December 2, 2020

Making and Breaking Church Leadership

leadership.jpg1Timothy 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer* must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,* sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Did I mention I’m studying I Timothy with some other men? We’ve been going through this paragraph on the qualifications for leadership, and I had a few thoughts.

1. Leadership is about qualifications, but it’s about a lot more than qualifications. I don’t know if all the apostles were married men with children. I don’t know anything about the spiritual condition of their wives, especially in regard to faith in Jesus. I don’t know anything about the spiritual condition of their children. I don’t know how they were perceived in their community. I assume that, when Jesus called them, they were a pretty rough bunch at times, and all were “recent converts.”

All that to say that a person’s experience with Jesus needs to be at the forefront of a discussion about leadership. There are different kinds of leadership, of course, and some are more flexible and forgiving of past mistakes and rough edges of character than others, but whenever we talk about leadership, let’s talk about what Jesus has produced in a person’s life.

2. Paul is writing to Timothy, but the congregationalist in me wants to say that leadership has a lot to do with the attitude of those being led toward a particular person. You can take a young seminary grad with the best theology, run him through a search process and put him in the pastor’s shoes, but if he doesn’t acquire the confidence and trust of the congregation, all the qualifications in the world won’t matter.

Being a husband of one wife is important (whatever it means.) Being polite, thoughtful, discrete and trustworthy are also important. Congregations pick up the little things about a person, and make judgments that rarely change. For example, if you don’t go to the hospital to visit a beloved older member, they won’t forget, and your leadership will be in jeopardy even if you have qualifications, good sermons, etc. If you aren’t available to visit, listen and be friendly, qualifications and theology probably won’t change anyone’s mind.

In other words, leadership isn’t science. It’s full of the invisible and the intangible. What a congregation says when they talk about leadership, and who they allow to lead them, may be two very different things. Some of the larger issues may actually matter far less than many of the so-called “smaller” ones.

3. The family qualifications are often the most controversial. For example, does “one woman man” (Not husband of one wife) extend to all divorces? To the remarried widow? One of my friends read a commentary that talked about how commendable it was when a widower chose celibacy over remarriage, because it showed “restraint.” All resemblances to a kind of anti-sexual gnostic mysticism are purely coincidental I’m sure.

Would polygamy have been an issue in first century Ephesus? It’s doubtful. I’m more of the opinion that this is a polite way of saying he must be faithful to one woman, and not take sexual opportunities with servants, mistresses, prostitutes, etc, Does all of this mean that a divorced person is out of the question as a pastor? That’s a complicated question because divorces are complicated. I don’t see Paul approving of the pastor who divorces, remarries and all the while keeps leading the church, as we might see in some situations today. At the same time, I can’t see him looking at a 50 year old man who was abandoned by his first wife at age 20 when he entered the ministry, and saying that man is forever disqualified from pastoral leadership if he evidences a call and appropriate character.

Congregations need the freedom to look at a person’s personal and marital history, listen to the story and make a judgement. If God has used a failed marriage as the way to produce a minister’s heart and calling, his people should be able to praise him for that. (By the way, where was Moses’ wife all those years? Hmmm.)

4. The same is true of children. Literalists will sometimes say that a minister should resign if their adult children lapse in their faith. Others would insist that if a pastor has a rebellious teenager, he cannot be a pastor.

Again, the purpose of the passage, it seems to me, is to describe areas of character evaluation, not to take away the place of the congregation in deciding how the Spirit has worked.

Adult children who have rejected Christian nurture have simply done what millions of children raised by Godly parents have done. Should Billy Graham have stopped preaching while Franklin was rebellious? Could the father of the prodigal have been a pastor while his son was in the far country?

There is no way to control what cannot be controlled. Is God about the business of depriving churches of their ministers if their children go through the normal process of growing up? Do we actually believe that being a called and gifted person somehow insures that our children are submissive and faithful to Christ?

The work of the Holy Spirit is often a breaking work, and what we are broken against cannot be considered automatically disqualifying for ministry. The difference between a greedy man and a godly man with a rebellious child is substantial and important.


  1. I don’t know if all the apostles were married men with children.

    No, but since apostle and elder are not the same office, I don’t see that as necessarily relevant.

    If God has used a failed marriage as the way to produce a minister’s heart and calling

    Now you’re conflating minister and overseer. Again, not the same office. Lots of men are qualified to proclaim the Gospel. Not all of them are qualified to shepherd souls and watch as those who must give an account.

  2. So Apostles and pastors have different moral qualifications? (Aside from being selected by Jesus/witnesses of the rez). What on the 1 Timothy list doesn’t apply to an apostle?

  3. And one other question:

    Are there Christians other than those who are baptized in the congregations called “The Church of Christ?”

  4. Interesting post. I had taken this listing as an “all or nothing” proposition for leadership. Instead, what if they are a listing of guidelines for most circumstances, or to put it better, a list of areas to consider. This would mean that some of them could be up for grabs based on the judgment of Timothy (or the Elder board in our situation), especially if the potential elder had a good reason for his not meeting that particular area 100%.

