*This is part 2 of a previous post – So You Aspire to the Office of an Elder.
If a man walked into my office and said that he felt a calling to be an elder in the local church, I would counsel the man according to the qualifications of an elder found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. I would speak with the man about his calling and election – to make sure they are true (2 Peter 1:10). I would then look into the man’s life and verify that he understands the depth of responsibility for that office and I would further examine his life in accordance with the qualifications found in Scripture. Below you will see the areas of his life that I would examine, critique, and ask serious questions about.
- Does this man have a firm understanding of his conversion by Christ?
- How is he skilled in teaching the Word?
- How trustworthy is this man in the eyes of people?
- How faithful is this man to his wife?
- What is this man’s character like?
- How faithful is he to the local church?
- How involved is he in ministry areas?
- Is this man a self-controlled man?
- How is his reputation in the community?
- How does the man handle money?
- How faithful is he to his family?
- How long has he been a believer?
Does this man have a firm understanding of his conversion by Christ?
Every few years I run across men who were already serving in ministry before they were converted. Likewise, I unfortunately hear stories about unconverted men who were serving in ministry and eventually walked away from the pulpit and the faith after ripping apart a local church. Therefore, it is essential that any man who desires the office of an elder should be a genuine Christian. The office of an elder is not a CEO position in the business world, rather, it’s an office of oversight and ministry through the Word of God.
How is he skilled in teaching the Word?
A quick glance at the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 for the office of elder and deacon will reveal many similarities. However, if you view them a bit closer, you will see one of the main distinctions in the office of elder and deacon is that the office of elder requires giftedness in teaching the Word. You can be a deacon and serve the church faithfully without any giftedness in teaching the Word, but you can’t be called by God to be an elder unless God has equipped you with the ability to teach the Bible. I would look at his teaching ability and ask myself if his giftedness is obvious to those under his teaching ministry (small groups, Sunday school, or any other area of teaching). If the church doesn’t seem to verify his teaching ability, it could be that he isn’t called to the office of an elder.
How trustworthy is this man in the eyes of people?
Is this man trustworthy? A man with a character that does not allow people to extend trust toward him will never be able to serve as an elder in the church. Beyond teaching the Bible, an elder is to care for the flock of God. Pastoral care involves counseling people, leading people, serving people, and preaching the Word to people. If the people can’t trust an elder – his ministry will not be effective in any of his required areas.
How faithful is this man to his wife?
The covenant of marriage is extremely important as it displays a picture of the gospel. If a man cannot be faithful to his wife, he cannot effectively lead the church or preach Ephesians 5 to his congregation. Therefore, any man who is unfaithful to his bride will likely be unfaithful to God’s bride – the church. Steadfastness is required in marriage and it’s also required in ministry.
What is this man’s character like?
What is character? Someone once said, “Character is what you are when you’re all alone in the dark.” The reality is, character is something that can be faked for a while, but eventually the mask will be removed through life events. How does a man handle his time, finances, family, relationships, and other areas of life? Can he be trusted? Solid character is essential for the office of an elder. “Their [godly elders] humility makes them difficult to offend; their holiness makes them easy to trust; their gentle speech makes them easy to hear as sources of correction or critique; and their hospitality provides a context for spiritual encouragement and edification.”1
How faithful is he to the local church?
It sounds crazy, but if a man can’t be found faithfully attending the gathering of the church for worship, how does he expect to lead the church? Furthermore, a lack of attendance with the gathered church is a deeper problem than his name not appearing on the list with a checkmark beside it. Mark Dever writes, “Nonattendance, in the early years of our church, was considered one of the most sinister of sins, because it usually veiled all the other sins. When someone began to be in sin, you would expect them to stop attending.”2 How can a man be called by God to lead as an elder if he doesn’t have a desire to be with the church for prayer, singing, giving, and preaching of Scripture? The gathered assembly is first about God, but we must not forget the importance of loving one another, bearing one another’s burdens, and serving with our spiritual gifts. Hebrews 10:25 warns us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and any man who has a problem in this area will likely never gain the trust of the congregation for oversight as an elder.
How involved is he in ministry areas?
The man who desires the office of an elder should be examined in the area of his current ministry service. How is he serving the people? Does he seem to have a burden for people? Does he seem to have a desire to teach, serve, and love people? How faithful is he in his service to the Lord? These are important things to consider before confirming any man to the office of an elder.
Is this man a self-controlled man?
Does the man who aspires to the office of an elder seem to have self-control in the area of finances? Does he exhibit self-control in the area of his fleshly appetites? Does he display self-control when put under pressure? Is he a man who has a short fuse and is constantly losing his temper? A self-controlled man will be someone who can keep his tongue, his spending habits, his eating habits, and his sexual behavior in submission to the Holy Spirit. Any man who is unable to be self-controlled in his lifestyle is someone who will bring reproach upon the name of Christ and shame to the church of the living God. Don Whitney writes, “Our bodies are inclined to ease, pleasure, gluttony, and sloth. Unless we practice self-control, our bodies will tend to serve evil more than God.”3
How is his reputation in the community?
The elder’s responsibility is to care for the church – not the community. However, if the elder has a poor reputation in the community, he will never be able to lead the church to reach the community with the gospel. Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 to “do the work of an evangelist.” Timothy was an elder and served as pastor of the church at Ephesus. However, he was called by God to be directly involved in the work of evangelism in the community. The secular community may not “love” an elder in a church because of his faithfulness to the gospel, but the community should not be able to classify the man as unfaithful to the gospel.
How does the man handle money?
Thomas Watson writes, “Solomon got more hurt by his wealth, than he got good by his wisdom.”4 History is replete with elders who have been swept away by the rushing tide of financial mismanagement. Unfortunately, when Satan causes an elder to fall in the area of money, it brings great harm to the congregation and a lack of trust toward pastoral leadership. Is the man above reproach in the area of money? Can he be trusted? Is he greedy in this area in his own personal life? Is he constantly trying to gain in the area of finances? Could it be said that he is constantly trying to leverage money to his benefit when financial decisions are made in his ministry area? Any man who has sticky fingers or crafty motives should not be established as an elder in a local congregation.
How faithful is he to his family?
If a man is unable to pastor his family, how is he going to pastor a larger family made up of many families known as the church? Faithfulness in the small areas of life are proving markers of trust prior to moving to larger areas of trust. When it comes to the church, the way a man leads his family is the way he will lead the church. If he is disorganized at home, he will likewise be disorganized in ministry leadership. If he places little emphasis upon prayer in the home, he will likewise place little emphasis upon it in ministry. If his family life is centered around worldly things, his ministry will likewise follow that same pattern.
How long has he been a believer?
Beyond a true conversion, the elder should have a certain amount of spiritual maturity prior to taking his office of oversight. Each case is unique and some people mature quickly, but we must note the clear warning that the Scripture provides regarding the dangers of a recent convert being elevated to the office of elder. 1 Timothy 3:6 says, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” How does one define “recent convert” in this passage? Is one or two years a recent convert? Once again, I think it should be examined on an individual case, but in all cases the warning should be taken seriously.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “The true shepherd spirit is an amalgam of many precious graces. He is hot with zeal, but he is not fiery with passion. He is gentle, and yet he rules his class. He is loving, but he does not wink at sin. He has power over the lambs, but he is not domineering or sharp. He has cheerfulness, but not levity; freedom, but not license; solemnity, but not gloom.”
For His glory!
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. Mark Dever and Paul Alexander – The Deliberate Church, 154.
2. Mark Dever – Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 171.
3. Don Whitney – Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 132.
4. Thomas Watson – A Puritan Golden Treasury, 249.