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"What to Insist On in Church Leaders"

Feb.2, 2014 1Tim.3:1-13


What portrait would you paint of a godly church leader? For that matter, what qualities make up a godly man, period? If you were a parent, what type of guy would you want your daughter to marry?

The world esteems youth, good looks, money, power, fame. Music stars collect "fans" who idolize them. Would you want your daughter to marry, say, Justin Bieber? He's sold 15 million albums and has almost 50 million followers on Twitter. But the star seems to be developing a bit of a rap sheet - in the States for property damage and "Driving Under the Influence", in Canada for an incident involving a limo driver. Probably not your first pick for a potential son-in-law. His unrestrained behaviour is shifting him from "idol" status to "unwanted" - as a petition in the States garnered much support for deporting him.

It's Super Bowl Sunday today as the Seattle Seahawks face the Denver Broncos on the gridiron. But that contest won't be half so tough as when parents make a potential suitor for their daughter run the "gridiron" of expectations for their daughter. Let's face it - consciously or unconsciously we develop a mental grid of qualities down the side we want in a son-in-law; across the top, we have "ideal man" in the first column with all the squares checked off. Then going to the right you have candidate 1, candidate 2, etc. Every time your daughter goes out with a feller, you're sizing him up based on the qualities in the grid. Some are optional; others are deal-breakers. What are your non-negotiables, your deal-breakers?

When we're dating, we also have a sort of mental grid like that, a checklist of qualities we want in a potential mate. Things like - being reliable; considerate; unselfish; honest; trustworthy; warm-hearted; and so on. What would be your "essentials" on your checklist? I grew up in a teetotaling family, so one thing on my checklist was not being a drinker. Before going out with Yvonne, in first semester I took a girl to the fancy restaurant on the campus at Guelph, the Whippletree. There I discovered she not only drank but tried to get me to drink as well. So much for that candidate - she was dropped from the roster. (Amicably, I'd hasten to add)

Today's our Annual Congregational Meeting where we'll be appointing our church leaders for the upcoming year. If we take seriously qualities in dating and potential in-laws, what qualities should we be insisting on for church leaders, the "household of God"? Christianity isn't like Scouts or Guides or the Lodge where you have a set of badges to earn and fill up your scarf, or occult degrees to toilsomely memorize and work through. But the apostle Paul writing to Timothy describes characteristics necessary for church leaders, and these - taken together - form a sort of "goal" believers can be aspiring towards in their own lives as they grow in Christ. In 3:13 Paul says these gain a person "excellent standing" - using a word similar to a stair step. Are you ready to "move up a step" in your Christian character?


Chapter 3 outlines qualities to look for in church elders and deacons. What's the difference in these two categories of leaders? The term "overseer" in v2 is used interchangeably with "elder" in Acts 20(17,28). The NIV Study Bible notes an overseer's duties were "to teach and preach (3:2; 5:17), to direct the affairs of the church (3:5; 5:17), to shepherd the flock of God (Ac 20:28) and to guard the church from error (Ac 20:28-31)." By contrast, the term "deacon" originally meant a servant waiting on those at table; in Acts 6 the early church developed the office to handle the matter of distributing food amongst the poor. The deacons were so good at social benevolence that, in the early centuries, pagan leaders complained to the priests that the followers of the Galilean were helping out not just Christians but the pagan folk too. The church's practical ministry accompanied, fleshed out its preaching the Good News of Jesus.

Now, back to our topic - what criteria should be specified for appointing someone as an elder or a deacon?

What 'grid' will we develop for screening?

Paul starts with a daunting one. Do you remember a few years back we had what the media referred to as a "teflon premier"? No scandal or criticism seemed to "stick" to him. Paul's 1st characteristic listed is a bit like that: v2 "Now the overseer must be ABOVE REPROACH," literally "unrebukeable". That doesn't mean "perfect" but certainly no obvious failing that would make it easy for the public to discredit him.

V7 "He must also have a GOOD REPUTATION with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap." The devil is "the accuser": critics are quick to hold church officials to high standards even if they don't abide by them themselves. Overseers need to have a good reputation.

V2 "RESPECTABLE" - seemly, modest, of good behaviour; v8 "men worthy of respect"; v11 deaconnesses (probably not necessarily the wives of the deacons here since there is no "their" in the Greek, and it would be strange to single out the deacons' wives when the same distinction isn't made for elders' wives) - deaconnesses "are to be women worthy of respect". A former Executive Secretary of the United Church's London Conference, Peter Scott, used to say - "the church must not only do right, it must be SEEN to do right." Be worthy of respect from the outside. This isn't about putting on a 'front' but taking care to obviously do things in a way that's proper and fitting. 1Cor 14:40 "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."

