The Work of the Shepherds (Part Two)
Job Requirements for Elders/Overseers/Pastors:
© C. O. Bishop 7/28/16 THCF 7/31/16
1st Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1st Peter 5:1-4
Last time, we talked about the Work of the Shepherds, and we concentrated on the nature of the job: what the shepherd is expected to do. Where I work, as part of my job, I teach classes on Certified Welding Inspection. In the course of the 12-week class, we thoroughly discuss the nature of the job, and how to accomplish each task. My goal is to prepare the students for a national exam offered locally, twice a year. That exam consists of three 2-hour tests, all of which have to be passed, in order to qualify for certification. You really have to be well prepared, in order to pass. The exam costs over $1000, to apply… if you fail, you do not get a refund.
Welding inspection is serious business. A team of welding inspectors over in Minneapolis, a few years back, found cracks in a bridge. They recommended more inspections. (How would that help?? The welds are already cracked!) The bridge collapsed soon afterward, during rush-hour traffic, killing a number of innocent people. No inspector was held responsible…they had properly inspected, and had found the cracks. Someone else had made the decision to keep using the bridge. As far as I know, no one was held responsible. But God does hold the Shepherds accountable for what they do with his flock! The job of shepherding a church is far more serious than that of inspecting welds. Remember what God said in Ezekiel 34: “Woe unto you shepherds!” Why? Because they had not been doing the job correctly. He charged them with seven counts of nonfeasance of duty, including at least one of outright malfeasance. Spiritual Shepherding affects lives for eternity…not just for today.
When I train welding inspectors, one of the things that comes up is the qualifications for the job. One requirement, obviously, is passing those three rigorous tests. But other qualifications have to do with the inspector’s level of education and/or experience. Still others have to do with visual acuity. One of my students was deeply disappointed to find that color-blindness is a disqualifier, too. His vision was otherwise good, and he has the necessary education and experience, as well as stellar character; but he suffered from one particular type of color-blindness (blue-green, I think); so, no matter how else he was qualified, that one thing disqualified him. It is a sad situation, but that is the truth. It is possible for a person to be of stellar character in every other way, but still be disqualified from a particular job for something very simple. I knew a man who was a fighter-pilot, in a certain specific type of military aircraft. He assured me that it was entirely possible to be “too big for the job.” (Sorry—you do have to be able to fit into that thing, mister!) It was a simple fact of practicality, and reflected in no way on the person.
So, along with the discussion regarding the work of Shepherds, we find it necessary to talk about the job requirements of Elders. I am deliberately changing nouns, here, because it is possible for a person to carry out much of the work of shepherding, without being an Elder. All Elders are responsible, at one level or another, for shepherding, but not all shepherds are Elders.
Qualifications of Elders (Including Overseers, Bishops, Pastors, etc.)
There are three primary passages which lay out the prerequisites—the job qualifications—of church leadership; specifically, the office of “Bishop” (also called Elder, Pastor, Overseer, Shepherd, and Presbyter.) If you are taking notes, it would be good to write down these three references:
- 1st Timothy 3:1-7
- Titus 1:5-9
- 1st Peter 5:1-4
Collectively, these three passages give the full list of qualifications, but they only discuss the nature of the job itself in very brief terms. The passage we read two weeks ago, in Ezekiel 34, gave a much fuller treatise on the nature of the job…but no qualifications. So these are “companion passages” with the one in Ezekiel, along with many others which touch individually upon specific aspects of the job, or specific character requirements.
Now, some may think that the qualifications are too stringent: sorry—I did not write them. On the other hand, it is possible to interpret those requirements in such a way as to render them so restrictive as to be useless. We want to avoid the latter, while not diminishing in any way the gravity of the job, and the serious nature of the qualifications. In order to do so, we must bear in mind the purpose of the requirements: we are to use these requirements as a means by which to recognize someone whom God is raising up as a leader…not to “screen out” people we consider to be “unworthy”, or something.
To begin with, I must point out that these requirements are also not a “grab-bag”; they are neither a smorgasbord, nor a “wish-list”. They are real requirements, and every elder is required to fit all of them, to one degree or another. We recognize that different peoples’ gifts will make them “shine” in one area, while they are “just satisfactory” in others. That is another good reason for a plurality of elders in a church. The gifts of all those elders, hopefully, will supplement and complement one another, to better meet the needs of the Church.
