Are you a bishop?

A recent conversation around a cafe table set me thinking. Someone said, “There’s a real lack of pastoral care in this church. If it wasn’t for such-and-such-a-friend I would have left the church by now.” And I found myself thinking, “How is that a complaint about lack of pastoral care? It sounds great to me, as if the members of the body are functioning just as they’re meant to do.”

In Hebrews 12.15 it says “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” The Greek word translated “See to it” is the word έπισκοπουντες (episkopountes). Literally it means to have oversight of, or care for, something or someone. This verb derives from the noun έπισκοπος (episkopos) which is usually translated in our English Bibles as either overseer or bishop. In other words the writer to the Hebrews (who was it? I like the theory that suggests Priscilla as the author!) is saying oversee each other, look out for one another, exercise the care of a bishop over the flock, to ensure that nobody misses the grace that God has for them.

The interesting thing to note is that this command (because that’s what it is) doesn’t occur in one of the pastoral epistles. This is not Paul writing to a young pastor encouraging him on how to lead the church. This is written to the ordinary man and woman in the pew. Look, says the Holy Spirit via whoever this author is, all of you should be acting like bishops. A bishop carries as a symbol of his office a shepherd’s crook. This is an implement which can assist in crossing rugged or treacherous terrain in search of the lost sheep, and it can be used to reach into inaccessible places to hook the lamb out of peril and back into safety. That, says the writer to the Hebrews, is the kind of ministry that all of you should be exercising in respect of each other.

So when someone says, “If it wasn’t for you I would have left the church”, that isn’t an indictment of the lack of pastoral care. It’s a healthy sign that someone in the congregation understands that he stands in the role of bishop to his fellow members, and has a role in keeping them in the path God has for them, guarding them from straying into a place where they miss out on all God wants to give them. It’s not something that is supposed to be left to the pastor, it’s a normal part of our role as members of the church of Jesus Christ. Did you know you were a bishop? Who are you overseeing? As long as we’re all functioning as we should and looking out for each other, no one will slip through the “pastoral care” net and the body of Christ will be in a healthy state!


4 thoughts on “Are you a bishop?

  1. Thanks for this Ros. A really good and helpful piece. I would suggest that what we do need more of in the present day, amongst the plethora of rather poor writing suffering from what is often badly connected thinking and verboseness, is intelligent, insightful and succinct writing and comment such as this post from you.

  2. Thank you Andy – it was very much from the heart, not just a piece of abstract theology, but right from where the rubber hits the road. Following your blog too; as soon as time permits I will print your latest posts for Moya. Love and blessings to you both.

  3. How about this as an example of blatant hypocrisy and a church not worthy of the name……
    I arrived for a Christmas morning service with my husband, daughter, elderly mother and elderly father (having difficulty walking- a veteran of RAF Bomber Command, ex. POW etc… We saw an empty pew and moved towards it. Just before my elderly father sat down, a woman in the pew in front said “Oh no, you can’t sit there. I’ve reserved that pew for my family. And WE come every Sunday”. Fortunately, I did not hear the comment myself. My daughter skillfully steered her grandparents to a distant pew. She only relayed the story to me after we got home. It spoilt my Christmas. And it’s true, we aren’t churchgoers. That incident ensured that we never will be. I consider myself to be spiritual rather than religious. I have no time for established churches and all their petty politics. If Christ came back and saw these things, it would be like the day in the temple with the money changers. I believe that you can be a good Christian without ever going near a church building. True Christianity is about actions, not words.

    • I’m so sorry you had that experience Jan. I actually think Jesus was spiritual rather than religious, and that your response is closer to his than the lady in that church. As Paul said, we’re meant to members of the same body, and the eye can’t say to the hand, “I have no need of you.” I find it interesting that Jesus welcomed all the people who the religious elite rejected, and reserved his harsh words for the religious people.

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