Recently I was able to blow out a driveway for a single mom; she kindly invited me in for a coffee, but I felt obliged to decline. The standard becomes not just the actual behaviour BUT circumstantial evidence and appearance subject to misinterpretation by the general public's skeptical, dubious, and sometimes depraved imagination. We're all too quick to suspect the worst about people! And that's how rumours get started.

V2 An overseer must be "TEMPERATE" or sober - also in v11 deaconesses are to "temperate", calm and collected not "drama queens". Also in v2 we have "SELF-CONTROLLED" / NRSV "sensible", sound-minded. V9 stipulates "a clear conscience" - one would hope that would almost go without saying for a spiritual leader! But remember last week's message - Hymenaeus and Alexander had "rejected" "good conscience" and so been shipwrecked (1Tim 1:19f).

So these are some of the more general characteristics Paul identifies as needed for elders and deacons / deaconnesses. Compare Titus 2:2 where Paul writes, "Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance." These are qualities EVERYBODY in the church should be aiming for as we grow up into maturity in Christ.


Self-control should be obvious; why would you entrust responsiblity and church government to someone who can't govern themselves, who lacks self-control? It's one of the paradoxes of life that we're only fit to be authorized with more power over others to the extent we're able to tighten the reins on ourselves. Next, let's look specifically at some classic areas which tend to trip people up and suck them into sin. I've tried to class them together with S's: sex, substances, speech, and silver. Hear the tempter's hiss? SSSS...

SEX is a biggy - one doesn't have to think too hard to have names of well-known church leaders come to mind who've been caught with prostitutes or otherwise having affairs. It happens too often! V2 an overseer must be "the husband of but one wife"; v12 "A deacon must be the husband of but one wife", literally "a one-woman man".

Next, SUBSTANCES: v2 "temperate" / sober (also v11); v3 "not given to drunkenness", literally long-with-wine. V8 "not indulging in much wine". Don't forget at one point Paul actually advises Timothy to take a little wine on account of his stomach ailments (5:23). Alcohol isn't forbidden totally, but it shouldn't become a focus or requirement in your life. My parents always used to say you should be able to enjoy an event without having to drink; don't become alcohol-dependent, for that's a bondage Jesus died to save us from.

Next, SPEECH: Do you get tripped up in how you talk? V2 emphasizes being self-controlled, sensible, reasonable; James claims that the person who is never at fault in what they say (controlling their tongue), they'll be able to keep their whole body in check - you'll have this self-control thing 'nailed' (Jas 3:2). V3 An overseer must not be "quarrelsome" - picking arguments, flying off the handle. V8 Deacons are to be "sincere", literally "not two-tongued" - perhaps saying one thing to please somebody, then giving another story to someone else. Don't bend the truth to suit your fancy. V11 Deanness are not to be "malicious talkers", literally "she-devils" - female accusers / slanderers. Some people have an unfortunate knack for being able to cut someone apart with their tongue faster than Zorro could zip his trademark Z with his sword. It would be especially important for deaconesses, visiting many and going from house to house, to refrain from spreading gossip. So, when you're tempted to share that juicy tidbit with someone - unless they genuinely 'need to know', don't!

A 4th S that trips leaders up is SILVER. V3 Overseers must not be "a lover of money"; v8 deacons are not to be "pursuing dishonest gain", KJV "greedy of filthy lucre". If you're "in it for the money", ministry is the wrong career path! The apostle Peter exhorts overseers to pastor "not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." (1Pet 5:2-3) Likewise, according to v11, deaconesses are to be "trustworthy in everything", NRSV "faithful"; as they would be handling money donated to give to the poor, this would be especially important - no skimming off the top to line their own pockets.


Note Peter in those verses just quoted said leaders are to be "not lording it over those entrusted to you." Church leadership takes people-skills. While I tend to be an introvert, not an extrovert who gets energized by dealing with people, with the Lord's help even us introverts can develop our people-skills so others find us warm and caring not cold and detached.

