We love democracy. In fact, certain countries have invaded other countries to establish democracy. The Arab spring has as its goal democracy. No doubt democracy is a good thing, probably the best form of government in a fallen world. But we must remember that the church is not a democracy.
We can’t just do what we want to do or do what the majority of people think is the right thing to do. God had laid down in his word clear principles as to how the church should function. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 says, “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.”
I can’t walk into McDonalds and tell them how to run the place; they have a detailed plan from head office that instructs them how to operate efficiently, to achieve maximum profits. 1 Timothy is a letter by the Apostle Paul to the church of God containing a detailed plan from the real Head-Office, as to how they should operate in a godly way, so as to achieve maximum blessing.
At the time there were ungodly leaders who were forsaking God’s word (1:3), were unqualified (3:1), had turned away from Jesus (4:1), lived sinful lifestyles (5:20), were appointed to quickly (5:22) and loved money (6:9). Do these failings of leaders sound at all familiar?!
In chapter 3 Paul give us the biblical criteria for those who would want to be leaders in the church. If don’t fit criteria, not right for leadership!
Verse 1-7 talks about overseers or elders. Elders are the shepherds of the church of God. They are those that are called to have pastoral and spiritual oversight over the church. They are responsible for teaching sound doctrine and getting rid of unsound doctrine and teaching. They are responsible for the biblical direction of the church and are those who on the Day of Judgment will have to give an account to God of how they have overseen his church.
Interestingly, the criteria for elders refer to character, rather than ability (all except one.) When it comes to church leadership, your personal character and integrity is the most important thing. Church leadership is not about whether you are good looking, can sing or speak well, can tell good jokes, or have an MBA from Harvard.
What then are the Qualifications for being an elder?
v2 “Now the overseer must be above reproach”
This is the general, all-encompassing requirement that umbrellas all the other requirements and qualifications. This does not mean the elder is sinless or faultless, as nobody is sinless or faultless no matter how hard they may strive to rid their lives of sin. This does mean though that he must be of blameless reputation. There must be nothing in his life that would cause a scandal. No one should be able to point an accusing finger. The Elder must have no reason for others to accuse him of sin.
V2 “husband of but one wife”
We understand the Bible to teach that the role of elder is limited to appropriately qualified men. We must be careful here. This is not because women can’t do the job, but because God has given men and woman different roles and functions in the family and in the church. Just as husbands are called to be head of the home, so men are called to take the pastoral and spiritual oversight of the church. A better way to translate this phrase is, “the man of one woman”, in other words, a “one-woman man”. A man who is faithful to his wife: sexually, emotionally and socially. (Not necessarily never have been divorced.) The whole church knows that he is not a philanderer, but is devoted to his wife, if he is married. If he is single, he cannot be a flirt. Just recently another married pastor of a huge church in the United States was fired for having an inappropriate relationship with a teenager. He was no longer above reproach, he was not a one-woman man.
V2 “temperate, self-controlled and respectable”
This speaks of his self-mastery. He must be clear-headed, disciplined and in control of himself, for how can he oversee others if he cannot oversee himself?
All Christians are urged to be welcoming, hospitable and generous, and therefore so much more for the leaders of the church. In New Testament times there were no Protea Hotels; only dodgy, dangerous roadside inns. The Christian traveler needed to be accommodated by the church. Leaders ought to model openness, by opening their homes and their lives.
V2 “able to teach”
This is the only non-character requirement. Elders must be gifted and have the ability to impart God’s truth so that others can understand it and apply it to their lives. Why is the ability to teach so important? The main role of leaders in the church of God is to teach the Word of God, publicly and privately.
V3 “not given to drunkenness”
Alcohol blunts and blurs ones judgment. Leaders in the church, and this is true for all Christians, should not be excessive drinkers. Of course the Bible does not say that Christians should not drink at all. Jesus himself turned water into wine and used wine during his last supper with the disciples. Paul even told Timothy in 5:23, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. “
Yet Christians, especially leaders, are not to over indulge. They are to have no hint of inappropriate behaviour, always being in control of themselves.
V3 “not violent but gentle”
This refers to the leaders temper and temperament. Unlike the false teachers, who were characterized by conceit and quarrelsomeness, Christian leaders are to be known for their gentleness. Speaking the truth, but in love.
V3 “not a lover of money”
The Christian and Christian leader must not live for money. As soon as money becomes too important to you there is a problem, because your priorities and decisions are based around money and not around the Kingdom of God.
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) (v4-5)
The married elder is called to leadership in two families: his family and God’s family. His own family is the training ground for leadership in God’s family. If he cannot lead his family, how can he lead the church? How do you know if he leads his family well? V4. Do his children respect him? If your children respect you that is proof that you have been a godly parent or father. Even though your children don’t always agree with you, they respect you.
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. (v6)
This verse, of course, implies that must be converted! One cannot be spiritually mature if you are unconverted! It’s scary to see how many unconverted people are in leadership positions in some churches. The reason why spiritual maturity is necessary is that he should remain humble, because if you’re given too much responsibility as a new Christian, you may become filled with pride. Just as the devil lost his position of leadership in heaven because of pride, so arrogant leaders will also lose their position.
He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (v7)
When Bible here says “outsiders” means the non-Christians we meet and interact with every day. People watch Christians, especially Christian leaders, and we are to be wise in our behaviour towards outsiders and seek to win their respect. You can’t throw a drunken party for you non-Christian friends on Saturday and then welcome them at church on Sunday.
How do you know you are called to be a pastor or elder?
1. You must have an inner desire
V1 says that “whoever desires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” You must want to serve as a pastor. You must have an inner compulsion that drives you to serve.
2. You must be godly
V2 says the elder must be above reproach. You cannot be a compromising Christian. You cannot be living an sinful, ungodly lifestyle. You need not be perfect, but you must be fighting sin.
3. You must be gifted
V2 also says that the elder must be able to teach. You must be serving already in a teaching ministry and be sure that you have the ability to teach others.
4. Your church must recognize your gifts
1 Timothy 4:14 tells us that the church recognized Timothy’s gifts and set his apart to be a pastor. If you think you can teach and living a godly life, make sure that your church leaders support you in your desire to be a future pastor or elder.