1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9
At the end of last year, the elders decided it was time to bring some new men into the leadership of this congregation. They went through the entire membership and looked at every man in this congregation in terms of their character strengths and their leadership qualities, and then they talked with several of those men about their willingness to serve. Some did not feel it was the right time for them, but three men agreed to be considered for the task. Then over the last ten months those three have met monthly with the elders and studied Lynn Anderson’s book, They Smell Like Sheep, and went through a mentoring process in preparation for becoming a shepherd of this congregation. One decided the timing wasn’t right for him. Two of those have agreed to be put before the congregation at this time.
In the last 35 years, I have served under about 5 dozen elders in 7 different churches, attended in excess of 800 elders meetings and have had the opportunity to be friends with some of the greatest men of God I have ever known. I have come to appreciate the very difficult job that being a shepherd of a church is and the importance of having shepherds who are truly men of God. Because of the nature of the task and the importance of selecting the right men, it is very rare to have the opportunity to be in on the process of appointing new elders for a congregation. And it is an exciting time.
It’s an exciting time because it is a realization that we have come to a point where there is more work than the current eldership can handle – more members, more ministries, more opportunities. We foresee changes in the next year that will necessitate adding to our leadership to prepare us for those changes.
And it is a realization that this congregation is poised for growth. We anticipate what God is getting ready to do among us – it is a step of faith that God is working and active at the Glenwood church.
And it is a realization that there are men among us who by their lives and by their faith have distinguished themselves as spiritual leaders and we need them to be using their gifts and talents to lead us as shepherds.
There are some dangers though –
We are not selecting men because they are successful in worldly pursuits – we are selecting spiritual leaders. I have seen too many elders who were successful business men and men with financial success who could never see beyond the management part of leading a congregation. Leading a church is not running a business, it is shepherding a flock. We need men who have a heart for God’s people and who themselves are men of God.
This is not a popularity contest. We are not merely selecting men because they are well known and liked by everyone – and on the converse side of that, if a man is not selected, he shouldn’t have his feelings hurt and think he is being overlooked or rejected. We have several men in this congregation who are wonderful Christians and gifted in many ways, and many young men who will someday be great elders.
The men that we select should be men who have excellent people skills – men who have good family relationships, men who know how to develop and maintain relationships, men who know how to handle conflict and work well in a group. But they must also be men of conviction, who know God’s word and aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe even if they have to stand alone.
As we enter this process, we can gain great insight and direction from Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus in which Paul gives a picture of the kind of men who should serve a congregation. It’s especially interesting in both of those letters that Paul never sets out a job description for what an elder does. The emphasis is not on what they are to do, but on what kind of men they are to be, what sort of personal qualities they are to demonstrate. These are not the qualities of a “charismatic” leader, but one who is morally stable and a good leader in his family. You’ll notice that the two lists are not identical. They are not intended to be a checklist of qualifications, but a portrait of the kind of man who will be able to effectively shepherd a flock.
Paul wrote to Timothy about the kind of men who would be good leaders in the church: In 1 Timothy 3:1he writes: “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.”
There is a fine line between desiring to serve and seeking power. Plato once wrote, “Only those who do not seek power are qualified to hold it.”
We’ve all known someone who inappropriately wanted, even campaigned to become a leader because of pride and vain ambition. How is what Paul is saying different than that? The word Paul uses, translated “sets his heart on” has the sense of “to stretch out, reach for.”
· It is the picture of a runner striving for the tape, of a climber reaching for the ledge. It is one who has prepared himself and devoted himself to a goal.
· I’ve said many times – you don’t wait until you’re 45 years old to decide you want to be an elder. It’s a goal we set in the hearts of our young boys early in life. It’s the kind of goal you set in your heart when you are a young man, and live your life with that goal in the distance and you prepare yourself and make the kind of decisions and choose the directions for your life that will make you a man of God who is fit to lead God’s people. It is not a matter of prideful ambition, but of purposeful preparation. It is that kind of desire that makes you a man who is capable of leading God’s people.