1st Timothy 3:1-7 (Speaking about Elders/Overseers.)
1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
We can see a clear list of requirements; some are easily understood, some not so easily. We will try to discuss them all.
Job Requirements from 1st Timothy 3:
- Desiring the job. If a person is unwilling to take the responsibility, or simply hasn’t the heart for the work, then they should not be considered for the office of Elder, even though they may qualify in every other way. In this sense, I could say it is a “calling”, though I am careful with that word. Every single believer is called to serve. (Romans 8:28-30)
- Blameless—above reproach. This literally means “there is nothing in his life that one could lay hold of” and make legitimate accusation. It embraces all that follows, so that the list is not a smorgasbord, from which you just choose as many as you want. They all have to be there.
- Husband of one wife. This is one that invites controversy. On the one extreme, we have those who insist that the candidate must be married, and can only have been married once: if his wife dies or leaves him, regardless of circumstance, he is no longer qualified. On the other side we have those who say it only means a “one-woman man”.
The fact is, it does literally say “man of one woman” in the Greek. But, the Greek words andra, (Man) and guné (Woman) are also used to mean “husband” and “wife”. So it could mean “husband of one wife”. I try to compare the whole context, here: all the requirements—all of them—are character traits, or gifting. If this one is a “track-record” issue, rather than a character trait, then it is the only one such. In every case, the current track-record (perhaps since they have been a believer, or perhaps only since maturity as a believer) simply serves to demonstrates the character that God has developed in the man.
I have known several men whose wife left them under circumstances over which the man had no control. He never demonstrated any character flaw in the matter. But many organizations would reject him for service. On the other hand, I have observed that if there is a character flaw involved, it will eventually resurface, in a repeating pattern.
- This is one we are all urged to embrace. Peter said (1st Peter 5:8) “be sober; be vigilant…” why? Because there is a deadly enemy prowling the world. An Elder must be continually aware of the dangers to the flock.
- Same thing. It means taking life pretty seriously…and the work of the shepherd absolutely seriously. This isn’t “kid-stuff.”
- Of Good Behavior. Remember that an elder is to be setting an example for the rest of the flock. We see this one explained in 1st Peter 5:3.
- Given to Hospitality. The Greek word literally means the “love of the stranger” (philoxenon). It means that he is going to have an open-armed policy toward “outsiders”…welcoming them, not desiring to be isolated from them.
- Apt to teach. As far as I can tell, this is the only requirement that is a gifting issue. If it simply meant “able to teach” then it would be pointless, as everyone is able to teach something. But a teacher, in the New Testament is a person gifted to understand and transfer understanding of spiritual truth, from God’s Word, so that others can profit thereby. Some translations say “qualified” to teach; that is not accurate. The Greek word is “didaktikon”, and in modern Greek language it just means “teaching”, whereas “didaskalos” still means “teacher”.
- Not Given to Wine. This one seems obvious, but is reiterated elsewhere, as “not given to much wine”… in other words, he has no addiction to drink. I expect that we could extend that to other social drugs as well. It is just that alcohol was about the only one available in that time and place. But I do think it is talking about addictions, not dependencies. I don’t think that a person whose physical condition requires, by a doctor’s order, that they be on medication, is thereby disqualified from service. (But there have been organizations that took that stance.) This is talking about a character issue, not a medical issue.
- No Striker. Not a violent person. Not one who resorts to violence to assert his will, or to settle a dispute. It does not forbid self-defense, military service, police service, etc. There are many whose jobs occasionally require physical violence who have never been in a fight anywhere else. They simply do the job when it is required…it does not reflect on their character.
- Not Greedy of Filthy Lucre. Some translations say “sordid gain”. He’s not in the church for the sake of personal gain. Money is not an issue. No avarice in his character.
- This is actually translated from the Greek word epieike, and this is the only place it is translated “patient”—usually, it is translated “gentle”. Most newer translations render it that way. And, it fits, as it is in contrast to the next one:
- Not a Brawler. (Greek amachos) This is not just talking about physical fighting, but general cantankerousness…argumentativeness, belligerence…trouble-hunting. It literally means without striving, but it certainly would include without fighting.
- Not covetous. This one is similar to the one about “not greedy of sordid gain”…it literally means “free from the love of money.” (Greek philargurion “love of silver”)
- One Who Rules Well His Own House. This is strictly about family life; home life. How does he handle his own wife and kids? How does he treat them, and make decisions there? What have the results been?
