God speaks often and clearly regarding church leadership. Knowing who should lead the church really should not be a discussion. Just a cursory glance in the publishing world and social media seems to indicate massive confusion on who should lead the church and is qualified to teach. TBN habitually assaults God’s will by promoting false teachers. Yet it thrives because viewers lack discernment. False teachers continue to thrive on this platform. Followers become like their false teacher. The cycle is vicious and self-destructive.
If more people had convictions about leaders and understood Scripture, the church landscape would look vastly different in publishing, radio, and television. Now there would probably be less mega churches, but the gospel witness would be much stronger with more integrity. Discipleship would be stronger and less reliant upon one man.
It’s easy to read passages and think, “This does not meet my immediate needs.” When it comes to passages about leadership, it would seem most people skip over Titus 1. But every believer needs to have convictions regarding church leaders. Church leadership criteria are not only for Elders and men who aspire to be, but every believer needs to know the criteria. I pray every person in my church could explain what an elder is and defend against unbiblical standards. I’d love to know a wife discouraged her husband from pursuing leadership because she knew he wasn’t qualified biblically. It would be awesome to know she said, “You need to grow in this area to be qualified.” Or to hear a non-elder tell a young believer, “He is an Elder according to Titus 1:5-9.”
First, there are criteria about church leaders and God wants us to follow it. I often hear people defend leaders with subjective criteria. “He is so personable.” “She is sincere.” “He doesn’t speak down on me.” Now let’s be clear, those are nice traits, but not biblical requirements. Some people recognize a teacher must preach the truth yet still supports the pastor despite their sinful character. When the Bible spells out the criteria for an elder (the pastor is an elder), God actually demands the elder fit the entire criteria, not just a majority. Scripture speaks. It is clear. We must use His Word when evaluating men. God says the man must be above reproach.
Second, the church needs convictions about what a leader should be. Not only do we need to know there are criteria for an elder, we need to be aware of the standards. An elder must be a man (1 Tim 3:1-2), mature (1 Tim 3:6), have the right character (1 Tim 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-8), able to handle the Word of God (Titus 1:9), and the desire to shepherd the flock (1 Tim 3:1; 1 Peter 5:2). Paul says an elder must be above reproach. What does that mean? This is not subjective. I’ve heard people say, “Elders don’t see R rated movies, dance, participate in Halloween, or drink.”
Well, an elder may do none of those things, but those are not the criteria for an elder. Paul says above reproach means, “The husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money, who manages his household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1 Tim 3:2-4) For a longer treatment (see here). “Above reproach” is not a subjective term, it’s a shorthand way of listing the above criteria.
Elders need to be mature converts, not new to the faith (1 Tim 3:6). It is important to maintain humility. Becoming an Elder too early puffs men up disqualifying them for ministry. Elders serve an important purpose, they serve the church by teaching them. Men must know the Word well enough to encourage, exhort, reprove, and rebuke with great patience and instruction (2 Tim. 4:2). They need enough doctrinal discernment to refute those who contradict and silence them through sound teaching (Titus 1:9). The Elders’ goal is always to shepherd God’s people (1 Peter 5:2). “Pastors are Shepherds who preach, not preachers who shepherd” (Rick Holland see see interview).
Third, the character requirements for elders are required for every believer. I pray every believer qualifies for leadership. God calls every believer to the same character as elders. Think of how absurd this would be. “Oh Johnny, yeah he has three girlfriends and is a complete drunk, but that’s okay, he isn’t an elder.” None of us should be okay with this. Believers desire to live godly lives. Elders should exemplify godliness (1 Peter 5:3). In fact, read Titus 2. The list there restates an elder’s character. God defines older men and women by their character and conduct. Each of us should grow into these exemplifying them regardless of title or position.
Fourth, believers should be able to teach sound doctrine. Just like believers should emulate elders in conduct, each of us should be able to teach and defend sound doctrine. I hear, “I’m just simple country folk, not a theologian.” “Theology isn’t my thing.” “I don’t like to read.” You may be a simple country person, but God calls us all to know His Word (Psalm 1), teach it (Hebrews 5:12), and speak truth in love to one another (Eph 4:15). We cannot say, “I don’t need to study because I’m not a leader.” No, every believer should say, “Lord I want your Word because it is Your Word teaching me about You!”
Since every believer is called to grow and then to instruct younger believers (Titus 2:1-8), we all need to know the truth. But think about this. If every person in the church was able to articulate and teach what a leader must be, then would we be ashamed of some “churches?”
It is the church’s responsibility to know and discern God’s will for an elder. It is our responsibility to emulate our elders in their walk with Christ too (1 Cor. 11:1). The reason for a poor church landscape is circular. Churches allow disqualified men (and women) to serve as Elders. They then teach what we want to hear or leave out what we need to hear. Our criteria is wrong and our living is wrong. But those faithful churches who exhibit, teach, and require godly living will receive the crown of glory. Keep running the race and pray the Lord would raise the bar where He established it in our churches. If your church exhibits godly practices about leaders, thank them and praise the Lord for His grace.