· More often, though, I’ve known men who were qualified and capable of being elders who consistently declined to serve, either because they didn’t feel qualified, or weren’t willing to take on the responsibility. And so, congregations would not benefit from their leadership, having to look to less qualified men, or would have to go without leadership.
I think that’s the situation in Ephesus where Paul is writing to Timothy. They desperately need leadership, yet there are qualified men who are hesitant to step forward and accept the responsibility. And it would be an intimidating task. No currently serving elder will tell you that it’s fun and games, nor is it an ego trip. Being an elder requires a tender heart and a thick skin. They are required to handle difficult situations that often have no easy answers, and leave them as targets of criticism regardless of the decisions they make. They often must administer church discipline, while maintaining strict confidentiality, which makes them look unfair or uncaring, because they are aware of information they can’t divulge. The only reward is the satisfaction of serving God in a very important task.
When you look at the lists in both 1 Timothy and Titus, you find different kinds of qualities – some are lifestyle, some are character, some are family and relationships.
Think for a moment about the family and relationships of an elder:
“He must be the husband of but one wife.” Literally, it says: “a one woman man.” That implies a number of things – he must be married, but not a polygamist. He must be faithful to his wife, not an adulterer, not a womanizer. Most biblical scholars agree that Paul is not necessarily disqualifying a man who has been divorced and remarried. If he had intended to say that he certainly had the specific words to express that. Instead, Paul is addressing the importance of a man’s faithfulness and dedication to his wife. In other words, his marriage must be rock solid. There must be no question with those who know him that he is a man who loves his wife and is devoted to her.
And every serving elder will tell you how important his wife is to his ability to serve – not just in being supportive, but in her own right as a servant herself – an elder’s wife is a partner in his ministry. A leader’s wife can enhance his ministry or cripple it. We need men whose relationships with their wives are models that can be looked up to and imitated.
Concerning the elder’s family, Paul writes to Timothy, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” To Titus, Paul writes that he must be “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” In 1 Timothy, Paul goes on to explain, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”
What Paul is saying is that you can tell a lot about a man’s ability to lead a congregation by how he leads his family. Has he passed on his faith to his children, or have his children rejected his faith. And certainly we recognize that a parent’s influence has a limit. When children become adults they can make choices that are contrary to their raising and their faith choices especially are beyond the parent’s ability to direct. But during those years when a man’s children were under his guidance, did he raise them to love and serve God?
And in addition, are his children obedient and respectful, or are they wild and rebellious? If he can’t guide and mold his children over whom he has the most influence and opportunity, how will he fare with a congregation of people who look to him for guidance?
And when it comes to relationship skills: He must be “hospitable,” he must “not be violent, but gentle,” he must not be “quarrelsome.” To Titus, he adds, he must “not be overbearing, not quick-tempered.” Do those words paint a picture for you? This is a man who not only gets along well with people, but enjoys being around people and opens his home to others. Working in a group, he is going to be gentle and humble, not overbearing or quarrelsome or quick-tempered and certainly not violent. When you consider men who will lead you, think about how they interact with others, because an elder doesn’t just work as an individual, but in a group of elders, and a man who is overbearing and quarrelsome and quick-tempered can destroy the ability of an eldership to work effectively and harmoniously.
Paul addresses several lifestyle qualities:
He must be “temperate” – that is literally “not mixed with wine,” then a verse later he says, “not given to drunkenness.” Paul’s concern is that an elder not be a man of addictions. There is just no place in the life of a Christian, let alone an elder for a dependence on alcohol or drugs. He must live a sober lifestyle.
Paul also says he must not be “a lover of money.” With Titus, he is even more pointed – “not pursuing dishonest gain.” Paul is concerned with how a man handles his business and finances, and even more personally, is he a man who just seems to focus his life on money and possessions? That kind of man will bring an ungodly perspective to a very holy undertaking.
