The Leaders Litmus Test
One of the areas that God is really growing me in is how I choose leaders, especially elders in our church. Going into our church plant I thought I had a pretty good handle on 1 Timothy 3:1-7. I had taught on it and understood the exegetical context of the passage. What I didn’t know was the practical implications of the text in an individuals life. I now understand what God said to Samuel when He was choosing David as king over his more appealing brothers. We need to look at the heart of our leaders as opposed to outward appearances.
Here are a few things I’ve learned in picking leaders
- They Must Be Above Reproach: I always took this as no one could bring a charge against them and that is true to a point but it goes beyond that. Are they controlled by anything except the Holy Spirit? What I found out is that this takes time to see which is why Paul told Timothy not to raise anyone up too soon. You need to see someone in your church for several seasons to truly see their character.
- They Must be Sober-Minded: Beyond being controlled by anything are they dependent upon any substances? I am amazed at how alcoholism is reemerging in the church. This is especially true within the younger generation. So many good people I have known have ended up being closet alcoholics. Paul intimates that Elders should refrain from drinking all together. Leaders are to be under control of their bodies.
- They Must Not Be Quarrelsome: I know playing Devil’s Advocate is a popular thing but the name alone insinuates that it isn’t godly. Devil’s Advocates like a good debate and thrive on the argument. I know it is important not to have yes-men as leaders but someone who is continually opposing every idea for the sake of bringing up the other side brings division and quarreling into a leadership team. If you have a prospective leader who tends to have issues with everything then it is only going to get worse when they become an Elder.
- They Must Manage Their Money Well: So much emphasis is put on greed in this passage but greed manifests itself in many ways. Most prospective leaders aren’t looking to the church for personal gain like in Paul’s day but it still rears it’s head in other ways. So many leaders need to be disqualified because their financial house isn’t in order. I joke about it but sometimes I want to run a credit check on potential Elders. I have worked with men who look ideal to be an elder only to find out their house is being foreclosed on. In my book the choice to buy more house than you can afford falls in the greed category. A person with this going on in their life then transfers their renewed frugal lifestyle to the church and attacks any excessive expenditure (in their opinion) the church makes.
- They Must Manage Their Household Well: A true test of the leadership skills of any potential leader/elder is seen in their children. Are the children rebellious? Do they love Jesus? Go beyond those and look at how the children attend church. Do they come on a consistent basis? What is their disposition when they do attend? If the children are grown adults do they choose to attend the same church as their father (granted the church is one that appeals to that age group)? If you don’t see these in the children then there is a high likelihood that there is some hypocrisy in the home. The parents, and usually the father, are acting one way at church and one way at home.
All of these are signs someone is either not ready or not qualified to be a leader or elder at your church. This doesn’t mean they can’t serve in some capacity but leadership is a special calling and impacts a lot more people than just serving. Do your due diligence in this area. It is much better to go without than to attempt to minister with the wrong leader in place. Be slow to bring on new leaders but be quick to remove them if they are disqualified.
Thanks, Chuck – you outline well the character issues and personal maturity of men who may qualify as elders. I have a very practical methodology for discerning whom the Lord is raising up into the work of an elder. It is something I gleaned from Mt. 17:7 –
And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
Peter, James, and John have fallen to the ground after seeing Christ glorified on the mount and hearing the voice of God. In brief – this is what I look for:
Jesus came to them – Jesus took the initiative to go to people who are down on the ground. I look for men who have initiative to go to where hurting people are. I look for men who show up, that I don’t have to call up to remind them of ministry opportunities. I look for men who love to study the Word and are reading and praying and earnestly seeking God.
Jesus touched them – He had to stoop to touch them. I look for men who stoop to serve, men who give their lives away, men who take the initiative to go to where hurting people are and then do what it takes to minister to them and touch them in Jesus’ name.
And said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” – Jesus spoke the word of authority to them. I look for men who can speak the word of God into the lives of others. I look for men to whom the congregation is looking to for counsel and guidance. I look for men who have a proven track record of faithful ministry.
There are plenty who want to speak the word of God into other people’s lives, but not too many who have the initiative to show up where people are hurting and will stoop to minister to them. The ability to speak the truth into lives comes after the demonstration of humble service. All the elders @ CC Fremont are men who have demonstrated the initiative to show up, the humility to stoop to serve, and the ability to speak with authority into others’ lives.
Great point Tim. I definitely look for this in men who are going to be Elders but unfortunately in my situation I have had to go beyond these. I had men who met the profile you lay out but in my inexperience I missed some other flags that ended up causing me grief in the end.
Love your heart and insight brother.
Agreed – the character mandates of Timothy/Titus must be evident before the practical aspects of what I outlined are considered. The character aspects of Timothy/Titus take priority ahead of any method of the practical discernment of potential elders. Sometimes Judas takes the initiative to show up and serve!