I’ve always said that the reason we have unqualified leaders in businesses is because there are so many uneducated customers out there. Too many people don’t know what to look for in a qualified business leader. And too many people are willing to skimp on the price of a product, which typically means paying a higher price later. Hiring unqualified employees typically results in devastating losses that cost both the business and the customer dearly.
And the same is true in the church. When unqualified leaders are given responsibility for the church then the church pays a heavy price. This is why the following passage is so crucial for the church.
1 Timothy 3:1 – 7
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
The church is the bride of Christ. She is a priceless wife. Jesus held nothing back when he gave his life for her on the cross of Calvary. The church is a flock of sheep and Jesus is the Master Shepherd. He is not a hireling who only works for a paycheck. He is the Chief Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
The church ought not to hold a cavalier attitude towards the qualifications and expectations and selection of her leaders. And the church certainly should not skimp on the front edge of the cost of leadership development. A passing glance at our own history as a church as well as the history of the church over the ages reveals severe shortcomings in the selection and ongoing development of her leaders.
And as far as our church family is concerned I want to own my failure in seeking to put qualified men and women into places of leadership over God’s sheep. I’ve made many mistakes here over the years. The biblical process of leadership development (which is really discipleship) was much foggier to me six and a half years ago. Not that I have it down pat today but it is a little bit more clear to me and I am far more convinced of the priceless nature of the church family and the costly nature of being a leader in the church.
So it makes sense to me, that God would have a certain set of criteria for evaluating whether or not a person can be a pastor of his church, his bride or his sheep. And thankfully, he didn’t leave us with a blank piece of paper to come up with our own list of qualifications for an elder. Who knows what we would put on that list! Thankfully, God spoke through the apostle Paul to Timothy who was a pastor, elder, shepherd, overseer of the church in Ephesus.
I use the words pastor, elder, shepherd and overseer interchangeably to describe the role of a pastor. Why do I do this? I do this because the Bible uses those words interchangeably. The three Greek words that the Bible uses are: Episkopos = Overseer, Presbyteros = Elder and Poimen = Pastor/Shepherd. Passages like the one we are currently studying today as well as Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; 19; Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Pet. 5:1-11 all use these three Greek words to describe elders who pastor and shepherd the flock of God through spiritual oversight.
If this trips you up and confuses you then you might think for a minute on the words we use to describe a dad. We use multiple interchangeable words to describe the same role for a dad from different angles. We use words like dad and daddy and father and papa. But despite the words we use the role is still the same. The function is the same. And the need for qualified men to be dads and daddies and fathers and papas is probably more severe now than ever before.
I think there is a tight correlation between the role of a daddy and the role of an elder. And where the men of the church are not growing into one of those roles the other role seems to suffer and families suffer and the church family suffers. So the need for qualified daddies and the need for qualified elders is extremely related in my estimation.
The church in Ephesus needed qualified daddies and elders too. The church needed elders who would pastor and shepherd the flock of God through spiritual oversight. There had already been much upheaval in the church at Ephesus. Some of the pastors, elders, shepherds, and overseers had gone off the rails and disqualified themselves from spiritual oversight. They had begun to teach things that were contrary to the gospel and they were seeking to draw away some of the members of the church after them.
And Paul has already instructed Timothy and the rest of the church to stay the course with clean consciences as they held on to the faith. But now he follows that up with some guidelines for knowing who is and who isn’t qualified for the job of being an elder who pastors and shepherds the flock of God through spiritual oversight.
So what are the qualifications of a pastor, shepherd, elder, and overseer in God’s church? How do we know if someone passes the sniff test for being an overseer of the spiritual life of the church family? In summary, Paul says that the calling of an elder is an honorable calling therefore an elder must possess a godly character, he must have a well managed home, he must be mature in his faith and he must have a respectable reputation. Let’s take look at these five qualifications for an elder one at a time.
#1: Eldership Is An Honorable Calling (1)
Paul says “The saying is trustworthy: if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” So an elder is a man (because of the word “he” and the phrase “husband of one wife” that comes later) who is pursuing an honorable calling. The role of an elder is not child’s-play. It’s not a game for little boys who want power, success and esteem. This calling is an honorable calling because it’s a calling to come and die alongside our Savior for the sake of his bride.
If any man came to me and offered to take care of my wife while I was away on a trip I would need to be one hundred percent assured that he had the intense desire to die for her instead of the intense desire to use her for his own advancement or his own pleasure like so many other men in the world and in the church do today. So eldership is an honorable calling for a man.
#2: An Elder Must Be A Man Of Godly Character (2 – 3)
Character is the essence of who a man is. Sadly, in the church, we oftentimes have men in leadership whose gifting and influence takes them to places where their character cannot sustain them. The central thread of a man or a woman’s character is their integrity. When a person’s integrity is fractured, their character is weak.
