One of the terms used in the New Testament for Christian leaders is episkopos, usually translated “bishop” or “overseer”. It derives from skopos (from which we get words like ‘telescope’) = to look, and translates literally as over-seer. It derives its meaning from the Old Testament seers. “Seer” is a term applied to prophets who could see into the future, or have visions (almost exclusively in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, e.g 1 Sam 9:9). The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament means “to see, to have vision” and describes the prophets who were able to look into the future.
The root word skopus is used in Phillipians 3:14 of the target or goal or end in view for which we aim.
An episkopus/overseer should be a person with vision and focussed on the goal.
Being a visionary is an important characteristic for a Christian leader. Vision is important for the church because it creates hope and enthusiasm.
Habakkuk 2:2-3 contains these important principles for visionary leaders:
Then the LORD replied:
"Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come and will not delay.
- The vision should be written
- It should be clear (“make it plain”)
- It should be motivating (“so a herald may run with it”)
- It should be communicated with an exhortation to patience (it “awaits an appointed time” and may “linger”, but “wait for it”).
- It should be communicated with certainty (“it will certainly come”).
In the NT the word episkopos is used of the overseers of the church and of our Lord Jesus (1 Peter 2:25 “the shepherd and overseer of your souls”). This should remind us that “titles” or “offices” in the church are modelled on the example of Christ Himself. Peter links episkopus with a word translated ‘shepherd’ (poimen). This word is translated ‘pastor’ in Eph 4:11 and is also used of the elders in Acts 20:28. Again, this should remind us that essentially the role of elders and overseers is not as masters over the church but rather to care for and nurture the flock, following the supreme example of the Good Shepherd.
It is important to note from 1 Timothy 3:1 that the designation of an “office” in the church moves quickly to the personal qualities needed for it, rather than to the duties of the office.