in your service.
Therefore, you should cause the elders of the local churches to be capable of bearing responsibility. Paul did not leave Titus in Crete and Timothy in Ephesus and tell them to return after they established elders. Rather, he told them to set up elders and to teach and train the elders how to be proper elders, helping them to an extent that they could bear responsibility before God. Then the way was opened.
Therefore, I hope that from now on you will be very busy. I hope that no one will be lazy. A lazy person is useless. Always put yourself in the midst of the responsible brothers and help them to the extent that they can bear responsibility. However, your own spiritual condition must be more advanced than theirs. Otherwise, you will not be able to meet the need.
I hope that you brothers can properly deal with this matter of the responsible brothers and train them properly. Pay attention to the aspect of responsibility and oversight step by step.
Showing Them How to Do the Work
The regular meeting of the responsible brothers is a very important item of their training. In this meeting show them how to do the work. If you go to a place and live for three months (those who travel often for the work need to pay special attention to this), you need to arrange a time to gather all the responsible brothers together, perhaps on Friday or Saturday for an entire day or half a day, to help them take care of the affairs of the church. You should put all the weekly affairs of the church together for fellowship and prayer. During that time you should not receive people. The first half of that time is the time for you to take care of affairs before God. Lock yourselves inside the room as those who have run into a cave and shut themselves up. During the first half, no one should be allowed to come in. No one should even be allowed to come in to report things to you. Let the brothers and sisters know that this is the time the responsible brothers are dealing with things before God, and no one should come in. They can knock on the door only if the house is on fire and only when the fire has burned to the floor; even then they still should not come too early. This is the time the responsible brothers are dealing with matters before God, just as Moses and Joshua were doing on the mountain. You need to take proper care of the affairs there.
After the affairs are taken care of, go and inform the deacons that certain matters need to be taken care of this week. You need to go personally and assign the things. Certain matters are to be announced to the saints, and certain matters should be assigned to the brothers for them to carry out.
In handling the affairs of the church, you must be able to manage first and know how to watch and oversee second. Do not be passive. At least in the early phase be active; oversee and manage. When the brothers and sisters become strong, you can ask them to take care of the affairs of the church. This is how the church should be. In the first phase do not put things in their hands right away. When you go out, always give yourself to the responsible brothers in each locality, and they should in turn give themselves to the local brothers.
Always make the meeting of the overseers very solemn. Charge them to shut themselves inside during this period for two or three hours before God and not receive any brother nor talk about anyone. Bring the things of this week before God item by item to see how they should be done. After these things are taken care of, certain matters have to be made known to the brothers, and certain matters have to be made known to the deacons. Afterwards, set aside two or three hours for receiving the local brothers. If there are more people, set aside more time; if there are fewer people, less time. During this time, if the brothers and sisters want to look for the elders of the church, they will be able to find them. Not only would one elder be there, but all the elders would be there.
In the early phase, you should take care of this meeting of the overseers in an active way. In the later phase, you should cause the brothers to become active, and they should go forward. In that meeting you should show the responsible brothers how to deal with affairs and what scriptural basis you have to deal in such a way. Encourage them and also restrict them. You should be observant. Whenever you see that something is wrong, you need to say, “Brother, this is not allowed!” When you see that something is right, you should say, “Brother, this is right!”
All the Brothers and Sisters ServingBeing the Church
Therefore, when you go out this time, you should be very busy. Put yourself into the work and also encourage others to participate. You need to labor until the day comes when all the brothers and sisters come forth to serve, all the saints participate, everyone serves God, and everyone is a priest. Then you will truly see what the church is.
