A brief look at how God desires church leaders to be selected & organized
Posted on September 24, 2016
"...shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."
1 Peter 5:2-4
Scripture makes plain that there are wonderful blessings to serving as an overseer in the church, both now and in eternity. At the same time, it is not without weighty responsibility; to shepherd is to take on the care of a flock, with oversight and attention given to the needs of the whole as well as to the needs of each particular member. Just as a literal shepherd must labour for the sake of the sheep, shepherding the church will require real labour, and even great sacrifice, for the sake of the wellbeing of the sheep.
We understand that this is not a responsibility that one should enter into lightly, nor is it one that we would want to flippantly or carelessly thrust upon another. Those who serve ought to be prepared to do so with wisdom, eagerness, and integrity; choosing those who will serve becomes a significant and sobering task. Indeed, ensuring that the right leaders are selected and agreed upon by the members is one of our most important tasks as a church, therefore we need to give careful consideration; doing so in a way that demonstrates wisdom and careful attention to the precepts and proscriptions of the Bible.
Unfortunately, churches have not always approached this matter well — it is common for congregations to give primary consideration for leadership to those who have made a mark in the corporate world or to those who tend exude natural charisma or charm. Another potential pitfall is to select leaders based solely upon the particular skills that they bring, or solely with the intention of creating a kind of 'representational' cross-section of the congregation around the table; which are secondary concerns at best. All of this is natural, of course, because of the difficult nature of discerning between what might contribute to worldly success for an organization and what might foster the God-honouring formation of a congregation.
It is the desire of this congregation to honour God even in the way(s) that we organize ourselves. Our primary concern is not what is popular, pragmatic, or professional, but rather that which is faithful to the will of God, in whom we live and move and have our being.
We believe that Scripture teaches that there are actually two main kinds of leaders that God calls and equips for the benefit of His Church, which we label as 'Ministry Council' and 'Ministry Coordinators':
The group that we have named the 'Ministry Council' — those who are set apart to lead, feed, guard and equip the church spiritually — is referred to in Scripture using a variety of terms: elders (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:6; 1 Pe 5:1; 1 Tim 4:14; Jas 5:14; ), overseers (Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-2; 5:17; Titus 1:5-9; ), leaders (Heb 13:17), and shepherds (1 Pe 5:2). At Zion Baptist Community Church, as per our constitution, our Council consists of at minimum the Senior Pastor, the Associate Pastors, the Moderator, and four additional Council members.
We do not have a 'Church Board'.
Our Ministry Council does not function as a board of directors, which represents the interests of shareholders, nor does it function as a managerial group to develop policy and maintain the efficiency of our organization. Rather, it is a council of equals who strive to seek God's will for the individual members and the body, ensuring that our thought and practice is in accord with His Word. Whatever authority or rule the elders may hold (1Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17), it is only that which is delegated by Jesus as our head (Eph 1:22-23), and the church which they serve. Although the Ministry Council will indeed deal with issues such as staffing, budgeting, policy matters, etc..., the primary concern for this group is the spiritual wellbeing of the congregation through leading, feeding, guarding and equipping.
For this reason, we must place a far greater emphasis on character in selecting people for this task, than we do on the skill(s) that they possess; God's priority for each of His sheep is the heart, and this is no less true of those who are tasked with the great responsibility of leading the flock. The most comprehensive list that we find in Scripture is in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone desires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must mange his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well though of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
As we briefly consider each qualification, let us not be guided by rigid legalism — we should not impose/expect standards on others that we ourselves could not possibly meet this side of eternity — but rather let us consider the gifts that God has already placed in our church, the fruit that is evident in the lives of His followers, and the discernible actions and attitudes of our fellow church members. Consider the following traits and pray for one another — examine your own life closely and pray that God would continue to raise up leaders who strive for Christlikeness:
Desiring a Noble Task
To be one of the spiritual leaders/overseers in a church is a noble task because there is beauty in modelling Christ for his people. To aspire to be a leader in the church is good and godly. To challenge someone to be worthy of consideration is another way of saying: "This is what Christian maturity looks like — strive for it." This is not something that should be done reluctantly or out of obligation (1 Pe 5:2), but should be seen as a wonderful privilege.