This is why Paul says that the calling of an elder is an honorable calling therefore, “an overseer must be above reproach”. What does it mean to be above reproach? According to the dictionary it means to be perfect, beyond criticism, blameless, above suspicion, without fault, faultless or flawless. How’s that for a heavy way to start things off!
Is an elder really supposed to be perfect? And what grounds of perfection is an elder evaluated by? What list of character traits does God expect an elder to aspire to? What list of character traits does an elder have to chase perfection in?
Paul certainly knows that no man other than Christ is perfect so he describes what it means to be an elder who is above reproach when he says that “an overseer… must be 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.” In other words, an elder is a man who possesses godly character. An elder is a man who is in hot pursuit of Christ like character. But what does godly character look like? There are six basic groupings of character traits here.
- An elder must be the husband of one wife or a one-woman man. He must be a faithful man. This doesn’t mean that an elder must be married (otherwise Paul is disqualified as a single man and so is Jesus) and it also doesn’t mean that he cannot be remarried. The gyst of this character trait is that an elder must be a man who pursues purity at all costs. He must have eyes only for his wife and if he has no wife he better keep his eyes off women period. He most certainly must not be pursuing another man’s wife. And he must never put himself in situations where he would even give the slightest hint of treating a single woman as his wife. So an elder must be a faithful one-woman man.
- An elder must be a sober-minded, self-controlled and respectable man. He must be a disciplined man. His mind must be disciplined. His actions must be disciplined. And his interactions with people must be disciplined. He must be a levelheaded thinker. He must exhibit personal restraint and control over his desires. And his life must not be marked by chaos. So an elder must be a disciplined man.
- An elder must be a man who is hospitable and able to teach. He must be a ministry-minded man. Hospitality and the ability to teach are paired together in the original language to describe what a ministry-minded elder looks like. When paired together with Psalm 23 we get the picture of a man who seeks to know, lead, feed and protect those who are under his care through hospitality and teaching. Hospitality and the ability to teach are the tools that help an elder to know, lead, feed and protect the sheep. He must be hospitable in that he welcomes strangers and isn’t afraid to be in their homes or have them into his home. But hospitality isn’t merely hanging out with people. Hospitality is paired with the ability to teach which informs us that an elder practices hospitality not to get friends but to make disciples through teaching. So an elder must be a ministry-minded man.
- An elder must not be a drunken man. He must be a sober man. I’ve met some guys who think they have this character trait nailed because they don’t drink alcohol. But this is actually a dangerous way of thinking. The explicit application of this qualification is most definitely alcohol. But it implies that a man must not be a drunkard. Drunkenness is the excessive use of anything intoxicating. Intoxication happens when the pleasure centers of our brains are aroused to a mind-numbing scale. Typically intoxication refers to a mind-altering substance or an overtly sinful habit like pornography. But because we are human and because we create junk drawers of new sin, intoxication happens with things like TVs, cell phones, purchases, job status, friendship, romance and a whole host of other things. So don’t rule this out just because you don’t drink, smoke, chew or date girls who do! An elder must be a sober man.
- An elder must be gentle instead of violent and quarrelsome. He must be a tempered man. He must not be a man who flies off the handle in fits of rage. He must not use his words to inflict unnecessary hurt. And he must be quick to pursue relational reconciliation when his words do wound someone unnecessarily. He must not be argumentative and he must not be ruled by his need to win every fight. So an elder must be a tempered man.
- An elder must not be a lover of money. He must be a generous man. This doesn’t mean that an elder doesn’t provide for his family well. And it also doesn’t mean that an elder’s family should be the poorest family in the church. But it does mean that an elder is a giver. Elders should not be expected to be the largest givers in terms of dollar amounts but they must be some of the largest givers in terms of the percentage they give away. So an elder must be a generous man.
In summary, an elder must be a man of godly character. He must be a faithful man, a disciplined man, a ministry-minded man, a sober man, a tempered man and a generous man. He must be a man who is in hot pursuit of obtaining Christ-like character. He must not be a man who is in hot pursuit of anything else. He must be a man who possesses and wants to possess more godliness in his character. He must be a man who wants nothing more than to die alongside Jesus for his bride.
An elder is not a man who hangs his head because character growth is hard. He’s not a man who runs at the first sight of confronting his shortcomings. He’s not a man who hides out in his garage eating beef jerky and drinking beer while his friends are knocking on the door to confront his need to grow in godly character. An elder is a man who is violently charging the gates of his own sinful heart under the power and the enablement of the Holy Spirit as he joyfully pursues holiness in his character. So an elder must be a man of godly character.
#3: An Elder Must Have A Well Managed Home (4 – 5)
Paul says that the calling of an elder is an honorable calling, therefore an elder must be a man of godly character and 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?” So an elder is a man who has a well managed home. His affairs are in order. Chaos does not mark his life. Dignity and orderly conduct marks his home and his family. He labors hard to discipline his children lovingly and they respond to him in return with love.
