So, You want to be a Leader!

1Timothy 3

When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, Timothy was in Ephesus dealing with false teachers and restoring order to the Macedonian churches. Unlike Titus who was sent to brand new churches, Timothy was working in established churches that had gotten off track, and Timothy needed to know how their leaders should behave. This chapter, particularly verses 1-7 generated controversy in later years, controversy that I have seen, been in the middle of and dealt with over my years in church leadership.

You will note that the NIV leads this section with the heading “Qualifications for Overseers and Deacons” and this is one of the difficulties of the section, for the word “qualifications” leads to many disagreements.

“Qualifications” is a word that Paul’s text does not contain; it is a matter of conjecture or interpretation. Consequently, if we assume that these are outright qualifications, how far do we go in their enforcement? I know of at least one church that has gone over a quarter century without elders because no man was ever found to meet them all. On another occasion, I saw a very good man who was nearly barred from serving because he and his wife were unable to have children of their own.

See what I mean?

In verse 2, the NIV says “faithful to his wife” but the old NIV and many other translations say “the husband of but one wife” and the Greek says “one woman man”. As a result of this confusion, many might suggest that a man who has been widowed and remarries is no longer “qualified”.

As for me, I don’t think this passage is really all that complicated, and the legalistic approach is off target entirely. It seems clear to me that Paul’s intention is that those who lead in the church, in whatever capacity, should be above reproach, honorable, decent and loving. They shouldn’t be people who will bring disrepute upon the Gospel or the Body of Christ.

This is an important thing to consider, for the positions of leadership that Paul is discussing here, especially that of elder are not found, at least under these names, in many church groups today. In the first century, the elders of a local congregation were the governing body of their respective congregations; there was no headquarters, there were no area or district authorities or annual conventions as we might understand now. These were the people who decided what would be taught and what would not in their congregations, and of course that is how the position fits in with Timothy’s mission.

I have said this many times before here; church leadership isn’t for everyone. It is a noble calling to be sure, but a leader is held to a high standard of conduct, and while neither God nor Scripture are looking for a reason to say “gotcha!” many others are looking for just that. It shouldn’t be that way, it’s really sad that it is that way, but it is the truth. With that said, however, we must be certain that our leaders lead not only well, but with unfaltering integrity at all times.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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6 Responses to So, You want to be a Leader!

  1. Little Monk says:

    Hi Don,

    This whole post resonated deeply with me, and we absolutely share perspectives on both the gravitas of leadership, and the pitfalls of the political.

    Your last line, though, struck me…

    “however, we must be certain that our leaders lead not only well, but with unfaltering integrity at all times.”

    I think one of the greatest challenges of the Church, of ourselves as Christian brethren, of both the local and the universal Body of Christ, is that “unfaltering integrity at all times” is not humanly attainable… and THEN what?

    One of the most perplexing of puzzles is how to balance grace, integrity, human frailty, and transparency. I can say of myself, without hesitation, that despite my best efforts… I cannot claim having led with perfect integrity. I know places, decisions, wherein my judgment has been influenced by unworthy motives. My agenda can be mixed or corrupted by fear, by desire to attain (prestige or material advantage), by ambition, by jealousies or pettiness.

    I don’t know another leader, brother or sister, who can claim otherwise in the quiet moments of transparency before conscience and the Spirit.

    So the question becomes, not so much “whether”… but “how much”? Even Peter the Apostle compromised his integrity before the church, when he chose when to eat kosher versus not… and Paul called him on his dual standard.

    I don’t have an answer for these questions. Like you, I often wrestle with them in the day to day practice of ministry and the coaching of Christian leaders.

    But the painful question I am asked, time and again, focuses on RESTORATION. At what point does an episode of compromised integrity truly DIS-qualify a Christian from their position of leadership? Or… is there any such point? (cf: Peter’s denial of Jesus). Or… is there a process for repentance/restoration? (If so, what?) Or… what is the meaning of the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable”? Is restoration always possible? Or is there some “breaking point” beyond which consequences have become irredeemable?

    Again, I’m not “sharpshooting” in the least… and this series of posts may not be the right time/place to address the question. But my current absence from this wonderful Chapel of the Blogs has me deeply embedded in the pragmatics of these questions, as I seek to heal brethren who have been wounded by leaders compromised (as well as promoting the healing of those leaders themselves). Every day I ponder these questions, and I would welcome your reflections on them, whenever those are available.

    Grace to us all! — The Little Monk

    • Don Merritt says:

      I agree that we are all human and subject to errors of judgment and that we all fall short from time to time. Yet a man or woman of unfailing integrity owns up to his or her mistakes, errors and shortcomings and makes them right. Of course, this presupposes that there isn’t something criminal involved or something that destroys lives or relationships beyond repair. I may have some thoughts in the areas you’ve hinted at, but I’ll leave it at that here.

  2. bcaudle77 says:

    Great insight. I use to go to a very small Chruch that took all these type of verse to the top tilt.
    It is very intresting to me the older i get the more I’m seeing that all these verse and how some people really lose sight of love and more towards rules and regulations.

    Our love towards others and our mind, heart and strength fixed on God will show our colors, I just pray for God’s mercy on those that have been misguided.

    Thanks Don.

  3. No like, the Rabbi, in Fiddler on the Roof, I lament, “Why couldn’t you choose somebody else?”

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