Being above reproach does not mean that someone maintains sinless perfection. It means that their demeanour and behaviour over time have garnered respect and admiration from others. We must seek those whose inner and outer lives are sewn together by integrity and Christlikeness — this is something that all Christians should embody, but those who serve as the shepherds of a church must.
The Husband of One Wife
There are differences of opinion among Christians as to how to interpret this qualification, but the phrase in 1 Timothy literally reads "one-woman man" — referring to the preservation of the sanctity of marriage vows. We do not believe that this means that a Council member must be married; it is a requirement of sexual purity among single and married members. Sexual purity is emphasized as a prerequisite for holding this important office, because of its important apologetic and evangelistic function in Christian witness (e.g. Eph 4: 17-24; 5:3-14).
Sober-Minded, Self-Controlled, Respectable
Temperate people are free from the excessive influence of passion, lust or emotion. We are called to be sober in our desires, feelings and attitudes; we place limits on our freedoms, controlling our emotions and our actions.
Hospitality tangibly expresses our love of God, demonstrates our care for strangers, enables evangelism, and facilitates discipleship and fellowship. Churches should be filled with people given to this particular act of love (1 Pe 4:8-9), and the church's leaders should be examples of hospitality.
Able to Teach
Every other attribute listed by Paul should typify the character of every maturing Christian, but the quality "able to teach" is the one peculiar gift required for those who would serve as elders/overseers/pastors/shepherds. This does not mean that all must teach; it refers simply to the ability to communicate and apply the truth of Scripture with clarity, coherence and truthfulness. Those who have this ability handle the Scripture with fidelity, and others are edified when they do — this may occur from the pulpit, it may mean gifting in other public teaching settings, or it may mean simply being gifted for one-on-one or small-group settings. In order for the truth to continue to be transmitted, regardless of the context, our leaders must be able to teach and defend it well.
Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking
When the enemy attacks with ploys and schemes, the church needs leaders who will give the people a model of soberness and peace. We do not view any of the qualifications to this office as prohibitions against alcohol, but as a call to abstain from any kind of addiction — leaders must be able to model the ability to live free of addictions and compulsions. Gentleness must control the way of the shepherd, and rather than engaging in arguments, they must patiently instruct.
Not a Lover of Money
Paul has in view indecent, dishonourable gain. Interestingly, the New Testament uses the term "lover of money" only in 1 Timothy 3:3; 8 and Titus 1:7, where Paul describes qualifications for elders and deacons. It would seem the Lord has a unique concern for an elder's attitude toward money — they must renounce greed and love for money.
The word "manage" in 1 Timothy 3:5 is the same word used of the good Samaritan who risked himself to bandage and care for a wounded traveler (Lk 10:25-37). The Samaritan responded to the traveler's hurt with caring supervision and concern — precisely what the prospective elder will be called to do in the church.
If someone supervises but fails to nurture is like an absentee landlord. On the other hand, if they only nurture but fail to supervise, they won't give appropriate guidance. Those who manage their own homes with gentleness and concern, which strikes a balance between supervision and nurture, reflect the handling of the churches by the apostles (1 Thess 2:7-8; 11-12).
Paul's instruction here does not call for a perfect home and perfect children — if that were the case, we would not find any qualified leaders! It may be that a child is spiritually lost and struggling, and there may be other difficult circumstances. The question is if the children generally remain obedient and respectful.
Mature and Humble
The requirement of maturity means that any potential leader must not be a new believer. A new convert will be unable to withstand the steady trampling that comes with shepherding — they need time to be instructed, shaped and cared for, and are not ready to provide this for others. Indeed, an immature person thrust into this role "may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil" — a fearsome result that we would be negligent to impose on a brother or sister.