This doesn’t mean that the family dinner table doesn’t get a little wild. But it does mean that dad is present at the dinner table more than he is absent. This also doesn’t mean that his children don’t rebel. But it does mean that he lovingly and firmly and patiently pursues them to call them back from their rebellion to the foot of the cross. And the direct correlation here is that a man who doesn’t shepherd his family through a loving and disciplined presence will not do so in the church. So an elder must have a well managed home.
#4: An Elder Must Be A Man Who Is Mature In His Faith (6)
Paul says that the calling of an elder is an honorable calling therefore an elder must be a man of godly character, he must have a well managed home and he must “not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” So an elder is a man who is mature in his faith. This doesn’t mean that a man who is young in his years cannot be an elder. I’ve known a few, not many, but a few, young men who are in their twenty’s who’ve been given the gift of spiritual maturity that far outweighs men who are twice their age. Either way, regardless of biological age, an elder must be mature in his faith. The problem is that we often equate spiritual maturity with charisma or personality or ability. Charisma and personality and ability are the wrong measuring rods to use.
The measuring rod for spiritual maturity is what Joe Nelson preached last week. A spiritually mature man exhibits a healthy fear of the Lord, which leads to spiritual knowledge that results in spiritual wisdom, which plays out in unhindered freedom to love God through our obedience. The fruit of the Spirit should be overwhelmingly present in an elder’s life. He should not be full of himself but instead should be full of the Spirit. And he must not be a man who consistently runs off the cliff of foolishness because his desires are raging out of control. So an elder must be a man who is mature in his faith.
#5: An Elder Must Be A Man With A Respectable Reputation (7)
Paul says that the calling of an elder is an honorable calling therefore an elder must be a man of godly character, he must have a well managed home, he must be mature in his faith and “he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” So an elder is a man with a respectable reputation. This does not mean that everyone likes him. Jesus had enemies who killed him. Paul had enemies who talked trash about him. And Timothy now, most likely, had enemies that he had thrown out of the church for their heresy.
So this is not about being likeable. This is about not having anything stick to you that would bring reproach or disrespect on the message of the gospel and the name of our Savior. The bank lady may disagree with you and even hate you because you’ve taken a stand on biblical truth. But she must not be able to level a claim against you in regards to the mismanagement of your personal or business bank accounts.
The church does not need men in leadership who constantly fall into disgrace or fall into the devil’s traps because their desire for power, prestige, money and sex are out of control. The church, the bride of Christ, Jesus’ wife, the flock of the Chief Shepherd, the church family, needs elders who are men with respectable reputations.
The calling of an elder is an honorable calling therefore an elder must possess a godly character, he must have a well managed home, he must be mature in his faith and he must have a respectable reputation. It sounds like God expects perfection in his elders. But elders are not perfect. Only Jesus is perfect. So if an elder is qualified for the job he will smell more and more like a sheep and he will look more and more like Jesus every day.
The place that a man gets his qualification for being an elder, a shepherd, a pastor and an overseer in the church family is at the foot of the cross in the doorway of an empty tomb. He doesn’t find it in the arms of a woman. He doesn’t find it in the perfection of his kids. He doesn’t find it in his paycheck. He doesn’t find it in his friend crowd. He doesn’t find it in the size of his church or the size of his gospel community. He doesn’t find it in his ability to spout off systematic theology or the books of the Bible in order. He doesn’t find it in his passion for a political party. An elder finds his qualification at the foot of the cross in the doorway of the empty tomb.
And you may have listened to this entire sermon and you may be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me. I don’t want to be an elder. I don’t want to be a pastor. I don’t want to be in charge of people’s spiritual lives.” You may not want any of those roles because you are simply not called to it. Or you may not want any of those roles because you love your sin more than you love Jesus. You may not have an intimate knowledge of Christ and his loving sacrifice on your behalf. And you seriously might not be called to eldership. God help you if you are!
But regardless, these qualifications for eldership are also general expectations for every Christian. Just because you don’t want to be an elder doesn’t mean this doesn’t apply to you. Every Christian is called to be a disciple who possesses godly character, who has a well managed home, who is becoming more and more mature in their faith and has a respectable reputation. An elder is merely called to be the best of the best in those areas. But every Christian is called to grow in these areas.
So where are you at with these today? Where is the Spirit of God nudging you to trust in Christ? Where is God calling out to you to return to him? Is it the seriousness of your calling as a disciple? Is it a specific character trait? Is it in the way you manage your home? Is it your desire to grow in your faith? Or is it in the reputation you have? Remember that reputation is the story of your character and character is the story of your integrity.
And I know someone whose integrity is perfect. His character has zero flaws. As far as faith is concerned he is perfectly faithful. He died so that you could become part of his well-managed family. He rose again on the third day so that you could have the hope of Heaven and the power to change. His name is Jesus and according to the Scriptures he is the Good Shepherd. He is the Master Shepherd. He is the Chief Shepherd. He is the supreme pastor, elder, shepherd and overseer of your soul. Amen!