Thinking Wrongly About Leadership

I do believe the church would be healthier if we spotted these problems and in shining the light on them finally got rid of them.

If our reading of 1 Timothy 3 leads us to believe that no one’s qualified or that almost everyone is qualified, we haven’t understood the passage. Paul wrote to Timothy with the full expectation that he would be able to find men like this in the churches he was serving. And he also wrote with the full expectation that some would be disqualified from the office.

 

When we think wrongly about leadership in the church, the church suffers. Sometimes we make the wrong people leaders. Other times we distort the relationship between the church and her leaders. What follows below is an attempt to kindly point out three of the most common errors I’ve seen in reformed churches when thinking about the leadership of elders in Jesus’ church.

(Our church family is looking forward to an election for new elders this week. Over the past two Sundays I’ve preached and taught on the moral and spiritual qualifications for the elders. These thoughts come from those sermons.)

Error #1 – Not Reading 1 Timothy 3 Correctly

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives to Timothy — and through Timothy to the church — the list of moral qualifications for elders. He includes positives such as “above reproach…self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…” He also includes negatives like “not a drunkard, not violent…” And then he gives three final qualifications with reasons attached to them: an elder must show good household management, not be a recent convert and needs a good reputation. The list itself is clear and easy to understand.

But I’ve noticed people interpreting this list in two wrong ways. The first is to read these qualifications as the law of God against which no infraction can be tolerated. In this way of reading, no one will be qualified except those who have successfully pretended to be perfect. The second is to read these qualifications as some good suggestions but not hard-and-fast rules. In this way of reading, almost every man in the congregation seems eligible for the office of elder.

If our reading of 1 Timothy 3 leads us to believe that no one’s qualified or that almost everyone is qualified, we haven’t understood the passage. Paul wrote to Timothy with the full expectation that he would be able to find men like this in the churches he was serving. And he also wrote with the full expectation that some would be disqualified from the office. Reading 1 Timothy 3 requires wisdom, realizing the balance: God doesn’t require perfection in leaders but that He does require godliness.

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