Thursday, July 05, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership – Pt 9

Biblical Qualifications of Elders (continued)

“1It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” (1 Timothy 3:1, NASB)

In verse one, the terms “aspires” and “desires” are used to describe the attitude of the candidate toward the office of “overseer” or elder. Aspires means to “reach out after”, and denotes an external action, not just internal motive. The second word, “desires”, means to “long for”, have “strong passion” which refers to an internal desire. This describes an individual who is driven to externally pursue the position of leadership because of a strong internal desire to do so. This is important because unless the man is strongly motivated to fulfill this role, he will not have the drive necessary to succeed in carrying out his God-given duties. Pastors should not be coerced into such a position. When you think of all the pressure one will be under in this position, the only thing that will sustain him will be the heart’s desire to see people respond to God’s Truth and grow spiritually. The last thing that a congregation would want is a man who stands in the pulpit only because he feels he has to. That type of man will never make the kind of leader necessary to fulfill the obligations of pastoral leadership. In 1 Peter 5:2 elders are exhorted to serve with a sense of divine calling and an urgency to fulfill the task at hand. This should be with eagerness, not indifference or laziness. Elders should be self-motivated and should not need to be constantly prodded along to fulfill their tasks.

“2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;” (1 Peter 5:2, NASB)

In addition to having the desire for the office of elder, a man must meet certain qualifications. The overarching qualification is that he must be “above reproach”, meaning that there is no wrongdoing that he can be legitimately charged with. In other words, he must be blameless. This is crucial since he is to be an example to the people under his care. The remaining qualifications expand on the requirement to be “above reproach”.

"2An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach," (1 Timothy 3:2, NASB)

Next in the list, “the husband of one wife”, literally means “a one-woman man”. This really isn’t speaking of his marital status, but his moral purity. While issues such as divorce do indeed factor into the fitness of a man for eldership, the focus here is on his sexual purity. I will discuss the issue of divorce as we proceed further in the list of qualifications. But this matter is crucial since this tends to be a weak point that often leads to failure in the life of many leaders. Unfortunately, we witnessed the tragedy of this occurring in the life of the pastor of the church we were members of for several years, where he became involved with another woman in the church. The key concern with this qualification is whether or not the man is what we would call a “womanizer”. Does he tend to be flirtatious, or is he dedicated to his wife and honor her in marital faithfulness. This is no small matter especially if you have ever observed the adverse effect the sexual sin of a pastor has on the congregation. This sin will obviously negatively affect his walk with the Lord. And it is inevitable that it will cloud his thinking and render him useless to provide spiritual direction to his flock. Having been part of a congregation where this took place, I can certainly testify that the consequences are terrible. If the pastor is in no condition spiritually to provide guidance to the congregation, the inevitable outcome is that the congregation will wane spiritually, and it won’t be long before sin permeates the congregation. As Alexander Strauch points out:

“If the elders are not faithful, one-woman husbands, they will subtly encourage others to be unfaithful.” [1]

This leads into the next qualification that he is to be “temperate”. The word in the Greek is “nefaleo”, and it means to be sober, abstaining from wine or at least its excessive use. However, used in the context here, it means to be “sober-minded” (as it is translated in the ESV), especially since the very next verse deals specifically with the subject of consumption of alcoholic beverages and states that he is not to be “addicted to wine”. "Temperate" here means that he is to be “alert”, “watchful” and “clear-headed”. It is vitally important that elders display the capacity to think clearly so that they can keep vigilant watch over their own life and the congregation. This is why it is so important that the elders take great care to be sure they are not allowing their minds to be distorted by material filled with warped doctrine. You can learn a lot about where a man is headed theologically by the types of books and materials he utilizes and claims have had the most impact on his life. I am not referring to books of a questionable nature that he may be reading to discern how false teachers are twisting the truth, but the books that he relies on for theological guidance that are making an impression on his life. In essence, the elder must not allow himself to be intoxicated by teaching that will distort his thinking, whether it is false doctrine or worldly philosophy. Paul in Acts 20:28 warned the elders in Ephesus to “be on guard” for themselves and also “for all the flock”, knowing that the “savage wolves” were just waiting to come in among them and devastate the flock.

The elder must also be “prudent” and “respectable”. The term “prudent” comes from the Greek word “sofron” and means to be “self-controlled” and able to restrain his desires and impulses. In other words, he does not react impulsively, but he is to be disciplined in his life, especially spiritual matters and is able to prioritize spiritual matters making them the utmost importance. This leads into the next quality, “respectable”. This means “well arranged” or “orderly” (from the Greek “kosmio”). This means that they are able to order their lives in such a manner as to not be in a state of constant chaos. If they are not able to accomplish this in their own life, how will they be able to keep order in the church? The ability to maintain order is extremely important to keep the church from degenerating into a state of chaos.

(To be continued...)

1. Alexander Strauch, "Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership", p. 71.

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