I do not know whether or not you have seen this way. You have to understand this way. The way depends on you. You should give yourself to a number of people, and they in turn should give themselves to all the brothers and sisters. All the brothers and sisters then go out. To practice this is the way of the church. If there is the office of eldership in the church but the brothers and sisters are passive, then please remember that at this time it is no longer a church but a denomination. Therefore, brothers, when you go out to work, if you cannot reach the last step, the final step of causing all the brothers and sisters to rise up to serve God and bear responsibility in church affairs, you have totally failed, because that is not the church. Please remember the way you should take: you should give yourself to the elders. Then you need to show the elders that no matter how hard they try, they are too few to be able to handle the affairs of the church properly. They are only overseers and should not try to do everything themselves. They should not replace the church to do everything; rather, they should oversee the church to do everything. It is not a matter of doing it by themselves, but a matter of overseeing, watching, encouraging, and teaching them to do it, and causing everyone in the church to participate. At such a time you have the reality of the church.
The Meeting of the OverseersBeing the Source of Things
When the responsible brothers in each locality are gradually manifested, or when any locality already has responsible brothers, they should meet together. Every week the responsible brothers in a locality should meet. When that meeting is strong, they will be able to lead the brothers. This is a very important matter. The meeting of the responsible brothers is the source of many things. Many things can be initiated from that meeting. When people come to that meeting, many problems will be solved. After the brothers have taken care of many situations before God, the second half of the meeting is the time to receive the saints. Then the saints will realize that these overseers’ meetings are not light or unimportant. Therefore, we need to walk the way ahead of us properly before God. We need to maintain this meeting of the overseers before God. Take care of this meeting properly so that everyone can receive help one by one.
The Epistles to Timothy and Titus
Read 1 and 2 Timothy and the Epistle to Titus again. See how God charged them to lead. You should learn from these Epistles how to help the elders and cause them to realize that they should not replace the whole Body, but that they should put themselves in the Body and let the whole Body do the work.
THE APPOINTMENT OF THE RESPONSIBLE ONESOF THE LOCAL CHURCH
First Helping Them Learn to Bear Responsibility
Certain brothers asked: If we appoint some brothers to be the responsible ones of a local church, there is still some question concerning whether or not they are fit to be elders. But if we do not appoint them, the church is paralyzed. What shall we do?
Answer: You can ask the few brothers whom you feel are promising and let them first learn to bear responsibility. You need to guide them to bear responsibility.
Being Difficult to Change
I think there is one aspect that we should pay attention to when we guide them to bear responsibility. It is spoken of in the Epistle to Timothy that some become deacons first and then elders. Therefore, you need to speak to them in a careful way. Let them know that you are preparing to ask them to be deacons. Do not tell them immediately that you may be choosing them to be elders. First, see whether or not they can be deacons. In this way you can see who particularly grows in the Lord. After a period of time, perhaps two or three months, you can place them in the office of the eldership or of a deacon. If you first appoint them as elders and change afterwards, it will be very difficult. To make a change with a deacon is still a relatively easy matter, but to make a change with an elder is not easy at all.
Considering the Spiritual Future
Therefore, especially in selecting the elders, your eyes must be wide open. Consider what their spiritual future will be. This does not mean that we cannot make mistakes. We are prone to make mistakes. The issue is spiritual; therefore, you need to be very careful before God, and lead these brothers into this realm. If you see that an elder is unfit and replace him at any time, you cause wounds. It is awkward if you set up the authority and then overthrow it later. Therefore, learn to pay attention before God to the spiritual condition of those brothers and their spiritual future.
Many people are good material. Do not damage them, but guide them properly and cause them to learn to bear responsibility year after year. After some time you can ask them to bear responsibility formally when you go into their midst. We should not be in a hurry to say that we are setting up elders. Whether or not we have the assurance, we should tell them, “Come, and I will help you, the more promising brothers, learn how to take care of the affairs of the church.” Demonstrate to them. To some brothers we may say, “You can be a responsible brother,” and to some others we may say, “You can be a deacon.” But be careful. Do not first ask him to be an elder and later ask him to be a deacon. This would be difficult. If a person is humble, it would not do much damage, but once human feeling comes in, it is a very difficult situation.
