Summary: Biblical church leadership can only function effectively when the local church leaders fulfill the Biblical qualifications for leaders.
Right now we’re in the middle of a presidential election in which all the candidates are attempting to convince the American people that they are the best qualified person to serve in that office. But it’s interesting that our Constitution actually establishes only very minimal qualifications for anyone who wants to hold that office. Anyone who is 35 years old, a natural born citizen and who has been a permanent resident of the Unites States for 14 years is eligible to be President.
But when it comes to church leaders, God has established a much higher standard – one that we’ll look at together as we wrap up our series on Biblical church leadership.
We began this series by looking at the Biblical model of shared leadership that Jesus has established for His church. We’ve also spent some time reviewing the role of the elders within the body and the responsibility of the local church body toward the elders. I pray that as a body we’ll take very seriously the principles we’ve drawn out of the Bible over the last three weeks and that we will commit to following those principles here at TFC. But without godly men who meet the Biblical qualifications we’ll examine beginning today, these principles won’t work like God intends for them to operate.
We’re going to read the two primary passages that set forth the qualifications for elders and then we’ll see if we can’t summarize the qualifications we find there in a manner that will help us to remember them and, even more importantly, to apply them.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV)
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you - if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)
There are obviously several approaches that we could take as we look at these passages. One would be to go through the list of qualifications one by one and study each one in some detail. And there is no doubt that it would be profitable for us to do. But I think one of the potential dangers of that approach is that we can begin to look at these passages as merely a checklist of qualifications that we go through and check them off one by one as we evaluate potential church leaders. But taken in context, Paul seems much more concerned with the overall character and lifestyle of these men.
In both passages, Paul writes that an elder must be “above reproach”. This is the overall description of the character of a man who is qualified to be an elder in the church. Everything else after that in both passages is merely an embellishment of what it means to be “above reproach”. The adjective that Paul uses there literally means “not able to be held”. The idea is that the elder has nothing in his life that anyone could use as a basis for accusation.
It is also important to note that the verbs here are in the present tense. Paul is primarily concerned here with the present character and lifestyle of the elder rather than what sins a person has committed in the past. I think Paul would be the first to admit that even he would not be qualified to be an elder if one based the evaluation on what his life was like before he became a Christ follower.
Paul is also not saying that an elder never sins. Again, even Paul wouldn’t meet that standard. If you doubt that, just read Romans 7. The picture that Paul is painting in both these passages is of a man who has a lifestyle in which these character traits are consistently demonstrated, albeit not perfectly.