Respected by Outsiders
Finally, it's interesting to note that, apparently, what unbelievers think matters in this matter. One who desires to be a leader of the church must possess a strong reputation among those who are not Christians. It might even be said that neutral opinions are not enough, since "he must be well thought of." If one is well regarded within the church but poorly regarded without, they do not qualify as a suitable candidate. Those who serve as elders on our Ministry Council must commend the gospel and everything that conforms to sound doctrine. Even the Christian's enemies should feel ashamed about their evil comments in the face of a life lived well for Christ (1 Pe 3:16). This is the kind of person that we should ask God for when it comes to this office in the church.
While the Ministry Council serves the overall spiritual needs of the church, those who serve as Ministry Coordinators serve the practical or physical needs of the church.
The practice of appointing a second group of leaders to care for the physical needs of the church is first seen in Acts 6:1-7. As the church grew in number, the apostles realized that they were neglecting the "...preaching of the word to serve tables." So they chose seven men from among the believers — "men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" — and tasked them with taking care of the needs of the people while the apostles devoted themselves "to pray and to the ministry of the word." This should not be read as proscribing a 'two-tiered' system of leaders. Rather, we should see the value of a model that allows for two kinds of leaders to complement one another, with the goal of providing for the spiritual and the physical care of the church simultaneously. One pastor stated the value of this second office well:
To modern sensibilities, "serving tables" sometimes connotes a low-level, demeaning position. A person waits tables when he or she is working through college, or passing time until a career takes off. People regard it as a necessary sacrifice...But how different it is in the Lord's church! The apostles under the inspiration of God's Spirit appear to have created an entirely new office in the church for the specific purpose of serving tables. And the loftiness of the office is seen in (a) the character of the individuals required to fill it ("full of the Spirit and of wisdom"), (b) the fact that it facilitates the ministry of Word and prayer, and (c) the unifying and strengthening effect it has on the whole church. The diaconate is important!
The most comprehensive lists or qualifications for those who serve in this way can be found in Acts 6:3 & 1 Timothy 3:8-13:
...pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom...
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Let's consider the qualifications for those who might fill the roles of "deacons" at Zion — our beloved and valued Ministry Coordinators:
Full of the Spirit and Wisdom
Although the duties of a Ministry Coordinator will be mostly practical in nature, we know that even our eating and drinking is a matter of the heart (1 Cor 10:31). Therefore, the apostles chose those who were proven to be controlled by God's Spirit, rather than their own flesh or sinful nature. Essentially, these ought to be people who "delight in the law of the Lord" (Ps 1:2) and who know how to apply God's Word to their lives.
They must mean what they say and say what they mean, avoiding the sin of flattery and speaking the truth in love, as a reflection of the character of Christ. Because the specific roles in our church may require these leaders to involve themselves in intimate matters of a person's life, sincerity, honesty and integrity are crucial to all Ministry Coordinator positions.
Sober & Content
Paul instructs Timothy and us that those who serve should not be "addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain." Like elders, deacons should be sober and self-controlled. They should not be people who take advantage of others for their own profit and benefit.
As is the case with those who serve on the Ministry Council, we do not have in view a prohibition against alcohol, but as a call to abstain from any kind of addictive behaviour. Leaders must be able to model the ability to live free of addictions and compulsions.
Keeps Hold of the Faith
Because all church leaders are to be servants that point others to Jesus, they should be able to articulate and explain the main points of the gospel and of Christianity; those who serve in any of the Ministry Coordinator roles should know and understand the claims of the Bible. They must not be an unbeliever, unsound in the faith or unable to give a credible profession of faith and knowledge of the gospel; they must live a life worthy of the Christian calling (Eph 4:1). In short, we are looking for people who know the truth of God's Word in their own converting experience and with sufficient understanding to live and model it for others.
Tried & True
Serving others will test the depth of our love, the length of our patience, the quality of our endurance, and even the permanence of our joy. It is important that these leaders have demonstrated perseverance.
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."