HELPING THE RESPONSIBLE BROTHERSIN THE SURROUNDING AREAS
In the future you can do a very profitable thing in a local church which is also the center of the work. For example, if you are in Peking and you see that there are three very good brothers in Sui-Yuan and another two very good brothers in T’ai-yuan, you can invite them to come to Peking. The meeting of the responsible brothers in Peking should be open to them.
This meeting is not open to everyone. It should not be open to sisters. We do not allow sisters to attend. Today if a brother comes from T’ai-yuan and attends this meeting, it is a very great privilege we extend to him. We may tell him, “This meeting is not for others, and we do not lightly open the door to anyone. Today we invite you to come and live here for a month or two with the hope that you can learn something.”
At the beginning let him sit in the meeting, without saying anything. He should learn to observe how you manage spiritual things before God, how problems are solved, how questions are raised and discussed, how prayers are offered, how to sense before God whether or not a certain thing should be done, and how to make a decision when peace is obtained. Then show him how to answer the questions the brothers and sisters bring, how you fellowship with brothers from out of town, how you receive those who ask to participate in the breaking of bread, and how you fellowship with those who want to be baptized. Present a pattern to him. After a period of time, you can say to him, “Please speak to this brother on our behalf.” Then you should observe how he speaks.
After some time, perhaps you may send him back. Let him do the work of an overseer in T’ai-yuan without giving him the name. A little later, you might go to T’ai-yuan and hear what the saints there are saying. Not all the criticisms will be correct, but you need to know the things this brother has done. The criticisms of some brothers are not correct because they do not submit to authority. If this brother is actually wrong, you have to see where the problem is. When you go to visit the second time, you should be clear whether or not that brother can bear the responsibility.
For this reason it is necessary to have strong meetings at the center of the work, where the apostles are. You need to help the meetings of the overseers so that you will be able to help the responsible brothers in this district through this church. Otherwise, you have no way to help them because you do not have any pattern to show them. You have no pathway to lead them on.
For a brother who has the qualification before the Lord and who can learn to be a responsible brother, you should let him learn in the center of the work through the meeting. Then his eyes will be opened to realize that he has been reckless in his own locality. Many times brothers have told me that they now realize what they did in the church before was really reckless. Many people have never seen what a spiritual church is and how a spiritual church should be taken care of. Many times they just come together and make decisions in a light way.
In the meeting you should hold the rein and also let the responsible brothers in that locality hold the rein. Show them that this meeting is more serious than the time Moses was on the mountain. He was only given the law, but we are taking care of the church. To take care of the church is more serious than Moses going up to the mountain to receive two tablets of stone. Therefore, you should make your home in the church where the center of the work is. That place must be strong. Only when it is strong do you have the way to make the churches in the surrounding area strong and bring them into the presence of the Lord.
THINGS TO PAY ATTENTION TOIN THE MEETING OF THE OVERSEERS
In the meeting of the overseers, you need to bring in all solemnity. There should not be joking and light conversation. When you come into this meeting, you should say, “We are handling things before God and should not have a loose attitude.” This is the time the High Priest enters into the Holiest, and this is the time we come before God to serve Him. Here there is no joking. We come before God to see how the work in this area should be. Unnecessary words should be reduced, for if they abound, two or three hours will slip away and all your time will be gone. Everybody should come together in a serious way and consider things item by item.
Not Talking behind Others’ Backs
If there is any responsible brother who comes to the meeting of the overseers and does not give his opinion in the meeting, but gives it in front of the brothers and sisters, you should rebuke him before the brothers in the next meeting: “You are not qualified to be a responsible brother!” If you have a feeling or something to say, you should bring it up in the meeting of the overseers when all the brothers are together. If someone does not speak in the meeting of the overseers, yet goes out and speaks to others, he is a person with a double tongue. Such a person cannot be in our midst. You must rebuke him sharply, saying, “Brother, this is not the way a Christian behaves, nor is it becoming to a saint. We should not do such a thing. In the meeting of the overseers, if you have some feeling before God, you should open your mouth. If you do not open your mouth here, you should not open your mouth to speak in any other place.”
