Summary: Character among our church leaders and those who serve in ministry gives the church credibility to share the good news of Christ with others.
Church attendance on the Sunday after the September 11 attacks rose by 6% nationwide. However, seven weeks later, pollsters tell us that church attendance has settled back to the same level it was before the terrorist attacks. Just by way of contrast, the Sunday after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, church attendance went up by 20%. So it seems odd that our nation would be facing our biggest crisis since World War II, and we’d only see a 6% increase and that it would only last a few weeks.
It’s tempting for us as the Christian community to point our finger at the unchurched in our community. We might be tempted to say, "People in our culture today are anti-Christian, so no wonder they aren’t in church during this time of crisis." Or we might be tempted to day, "Here’s another example of western individualism, where people don’t see their need for community." However I wonder if people’s lack of church attendance during this time of national crisis says more about the church than it does about the people who don’t attend.
Most non-Christians I know aren’t anti-Christian, but they are anti-church. In fact, most of my non-Christian friends believe in God and some even try to nurture some kind of personal spirituality, but they’re skittish of organized religion, the kind of thing they see in our churches. I saw this very kind of attitude in the TV show CSI this last week, when the main character was invited by a catholic priest to attend mass. The character replied, "I believe in God, but I don’t believe in religion." Translated that seems to mean, "I nurture my life with God in places other than the church."
And it’s also simply not true that most unchurched people are rugged individualists who avoid community at all costs. Many unchurched people nurture their spiritual lives in other community settings, whether it’s a yoga class or an AA meeting, a martial arts course or a book discussion group at Borders Books. The reality is that it’s not that unchurched people avoid community, but it’s that they avoid church. I suspect the lack of church attendance in the wake of our national crisis reveals something about the church in our culture.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Timothy. We’ve been calling our series Deepening Your Life With God. We’ve seen so far that a deepened life with God comes as a result of three factors in our lives: Accurate beliefs, spiritual practices, and authentic Christian community.
It’s this authentic Christian community we’re talking about now. You see, attending worship services on Saturday night or Sunday morning is no guarantee that we’re experiencing authentic community. Many people in our culture "play church" the way children play dress up. They dress in their Sunday best, put on a phony happy face, pretend to be excited about God and want to learn about how to follow Jesus. This is a kind of superficial "churchianity," and it smells fake and phony. Playing church, or even going to church, can never be a substitute for authentic Christian community.
Today we’re going to see that character is an indispensable quality to experience authentic Christian community. Today we’re going to see two specific areas character is especially important and then the reason why character is so important for us to have authentic Christian community.
1. Leaders With Character (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Let me just give you the first area character counts: To experience authentic Christian community, those who lead us must lead with integrity.
Look at 1 Timothy 3:1. This is the second "trustworthy statement" we’ve encountered in 1 Timothy. Bible scholars tell us that these "trustworthy statements" were slogans that were well known in the Ephesian church Timothy was ministering in when the apostle Paul wrote Timothy this letter. So the "trustworthy statements" were like some of our church slogans, like, "Helping people love God and others," and "Every member a minister." This slogan was, "If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task." That tells me that perhaps they were having difficulty finding people who wanted to serve as church overseers.
Now the word "overseer" simply means leader, a person who’s in charge of guiding a church forward in the advancement of its mission. Later on in church history this word would come to describe a bishop. But at this point it simply refers to a church leader, the equivalent of an elder in the church (Stott 90).
Paul’s point seems to be that it’s good and right to want to become an overseer in the church, but he’s going to list some very specific criteria church leaders must meet to qualify. In other words, it’s good to want to serve this way, but the church must make sure those who serve in this way qualify. You might remember the context of 1 Timothy, that some of the former elders in the church in Ephesus have abandoned the Christian, so Timothy is trying to appoint new elders and to make sure the current elders are qualified for their position.