V2 Overseers are to be "hospitable", literally "friendly to strangers". V3 "Not violent but gentle": not a striker or bully, throwing your weight around, coming across as intimidating or abusive, but someone people feel "safe" to be with. Peter's phrase "lording it over" those entrusted to our care may recall Jesus' warning to the disciples in Mark 10(42ff) not to be like the rulers of the Gentiles who "lord it over them" and "exercise authority" over them, but to be a servant, as even the Son of Man came to serve and give His life to ransom many. To get on the church Board for the sake of being a "big shot" is a 180-degree wrong attitude. Gentleness is what we're looking for.

V4 An overseer "must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect." Likewise a deacon in v12 "must manage his children and his household well." The verb "manage" here according to the lexicon means "to be over, superintend, be a protector or guardian, care for, give attention to, preside over." Unfortunately the KJV rendered it "rule" which could sound like a dictator and be taken as licence for harshness and abuse. Life Application Commentary notes, "The word manage means compassionate governing, leading, and directing (see 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17), not stern, cruel, tyrannical, and authoritarian dominance."

V5 makes the connection between parenting in the home as preparation for leadership in the church, a more public venue: "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?"


In football, a running back's job is to be handed the pigskin and advance it by dodging attackers. Now a running back could be the team's fastest runner, and have balancing and clambering skills of a cat, be able to outwit and outdodge all the opposing players, but he's no dood to the team if he fumbles the football when he's handed it or tossed it. So Paul also identifies the faith-factor as essential for church leaders; even for general Christian growth, if we fumble the ball here when it comes to spiritual truth, we're losing ground. Faith on your selection grid for a mate or for an elder / deacon has to be a non-negotiable. (As Mark Driscoll put it in an article I passed on to the Youth Group - if a person isn't marriage material - if they're not a Christian, they don't share your fundamental values and worldview where God is concerned - why would you even date them?)

V2 An overseer must be "ABLE TO TEACH" - after all, that's a key role distinguishing elders from deacons. 2Timothy 2:24 "And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful." V6 "He must not be a recent convert [lit.neophyte - 'newly-planted'], or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil." Give them some time to develop maturity. Advancement too fast breeds pride, which is what led to Satan's own fall (Is 14:12ff). If you're keen to be a church leader, develop some experience by teaching a Sunday School class or small group.

I like how v9 puts it: deacons "must keep hold of THE DEEP TRUTHS OF THE FAITH". NRSV "mystery of the faith", "inner secret"; John MacArthur lists several of these 'mysteries', truth previously hidden but now revealed: Christ's incarnation, Christ's indwelling of believers, the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church, the gospel, lawlessness, and the Rapture of the church.

The old AWANA verse summarizes the kind of person we want in church government when it comes to the faith element: 2Timothy 2:15, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" - not fumbling the football!


Such high standards can seem daunting, intimidating - Paul's little phrase "above reproach" almost scares the living daylights out of me! It's only possible by walking with Christ by faith, day by day, temptation by temptation; quick to repent and seek forgiveness when we blow it, moving on to the 'next step' in His training program. James 3:1 warns, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." Yes pastors / elders / deacons are supposed to be 'examples to the flock' to use Peter's words (1Pet 5:3). We're not perfect, far from it - we need your prayers, your encouragement, your patience, and your accountability.

Why would any sane person even dare aspire to such an office? V1 "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task." NLT "an honourable position". We should esteem those appointed to church leadership. In an age where tasks are weighed in dollars, this is a task that's about more than money and just making ends meet: it's a task that's NOBLE. Also look at v13: "Those who have served well gain an EXCELLENT STANDING and GREAT ASSURANCE in their faith in Christ Jesus." Assurance, boldness, confidence in their faith in Christ: isn't that something you'd like more of? That you could use more of?


In closing - a quick football illustration of someone being a "one-woman man" in a sport that's not always reinforcing of marriage. NFL Quarterback Andy Dalton plays for the Cincinnati Bengals. He's been spotted wearing a rubber wedding ring during practice and at the gym. After his teammates and coaches learned of his ring, the 25-year-old became the subject of merciless ribbing. Yet he wears his rubber ring boldly to honour his wedding vows.

For Andy Dalton, being a "one-woman man" is part of a greater relationship commitment he's made that he wants to honour for life. He made that commitment to God back in third grade. He says, "It is truly a relationship...All He wants is to spend some time with me."

Whether we're a church leader or not, Christ invites us to spend time with Him, to "keep hold of the deep truths of the faith." Holding the book of His Word more, and putting our hands together in prayer, we're prone to fumble the ball of life - with all its precious relationships - less. Let's pray.