Please remember that the life of the whole church in the early phase is in the meeting of the overseers. If you cause the meeting of the overseers to become light, loose, or sloppy and if decisions are based merely on some conversation without any prayer, the work in that area is over and useless. In that place there will be no spiritual weight at all. If you have nothing in your storehouse, what resources are you going to spread to other places? This meeting must be strong. There are requirements for the responsible brothers coming to this meeting: If any word is not worth mentioning in this place, it is not worth mentioning in any other place. If they want to open their mouths, they should open their mouths in this place. If they do not open their mouths in this place, they should not open their mouths in any other place.
I hope that the responsible brothers in all the localities know that if any brother goes out of the meeting of the overseers and speaks a word behind the other brothers’ backs, he has to bear full responsibility before God. No human emotion should enter in, and by no means can we be loose in this matter. We must charge strictly: “Brother, this is not Christian behavior.” We must speak to him in front of all: “If you have anything to bring up, you must bring it up in front of the responsible ones among the co-workers; if you bring it up behind their back to any other person, you damage the oneness of the Body.”
Not Telling the Wives
There is another matter. No one can go home and tell his wife anything that takes place in the meeting of the overseers. Nor can any brother go out and tell a second brother anything that happens in the meeting of the overseers. This is something divine, and everyone should maintain it. In this meeting the same principles apply in everything; you cannot speak lightly, you cannot leak out information, and you should not have unnecessary words. Therefore, I hope that you will be strict concerning this matter. Do not be loose. Train the brothers, especially the responsible brothers, and let them realize how to handle things before God. Do not let them be careless. Whenever things are handled before God, they must be done seriously. Unless all agree that certain matters can be made public, they should not be told to others. There is no need to be told every time that you cannot tell anyone. Not telling others is the principle. The things in the meeting of the overseers should not be passed on to others.
Not Mentioning How Decisions Were Made
If there are things which should be made public, the responsible brothers should go out and tell the brothers. But as to how this matter was decided and handled in the meeting of the overseers, it is better that these words be buried in the grave. You need not tell how the decision was made. This is a matter before God, not a matter to be talked about. I hope that the brothers will learn to pay attention to these things.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MEETINGOF THE OVERSEERS
All the Meetings Being Uplifted
If this meeting is strong before God, all the other meetings will spontaneously be uplifted. This meeting is the center of everything. If this meeting is high, all the meetings during the week will be uplifted.
Concentrating One’s Entire Beingin This Meeting
Taking care of a meeting of the overseers requires a great deal of spiritual strength. You should concentrate your entire being, and the brothers who are with you should do the same. Then you can consider things item by item.
The Watchtower of the Church
This meeting is the watchtower of the whole church. The saints are not aware of many things, but you know them first. The saints have not seen many things, but you see them first. The saints have no feeling many times, but you have some feeling first. It is in this meeting that everything is sensed first. Before the difficulties around you are apparent, you can sense them in this meeting. Therefore, many times when things happen, you have anticipated the situation and taken care of it already. As time goes on, your eyes should become keener and keener. You need to learn to use your eyes to look ahead to the things in the future. With more time your sense should become keener and keener, and you will be able to know what will happen and what will not happen.
I am not saying that there should be no prayer and no waiting on the Lord in your personal time, but I am saying that the overseers’ meeting is the time for corporate dealing, and you should prepare for this meeting in your private time. If you do not prepare in your private time, when you come to the overseers’ meeting, you will have nothing to say; when you come each time, nothing will happen. Do you see this? If there is nothing happening in the overseers’ meeting, it is an evidence, a proof, that every brother is lazy before God, that even all the responsible brothers are corporately lazy before Him. If a few responsible brothers are strong before God, their eyes will be open, they will watch and observe, and spontaneously many things will be going on with them. The High Priest bore the breastplate of the twelve tribes of Israel, and he bore it all the time. This means that he could not take it off. You should learn to bear the breastplate every day, and then you will discover something concerning God’s people every day. Not one of our overseers’ meetings has enough time. You may feel that three or four hours or five or six hours have passed by very quickly. Sometimes in the meeting of the overseers you need to cut your words short because there is no more time.