    But if the person failed in a majority of them, then clearly he was not a good prospect. Paul even appears to attach particular weight to one, the person not being a recent convert. That is only one of the two that he bothers to explain. It makes sense.

    I have more questions with the last qualification, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Since often the Christians were not so well thought of at all in the first century, being stoned by the Jews and crucified by the Romans, I always wonder how this one applies. Joel Olsteen would probably meet this criteria, but I don’t think I want him leading much of anything. It seems we are subjecting our leaders to the standards of those outside the community rather than our own.

  5. Michael, excellent post. I really appreciate you approach to this. In seminary, we read John MacArthur’s book on Pastoral Ministry. His discussion of the qualifications was very problematic in my opinion, especially in his view of the children of a minister.

    To me, the key to understanding 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (the other list of qualifications) is the word “blameless” or “above reproach.” Everything else describes what this looks like.

    We need pastors/bishops/overseers/elders/whatever with integrity. I’ve know men who technically “met” the list of qualifications, but their spirit and demeanor was nothing like a pastor’s should have been.

  6. Don’t forget the passage about not being a new Christian, either. I’ve seen that passage forgotten, much to the detriment of those under him.

  7. Sorry, one more comment.

    Why is it that we focus on the “big” qualification (marriage, not being a drunkard, kids), but the “little” qualifications receive almost no attention? You know– being hospitable, not being quarrelsome, being respectable, etc. I’ve read more than a few blogs where it seems the “pastors” didn’t get the memo on those.

  8. Michael,
    Thank you for this. Our small congregation is in the process of deciding whether or not to pursue the appointment/recognition of elders. I have recommened to them this blog entry, suggesting the NT useage of “pastor” as opposed to a preaching employee. In any case, it is a good discussion point.
    God bless,

  9. Nicholas Anton says


    Yes, your observations are dead on.

    I know I am barking up my tree again, but “PLEASE” consider the patriarchal, tribal model for a possible model of the early church. In that context, age/maturity/experience are paramount to leadership. Gender roles come in second. Spiritual engiftedness comes in third.
    The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not delegated by the church or by any individual, but by the Holy Spirit. They are not delegated to believers on the basis of gender, age, intellect etc., but according to God‘s Sovereign will. However, engiftedness is not the basis of Biblical leadership.
    The Bible does not teach that the church is to choose/recognize people on the basis of their Spiritual gifts, but rather to choose/recognize ELDERS/SENIORS to superintend on the basis of their Spiritual gifts, character, reputation, successful living, and Spiritual maturity. Check out tribal systems in Africa and other tribal communities.
    In that the church is not to be an autocracy, nor a democracy, but a family, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and hence, equal. Nevertheless, that family is made up of the older and the younger, as well as of male and female individuals. Each person is free to exercise his/her Spiritual gifts freely according to the protocol of the God ordained and God sanctioned patriarchal model.
    Check the Biblical text. Check Biblical tradition. Check history.

  10. Anton:

    What about this?
    1 Timothy 4
    11Command and teach these things. 12Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

    Sounds to me like age is not, in and of itself, a requirement for pastoral office.

  11. Nicholas

    “I know I am barking up my tree again, but “PLEASE” consider the patriarchal, tribal model for a possible model of the early church.”

    Is the idea that we are locked into a patriarchal tribal model of church because that is what the culture may have been among the early Jewish converts to Christianity? Is that really what you are saying?

  12. Nicholas Anton says

    In answer to both Carrie and caplight;

    It is at times very difficult to convey concepts adequately, because at times words within a language and even within a specific context do not necessarily convey identical meanings to all individuals. Therefore some concepts must be explained from many different angles.

    I see no problem in any person being a Christian leader in a natural sense, whether old or young, whether male or female, though there are some contexts in which there is a God ordained Biblical protocol. However, once I begin to lead by force, that is another matter. Bureaucracy whether by majority vote or by personal enforcement tends to breed autocracy. Jesus condemned that type of leadership.

    As I mentioned before, according to Scripture, God handed out Spiritual gifts to people irregardless of age, race, and gender. God Expects those endowed with these gifts to use them for the Glory of God both within and outside of the church. That is why we find younger people like Paul, Phoebe, Timothy, Titus, Priscilla, Aquilla etc., on the forefront of Christian service. All of the above were slaves of Jesus Christ and servants/diaconos of the church.

    On the other hand, I can find NO Biblical evidence that any of the above were considered elders/presbuteros or bishops/episkopos at the time the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles were written.

    There is such a thing as recognized elders within a traditional patriarchal society. Allow me to quote material from the African tradition;

    “There are five major African initiation rites which are fundamental to human growth and development. These rites were originally established by African ancestors while they were living in order to link the individual to the community and the community…”

    “In African culture, there is a fundamental distinction that has to be made between an “elder” and “older” person (All elders are older persons but not all older persons are elders). An older person has simply lived a longer life than most of people, but is not considered one who deserves high praise and respect.”

    “An elder, … is someone who is given the highest status in African culture because s(he) has lived a life of purpose, and there is nothing more respected than living a purposeful life. The life of an elder is centered in the best tradition of the community, and is someone who has gone through all of the previous three rites (birth, adulthood, marriage), and is a living model for the other groups in the society to emulate.”

