“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1, NKJV)
Oftentimes we may hear of churches that are looking to appoint good men in the role of elders and deacons. Many times, the search is extensive but comes up empty.
Some men will not have a desire to serve (although I believe that a man should look at that verse with a different perspective than as a qualification - it isn't a qualification, but more an attribute of the heart of the servant), while others will not qualify scripturally.
I can't imagine a search being this difficult in the early church. True, there would be men that would not be qualified, but at the same token, men would set their minds and hearts toward being qualified for the honor of serving God in such a capacity.
I believe there are a handful of challenges in the church of today related to this problem of not having qualified leaders readily available, and here are a few of those thoughts for your consideration.
- Education - the church, as a whole, is doing a poor job of educating men and women on the roles, duties, honor, and qualifications of serving God in whatever capacity that may be. This needs to start in our young people's classes, and not when a man reaches "40ish" years old. We need to reiterate in the primary years of a teen how important it is to keep their lives clean and pure for the honor and ability to serve God to the fullest of capacities. Then, we need to be having leadership classes for our younger men and their wives. Not just for elders and deacons, but for those that will be praying publicly, leading in song service, giving devotionals and/or preaching, preparing and serving the Lord's Supper, and reverence in worship. Afterward, we need to reinforce these applications in the later years before one is asked about serving and not just at the time in which they are needed to serve. It is my belief that a man (or woman in their respective applications) should be prepared and ready to serve in all facets they can whenever that call comes for that purpose.
- Desire - yes, I am bringing this up again. "the man that desireth the office of a bishop, desireth a good work." One should have a desire to serve in that capacity...not a guilt trip, but a desire; not of necessity, but a desire. That desire starts much younger than the age of a typical elder. In that desire will also come a sense of responsibility and a perspective of self-control when battling temptation. It does not take much temptation to overpower the desire of the heart of the servant. It only takes just enough that one succumbs to the will of Satan to disqualify a man (or through his relationship with his wife) from serving God in the arrangement that the Bible describes. Part of this comes from a lack of desire.
- Encouragement - The church needs continual encouragement in order to "grow" qualified men to serve God in a role such as I am describing. Not encouragement of a notoriety in a good name as a servant, but more in the encouragement that if a man is to serve, that he has our full support and encouragement. "Fried elder" might taste good for a brief moment, but the bitterness of the aftertaste can last much longer than the sweetness of that taste of discouraging words or actions. Too many times, I and others may find themselves being the Sunday afternoon coach in church matters or matters that the overseers must attend. What I mean is easily understood. That one play that the coach calls during the game that does not end up the way I thought it should, and I yell out "come on, that was not the smartest decision!" Yet, sometimes, the play that was called may end up being a huge catalyst in the preparation of winning the game. The same applies to decisions of our overseers. In their wisdom, there are decisions that must be made for the betterment of the church. They may seem selfish at times, or even counterproductive; however, sometimes, we may not see that in the locker room that the "star quarterback" has said something like, "coach, I can't run that play right now. There is a defender that has figured out our scheme and that play will result in a fumble or interception in my best opinion." Maybe there was a member that mentioned to the elders that their heart was heavy due to something that had or is transpiring within the church, such as a short dress that a young lady might be wearing, and that eldership responded by asking the young lady or her parents to sit in an area in which she could still participate in worship, but not be seen of others, or maybe even that she may need to go home to change and come back if another suitable answer is not available. I have seen that decision made, and the result was not "thank you for helping keep temptation from my mind and heart," but was a case of "fried elder" in a response of "I can't believe that they told her she could not stay for worship because of that!" It happens.
- Love for God's divine plan - God divinely set up through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in a patternistic approach, the principle of church leadership. It is not our duty, responsibility, nor authority to change such. If a man cannot and does not meet the qualifications as set forth in the Holy Writ of inspiration, then that man cannot and should not serve. No matter how many people believe that he would make a great "asset" to the church since he is a successful business person, coach, teacher, or encourager. With that said; however, the reverse should be true as well. A man must purpose in his heart to live a life loving God in that in all that he is capable, he should desire to please God. That would include in the purity of his life in being the husband of one wife, patience in making level-headed and longsuffering decisions that affect souls, the absence of blame in matters that can take a toll on the man or the church and so on. This doesn't mean that one cannot change and become qualified. While there are certain qualifications that can never be "fixed" once broken, many of the qualifications are simply patterns of good Christianity and through the forgiveness of sins and repentance, some of these "wrongs" can be made right again. If you envision the early church leaders, there is probably not a single one of them that had led a completely perfect life. It is my thought through study, that possibly some of the early elders might have even been men that stood at the foot of the cross yelling "crucify Him," in a misguided and misconception of who Jesus truly was. Think of His own brother James, for example. I doubt He was yelling "crucify Him" at the cross, but the word of God tells me that he did not believe that He was the Messiah and son of God until later in life. James grew to become one of the great missionaries of the Bible, and most likely - from the text in which Paul is meeting with the elders, is himself an elder.
Friends, this article is not meant to be condemning, nor judgmental. It is intended to encourage the hearts of men and women of all ages to look at the role of leadership in the church as an opportunity to serve God in a much better way. Not to qualify each and every servant of the Lord in my eyes, but in the hearts of many as is outlined in the Bible.
I would ask you to consider that if you are not living a life that could be counted as "qualified" and you are a Christian - whether young or old - that you do your absolute best to "fix" those things that may not allow you to be qualified to serve as an elder or deacon. But, if you cannot be qualified due to the nature of the qualifications of family or gender, or if you cannot fix all things - as has been mentioned, not all can be - then do your absolute best to serve God in the fullest of capacities in which you can, and most importantly, help someone else begin their Christian journey in such a way that they one day could be considered "desiring a good work."
This is written in all love and sincerity. Some of my thoughts are my own, while others are direct statements from the Holy Writ. I hope you have found this topic worthy of more study.
In love for Him and the church,