Once the meeting of the overseers is strong, it will be easy for other things in the church life to be strong, because in the meeting of the overseers you can have much consideration about all the meetings. If the gospel meeting has become weak, we need to concentrate all our strength there, and the saints need to do likewise. The meeting of the overseers is the watchtower of the church, the place to keep the watch.
Being Respected by All the Brothers
You need to continue working until one day all the brothers and sisters respect the meeting of the overseers. They will know that this day or this half a day is the time the responsible brothers go before God to take care of things. I often think that the meeting of the overseers is like the prayer room of John G. Paton’s father. I often feel that in the whole world there was not another father like him. That old father may not have been aware of what happened, but his few sons all knew. His house was not very large. On one side was a room, on the other side was a kitchen, and in the middle there was a little study. When the door of this little study was shut, all the sons knew that their father had gone before God to deal with things. At such a time, no child dared to make a noise, and everyone walked softly. They could not forget the sighings they heard from inside that room even forty or fifty years afterwards. Paton himself said, “Even today I can still hear my father interceding for me in that room.” He knew that this was a serious matter. Therefore, we should also let all the saints know that the day the responsible brothers deal with things before God is a designated day. Some brothers have given their all to go before God on behalf of the church.
Thus, you will see something issue out from the church; the church will have a way. Therefore, the matter of the overseers’ meeting is upon the shoulders of you responsible brothers. Let me say again that you need to start from the center of the work in this region. Do a strong, absolute, and serious work. Afterward, you can invite the brothers from out of town.
Two Different Aspects
Before God we need two different aspects. First, we need the fellowship of the brothers and sisters. After paying attention to this matter in our midst for twenty years, I think that we are gradually making progress. It was different twenty years ago. Thank God that today this situation has had a great change. Today, at least, the saints have feelings toward one another.
Second, we need to know God’s authority. Brotherly love is one thing, and being a servant before God is something else. You need to take orders. If we want to go out to work, before we go we need to hear the word before God. We need to learn these things together in these days.
The Most Solemn Time
We need to know that no hour is more solemn than this hour. This is the most solemn time. Learn to look to the Lord in a single way. We need to know what to do before God. We need to be confident, godly, single for service, and without any barrier between us and the Lord. We should do all things well in every aspect. Then we will have a clear pathway ahead of us.
In all other times, we may be intimate with one another. However, when we come to this meeting, it is not a matter of how well we know each other, for this is the time we truly go before God. In ordinary times we talk about brotherly love. At this time we do not talk about brotherly love. This is the time for us to go to God together to be His servants. We are before God to receive directions together to go out to work. Learn to solemnly hear God’s word before Him.
When we do not know God’s will, we need to say so, and we should ask, search, learn, and pray before God.
When our condition is right and the brothers come together, it will be a simple matter without much difficulty. It is a serious matter for us to go before God.
The Question of Number
I also want to bring up the matter of number. If there are five, six, seven, or eight co-workers who can coordinate together, then the meeting of the overseers can have twenty to thirty people. There is no need to have more. If there are more, the meeting will be hard to handle. We need to set a number for the meeting that we can handle. If we can manage three, bring in three. If we can manage ten, bring in ten. Do not bring in more people than we can manage. Learn to know that we are before God as if we were conducting a military council. This has to be very strict.
We may let those who come to learn from out of town go back after two or three months and do their work properly.
I believe that one day all of God’s children will gradually realize that at least once a week a group of brothers go before God to deal with things on their behalf and on behalf of the whole church.