    In most tribal societies, elders are older males who function as tribal heads/patriarchs. These men have passed through the warrior phase, and hence, may no longer be in the forefront of the physical activities of the tribe. This is the type of elders that Paul describes in 1 Tim. and Titus.

    According to Scripture, the NATURAL elders who qualify according to the instructions given by Paul to Timothy and Titus, are to superintend and shepherd and be the carriers of the Biblical tradition, not by command, but by verbal instruction and example. These are the ones ordained by the Holy Spirit.

  13. Reminding men of the qualifications for leadership in the church is always a good thing. The qualifications for serving on the elder board at the previous church we attended was that candidates be 1) willing to support the pastor, and 2) have a measureable pulse.

  14. bookdragon says

    Nicolaus makes a good point (aside from the God ordaining patriarchy thing). Elders have a specific function within most tribal societies, and also within the less tribal Greek society that was the context of most of churches Paul wrote to. And those roles tend to be more advisory and than pure leadership.

    I’d also note that Paul himself clearly doesn’t meet the criteria that hen himself gives for elders (married, children, well thought of by outsiders). I doubt he meant to disqualify himself from ministry or leadership, so this list must be intended just for the office of elder.

    Also, I wouldn’t be so sure that he isn’t referring to polygamy with the ‘one wife’ rule. It was still common in the Near East and certainly allowed among the Jews at this point in time (although I was generally thought a bad idea for a man who wanted peaceful household). It may also refer to the practice of having a concubine or other ‘legally-bound’ mistress.

  15. Nicholas Anton says


    re; (aside from the God ordaining patriarchy thing)

    My use of the word, “patriarchy”, may be a very personal thing. To me it is not so much a male versus female concept, though a shadow of that element exists, but rather the concept of an organic family/tribe/nation versus a bureaucratic family/tribe/nation. To me, patriarchy is relational, a relationship of essence rather than bureaucratic, a relationship of delegated structure. Tribal patriarchy tended to be the former. Post Greco-Roman patriarchy tends to be the latter.

    My suspicion has always been that the God ordained model for His children, including that of the church, is the conceptual family based patriarchal model. Throughout Scripture we see that model exemplified. We are seen as the children of Adam, the spiritual offspring of Abraham etc. As the Father, Son and Spirit are of the same essence One to Another (I in the Father and the Father in Me Jn 14:10-12), likewise are we, as members of the body of Christ, to be to one another. We who believe are family, of the same blood. Brothers and sisters in Christ. God is our Father. Christ is our Master.
    Notice similar designations regarding the enemies of God;
    Joh 8:44
    Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

    According to Scripture, we do not become part of the family of God by appointment, legislation or any other means, but by birth (The New Birth).

    According to Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 20 and 23, humans have been excluded from being Father, Master or Teacher in the Spiritual sense, as well as possessing titles of distinction. We are simply brothers and sisters in Christ. As I mentioned previously, some are however older, and some younger, some are male, and some female. There is a Biblical protocol in regards to relationships within the above distinctions.

    As age, experience and gender are natural distinctions in a patriarchal environment, likewise should the distinctions be in the ekklesia. As one does not become male or female, or a natural parent or child by designation and appointment in a natural setting, neither can/should these designations be acquired by appointment in the church. Yes, we can recognize people to be such, but we cannot make them to be such.

    Ekklesia government should be natural, as in a patriarchal society, not bureaucratized.

  16. bookdragon says

    Okay, Nicolaus. I agree the church should be a more organic and family-structured society. And I totally agree that wrt to roles, “we can recognize people to be such, but we cannot make them to be such” – that’s why my church always preceeds such appointments with a period of discernment and why those going to seminary for ordination must have been nominated by a home congregation.

    But you realize, I hope, that ‘patriarchy’ is a loaded word, and one that generallymeans something quite different than the cooperative, interconnected village society you describe. Simply the fact that you can describe both tribal and Roman systems as patriarchies should indicate that a better word needs to be found. (Indeed, the relational tribal system does not have to be exclusively patriarchal. Tribal matriarchies share the same characteristics of being relational, organic, etc.)

    Usually ‘patriarchy’ is used to describe a system wherein the males hold all the real authority and power while the females are regarded as lesser beings and often relegated to the level of servants or even chattal. To the extent that that was the case in both the Roman and African/Near Eastern tribal societies, I would hope no one would advocate it as a model for the church. I see you weren’t, but again, you really need a better word for what you are advocating.

  17. Nicholas Anton says


    While it is true that in contemporary English speaking society patriarchy tends to designate chauvinist male rule. The Greek term in itself does not do so. According to Vine, the Greek word PATRIARCH comes from “patria” (not pater) a family, and “archo” to rule. Even the term “PATER” carries similar meaning as to how I use the term. Again, according to Vine, it is derived from a root signifying a nourisher, protector, upholder, a) of the nearest ancestor; b) of a remote ancestor, the progenitor of people, a forefather.

    I am at this time simply not able to find a term to clearly designate what I am trying to say. I am trying to say that the Bible teaches a form of family rule, in contrast to bureaucratic rule as practiced by monarchs, Rome, and even Greek democracies.