That doesn’t mean a person can’t be a successful business man or even that he can’t be wealthy. I’ve known wonderful elders who were both. But if that is the focus of their life, what Paul says later on in 1 Timothy is doubly true for an elder – “People who want to get rich fall into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (6:10). And as Jesus said, if you divide your loyalties between serving God and making money, you are trying to serve two masters, and you’ll end up loving one and despising the other. And God rarely wins that battle for the human heart.
And then, most importantly, let’s talk about character:
Paul tells Timothy an elder must “be above reproach,” “self-controlled,” “respectable,” and “he must also have a good reputation with outsiders.” In his letter to Titus, twice Paul says, “he must be blameless,” and also adds, “one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” These are the qualities of a man with integrity and inner strength. He is a man who lives the same kind of life when everybody is watching and when nobody is watching. He is a man who is absolutely honest and trustworthy. He is respected by both the church and outsiders because of the kind of life he lives in public and in private.
Paul also speaks to an elder’s spiritual maturity when he writes, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” Being an elder brings a unique set of temptations and trials, that an immature Christian would have a difficult time withstanding. Rushing a man into a position of leadership simply because he shows potential is never a thing that is beneficial to the man or helpful to the church. Paul says, give him time to grow up or he’ll get puffed up.
And then finally, a couple of qualities that speak to an elder’s leadership:
To Timothy Paul says simply that he must be “able to teach.” To Titus he says, “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
Not every elder needs to be a Bible class teacher, but every elder must be a student of God’s word and able to communicate it to others whether in a congregational setting or one-on-one. And every elder needs to have such a grasp of God’s Word that he can defend it against false teaching and guide and encourage others with right teaching.
The thing we need to understand most clearly about selecting elders is that we are not selecting men to set on a pedestal and admire, or parade around as super-Christians – we are selecting men who will be the point men in our journey to heaven. These are not men who live the kind of life none of us can hope to live, but the kind of life that all of us aspire to live.
I want men as my elders who know me and care about me enough to spend time talking about important things, who will challenge me and encourage me, who will lead the way so I can follow, but will also bring up the rear and pick me up if I stumble. I don’t want them just to know my name, but to know me and know when I need a pat on the back, and when I need a kick in the pants and when I need an arm around my shoulders.
I need men who have the heart of a shepherd and whose faces shine with the light of Jesus.
Having said all that, I want to share with you the names of the men who have agreed to step up and accept the role of joining the leadership of this congregation as shepherds:
Dennis and his wife Pam have been members of the Glenwood church since 1993. They have been married 33 years. They have two sons, Cory and Chad. Cory is married to Audra and they live in Oakley, Kansas. Chad is married to Emma and they live in New Castle.
Dennis truly has the heart of a shepherd. He cares for people and has a gift for encouraging people. He and Pam are so hospitable and open their home to so many people, and it’s always a blessing to be with them and be encouraged.
Clark and Debbie have been members here since 2000. They have been married 26 years. They have three children: Steve, Zach and Alex. Steve and his wife Crystal have three children: Brodie, Serenity and Justin, and they live in Silt. Zach, who lives with Clark and Debbie in Silt, and Alex, who lives in Ocean Side, California.
Clark and Debbie are tireless workers – they are involved in numerous ministries. Clark is our guy in the AV booth who runs the slides every Sunday, Debbie keeps our bulletin boards changed and looking good. Together, they coordinate the communion preparation, and they oversee the missionaries and coordinate communication with each of them.
Over the next three weeks you will have an opportunity to give feedback to the elders about each of these men. Unfortunately, in some places, this is kind of like that awkward moment in a wedding when the preacher asks if anyone has a reason why these two shouldn’t be married. We’re not asking you to provide criticism. If you have concerns, please address those concerns to one of the elders – no anonymous criticism will be allowed. But what I would encourage you to do, and I’ve never actually seen it happen – use this opportunity to express your affirmation of and support for each of these men. Write a note on a card and express something positive and upbuilding about them that will encourage them in their willingness to take on this daunting task. And then give that card to one of the elders and it will be passed along.