Biblical Standards for Leadership in an Age of Scandal Part 2
New Testament Church Elders
Elders in local churches are those who have the greatest responsibility for leading their congregations. Elder is the highest governmental office in the church, something even the Apostle Peter claimed for himself (1 Peter 5:1). (The fivefold ministry, as found in Ephesians 4:11, describes functions, not offices of the church leaders.) Because of the great responsibility, there are some general guidelines that all pastors, fivefold ministers, trustees, deacons, and elders must meet before they are installed. The following is a summary of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
“They must be above reproach.” This regards not having hidden “skeletons in the closet,” or a lifestyle others could seize on and use as an accusation to discredit them.
“They must be the husband of one wife.” This has to do with barring a person from serving as an elder who is married to more than one woman at a time. We can also extrapolate from this standard that one should not serve as an elder if he divorced his wife and remarried for anything but the biblical reason of adultery. (However, a case can be made that divorce is acceptable if one’s spouse is a violent abuser who threatens one’s life. Others would say one could divorce but not remarry in a case like this.)
“They must be sober-minded.” This means elders should be serious about the primary things in life-related to God, the church, family, and eternity. Their values and priorities should be based upon the values of the kingdom. (Colossians 3:1-3).
“They must be self-controlled.” This means leaders need to live a prudent, discreet life of self-control in which they are not giving in to their fleshly desires or the whims of their physical and sensual passions (lust of the flesh, food, and sexual appetite.)
“They must be respectable.” This means that leaders must not be disorderly but live a quiet life as respectable citizens.
“They must be hospitable.” Elders should have their marriages, families, and finances in order, to the point where they can put up people in their homes as the Lord leads. They should also be willing to host people for dinner as the occasion demands.
I know some leaders who never allow anyone near their homes or personal lives. This makes me wonder what they are trying to hide. Hospitality is an essential requirement because it also enhances the discipleship or mentoring process when those being discipled have access to the personal lives and families of those pouring into them.
“They must be able to teach.” Elders have to be capable of communicating the gospel to the unsaved and applying it practically in a teaching setting for a congregation. Having a competent Word ministry is an important requirement of all elders.
“They cannot be drunkards.” It is not a sin to drink alcoholic beverages, but it is a sin if it becomes a habit and causes drunkenness. This can also be applied to any mind-altering substance.
Unfortunately, some leaders have become addicted to painkillers, drinking, and other activities that dim the brain to avoid dealing with the pain and pressures of life.
“They must not be violent.” Unfortunately, there are many leaders with violent tempers. In God’s eyes, a violent temper disqualifies a person for eldership in the body of Christ.
“They must not be quarrelsome.” Some leaders are very argumentative because they have issues in their hearts that have not been dealt with. While we don’t want “yes men” to serve as elders (people who rubber-stamp everything the lead pastor says without honest dialogue and feedback), we also don’t want people serving as elders who must debate everything.
“They must not be lovers of money.” Leaders whose hearts are fixated on money are not qualified to be elders because they will always view their ministries and associations with people with a “what’s in it for me?” mentality.
Furthermore, those with serious financial challenges should not serve as elders or trustees because they will be tempted with a conflict of interest in church business meetings related to church finances’ dispensing and or spending.
“They must manage their households and have their children subject to them.” If a person cannot lead their own family, the Bible teaches they cannot manage or lead the household of God. This also implies that young children of elders who are still living in their homes should be submissive, attend church, and not disrupt the family goal of serving the Lord.
“They must not be a recent convert.” In New Testament times, a person had to be at least 30 years old and a believer for several years before being appointed as an elder. This is to protect new converts who could be puffed up with pride if they are put in a position of influence.
“They must have a good reputation with those outside the church.” We are called not only to be an example within the church but also outside the church. This is why an elder should not have bad credit, have a bad record on their job, or a bad reputation among their neighbors.
These are all simple guidelines. Unfortunately, we need to be continually reminded of these foundational things related to leadership standards so we can glorify God and serve as salt and light in our communities.
(This article is from Chapter 10 of Poisonous Power by Bishop Mattera. For more like this, you can purchase your copy on Amazon here).