I’ve recently been studying the pastoral epistles (i.e. 1, 2 Timothy, Titus), where Paul takes several opportunities to describe the qualifications for church “elders” and “deacons.” I believe that these qualifications, while specifically described for these roles, ought to apply also to anyone seeking to lead in any kind of significant capacity, or perhaps even a seemingly insignificant capacity.
Take for example, Stephen, a deacon described in the book of Acts. Stephen is an incredible example of church leadership – he was chosen to help improve the fairness of food distribution and charitable aid to poor members of the church, and if you know the story, he stood up to critics accusing him of blasphemy all the way to his death by stoning. If this man – who oversaw what might today be seen as “just another ministry” - was required to meet the standards described by Paul and Peter in the New Testament, why wouldn’t they apply to those leading in other areas in the modern church, say, for example, youth, or children’s ministry, or leading worship, or running the sound booth, or media, or playing guitar, etc.? It seems to me that these passages are at least a good place to start for all areas of leadership in the church.
What’s interesting to me is that nearly all of the requirements are based on character, attitude, and behavior, not so much based on skill or talent. I remember reading a quote that read “God doesn’t call the equipped, but rather he equips the called.” The problem is this is precisely the opposite of what our natural instinct is when selecting leaders.
I came from the corporate world as an engineering and manufacturing project manager, and while character was certainly important in that corporate training modules taught about things like ethics and integrity, they weren’t really addressed in interviews, resume reviews, or even in hiring decisions. I’m differentiating from criminal records and such – but being “faithful to [ones] wife”? Or not being a “lover of money”? These weren’t exactly at the top of the list of interview questions. Skill, talent, experience, charisma – these are what we tend to seek when seeking leaders. Being a “lover of money” might even be a sought after characteristic because it drives what James call selfish ambition. Of course in our culture, we don’t call it “selfish motivation” – rather we just call it “ambition” and slap it on our resume.
Maybe it’s obvious, but as church leaders, we need to have a clear understanding of the difference between “spiritual leaders” and “leaders”, and if these qualifications do indeed apply to all layers of leadership at some level, I thought it might be helpful just take a peek at a few of these and reflect on your own leadership, as well as those whom you’ve placed in positions of spiritual leadership. Also, please feel free to share some thoughts on the profound, serious and heavy nature of some of the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. I’ve listed a few of them below...
- He is to be “above reproach”
- He is to be “faithful to his wife”
- He is to be “temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable”
- He is to be “not given to drunkenness”
- He is to be “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome”
- He is “not a lover of money”
- He is to be “sincere”
- He is “not over-bearing” or “quick-tempered” and is “self-controlled”
- He “loves what is good”
- He is “Holy and disciplined”
Let’s take a brief look at several of these qualifications and unpack them just a little bit to see what they are and what they aren’t:
- Above reproach – this one pretty much sums it all up, and it’s pretty heavy. “Above reproach” is translated as such in the NIV from the Greek word “anepilémptos”, and the translation is pretty good. It basically means according to Strong’s Concordance, “without blame in light of the whole picture”, or “never caught doing wrong”, or “blameless”, or “without a spot.” Obviously Paul is speaking to our life as a Christian, since he is the first to admit just a couple chapters earlier in 1 Tim 1 that among sinners he is “the worst”. This means that, as Christians, holiness is our absolute target – we’re not perfect, but perception is important.
- Faithful to his wife – pretty obvious one given the clear biblical teachings against adultery. However, if we take Jesus’ statements in the beatitudes likening lust in our heart to straight up adultery, this one becomes pretty heavy too.
- Temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable: Maintaining composure, not yelling at people, not disrespecting each other, receiving one-another and helping one-another, calm, controlled – a good list of biblical character traits to seek out in our lives.
- Not given to drunkenness: Don’t get drunk. Better yet, don’t artificially alter your reality with any mind altering substances whatsoever. The bible teaches that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” – because of this, it’s hard for me personally to reconcile drinking at all.
- Not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome: Pretty obvious, but “not quarrelsome” is pretty profound and heavy as well. Not argumentative, not prone to argue or fight.
- Not a love of money: Jesus talked about money more than any other single topic. Why? Because he knew that of all things that will distract us from the things of God, and from truly loving and caring for his people, it was money. We can’t serve both God and money. We shouldn’t be storing up treasure that will be eaten by moths and destroyed by rust. Store up treasures in heaven. Are you a lover of money?
- Sincere: Be honest and real.
- Not over-bearing or quick-tempered and is self-controlled: See #3 and #5.
- Loves what is good: What is good? God. What is not good?
- Holy and disciplined: I hear a lot of preachers emphasize God’s grace at the utter expense of God’s clear teachings in both the OT and NT to be holy and disciplined. As leaders, we can’t pick and choose.
While we can’t get all this right all the time, and we certainly can’t do it in our own strength, we need to remind ourselves that God says that these are important. And while our efforts and work don’t save us, God honors our efforts and our discipline and will give us strength to live the life he’s called us to.