We just recently ordained another elder for our congregation. This has been one of the greatest joys I have had in pastoral ministry. I am excited about our newest elder, and I am looking forward to sharing with him the leadership of our congregation. The last several months of elder training have been refreshing as well. It was great to be reminded of the necessity and seriousness of pastoral ministry.
We used as one of our references, “Biblical Eldership” by Alexander Strauch. Strauch puts a lot of emphasis on the character of the elder. He does so without minimizing the need for continuous theological training and development. However, you get the sense he really wants the church to rediscover the necessity of godly leadership.
Therefore I was extremely pleased the examination counsel spent a considerable amount of their allotted time with questions on character. We spent well over half of the examination period on questions regarding his home, i.e. his wife and children, temperament, view of riches, and his overall moral character.
I was grateful for their line of questioning because it fell right in with the same emphasis Paul put before Timothy and Titus. The character of potential leaders gets the lion share of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. This emphasis needs to be rediscovered.
Sometimes a brother has a moral failure and it’s a complete shock to everyone who knew him. Then there are times when it seems everyone was waiting for it to happen. The former happens simply because both the candidate and the examiners are men at best. However, the latter is almost inexcusable, especially when those responsible for making the appointment to leadership had well deserved reservations about his character prior to his appointment.
Although we are not omniscient, we are responsible for holding the qualifications banner as high as the Scripture does. The qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus provide an unambiguous list of character qualities that must be present in the leadership candidate, even before he’s being considered as a leader. Actually his moral character should be one of the reasons he’s being sought for leadership in the first place.
Moral character does not qualify for “on the job training” in pastoral ministry. It is to be in place way before the brother even reaches the candidate stage for leadership. I’m not advocating for perfection in the leadership candidate, nor should you. However, imperfection should not cause us to lower clearly defined qualifications. Clearly defined qualifications are exactly what we have in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
Whenever a Church leader fails morally it causes shame and dishonor to the Lord Who is Head of the Church; it discredits the gospel witness of the Church; it causes a tear through the hearts and lives of the community of believers that’s almost unbearable.
Perhaps, and I’m saying just perhaps, a lot of the moral failure we see in ministry could have been avoided on the front end. Maybe if seasoned pastors/elders and church members spend a little more time revisiting these precious qualifications and seek the Lord for discernment and resist the tendency to compromise due to the perceived giftedness, notoriety, education, etc. of the candidate. Because like our friend whose gone to be with the Lord used to say, “He might be gifted, but he’s not good.”
Here is a brief refresher on some of the things “he must be” according to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-2. In another post I’ll work through the rest of the qualifications.
According to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-2a, a church leader must be:
This is the key qualification. It is the sum total of the other qualifications. In short, his reputation is to be a credit to the Church. What he is known to be does not shame the testimony of the Church, cf. Titus 1:6; 2:5. The opponents of the gospel were dragging the Church down and the character and reputation of the true leaders of God’s people must do the complete opposite.
Husband of One Wife
Marital fidelity. One woman man. He is to be marked by faithfulness to this wife. If married he is committed to his wife, she’s the only one for him. The opponents were seen as womanizers, no woman in the congregation or the community was off limits. Their marriages meant nothing and the divorce rate was high and unquestioned. It was not a culture of marital faithfulness and the false teachers were part and parcel of the problem. There was no place for the people to look and find God’s design for marriage. So the Apostle lined up the true leaders of God’s people next to the unfaithful false teachers and invited all to see God’s grace in marital faithfulness.
The next three characteristics form a triad of disciplines that fit under the heading of “self-mastery.” The man of God is sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, dignified, and decent. In other words, he is clear-headed, disciplined, sensible, and easily observable by others and thus they respect him. What sober-mindedness and self-control are on the inside, respectable is on the outside. The net effect is “self-mastery.” In “modern day” (that’s 70’s for me, folks!) parlance, he does not easily “trip out.”
This quality is enjoined upon all believers. It is to be exemplified by the church leaders. It literally means “love of strangers.” Having folks in our homes is the Christian way. It highlights our willingness to really share what we have. It is a chief way to demonstrate that the Pastoral ministry is not on the take, but on the give.
Able to Teach
This quality combines ability and character. Not only must he be able to teach (or “skilled in teaching”) but he must see teaching as his principle responsibility. There was so much at stake, i.e. the clear articulation of the Gospel message (1 Tim. 1:11; 2:3-6) and the correcting of false teaching, (1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). For more on Godly Leadership, see Reviving The Black Church (p. 107-109).
These are just a few of the qualifications I’ve been thinking about lately. Revisiting them causes me to be thankful for the faithful godly men God has given our church to lead our congregation. I’m equally grateful for the opportunity I had to sit on their examination panels. They have been a real blessing to me and the rest of our congregation. They’re not perfect men, yet they meet these qualifications. May their tribe increase.
This is the first part on a series on the character of church leaders. See Part Two here.