- Not a Novice. A certain level of maturity and experience needs to be in place before a man should be considered for leadership. Fortunately, as maturity develops, a man who is gifted to serve in this capacity also begins serving, choosing to voluntarily shoulder responsibility, and faithfully discharging that responsibility. How a person takes responsibility and then does the task they have embraced is a good mark of maturity.
Appointing an immature believer to the office of an elder is a sure way to produce a stumbling block of pride in his life, possibly destroying the testimony of the man you were hoping to see in leadership. Be very careful not to cross this line. By the way, this has to do with spiritual maturity, not just chronological age. There are some who never grow up. Their age will not be the deciding factor, but rather their maturity in Christ.
- Having a good report of them which are without. How does the unbelieving community in your area see the man? Does he have a reputation for honesty, kindness, and integrity? Remember, those unbelievers are not enamored of his “pulpit presence” nor his “bedside manner.” They are dealing with him in entirely secular matters. How does he deal with the lost world around him, and how are they responding to him? (By the way, this rules out hiring a pastor from outside the community: a letter of recommendation cannot fulfil this requirement. And, how much more important it must be, that the local assembly of believers also know him and his family?)
Some of the above requirements are simply reiterated or re-stated, in Titus and 1st Peter, but we will address those passages as well.
Titus 1:5-9 (Speaking about Elders)
5For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:
6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
- Plurality of elders (as we have seen in every case) is taught here, in verse 5.
- Having believing children, not accused of riot or unruly. Verse 6 reiterates some of the qualifications listed in 1st Timothy, but expands upon the issue of children: This is where we get the idea that an elder’s children must not be “out of control”. There are people who take this to mean that “if he has no children, he is not qualified.” I believe if he does have children, and they are out of control, then perhaps he needs to deal with that, rather than further burdening himself with something bigger. Again, I think this is a case where “track-record demonstrates character”: one may have a reputation for having well-behaved children, and later those same children may choose to rebel and walk away from God. If a man has children at home, are they in good control? That is the issue.
- The overseer (bishop, elder) is the Steward of God. He has to be faithful to feed the flock. There can be no laxity in one’s attitude toward the task. (See 2nd Timothy 2:2 Reliability is the issue. Can the flock count on him…always?)
- Not self-willed. The Man of God has to be in submission to God. This is not a popularity contest, or a personality cult, so there is no place for a big ego. This is a place to emulate Christ, in saying “not my will, but Thine be done!” This is a place to take a step back, and put other people’s desires and plans ahead of his own.
- Not Soon Angry. Patience and long-suffering should preclude a “short fuse”, or a bad temper. It should be really difficult to get a man angry, who is truly submitted to God.
- A lover of good Men. Who does he hang around with? This is the old “birds of a feather flock together” idea. If you can see that the people around whom he is most comfortable are people who are secular, or ungodly, then maybe there is a hidden problem.
- Fair, in his dealings with others. Having a right walk with God, and demonstrating it, in his dealings with others.
- Separated to God’s service. He is no longer his own man. He belongs to Jesus.
- In good control in all areas of life. His sin nature is not in control…God is.
- Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught. Able to understand and remember sound doctrine, to the extent of being able and willing to stand for truth, and back it up from the Bible. Paul goes on to say that there are some people whose mouths need to be closed by sound teaching, to keep them from engaging in false teaching. That is part of the elder’s job, in defending the flock from predators.
1st Peter 5:1-4 (Speaking to Elders)
1The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.
4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Most of this passage is “task-oriented,” as to “how the job is to be carried out” but we can glean a few more job-requirement ideas, too:
- Not by Constraint. The task is to be done willingly, not “because you have to”. If you are unwilling, then don’t take the job. It is one thing to see the task as something that “needs to be done”, but entirely another to feel that you are being “forced” to do it.
- Not for Filthy Lucre. The elder is not to be motivated by a hope for gainful employment. That is not what this is about. Virtually every good pastor I have known could have earned better money elsewhere, in a secular job, with less stress. I know of a few exceptions, but the issue here, is that money is not to be what drives a man to serve.
- Of a Ready Mind. The elder is both a “draftee” and a volunteer. He is called to this work, possibly reluctantly (consider Jeremiah 1:4-7), but he is also a volunteer (consider Isaiah 6:1-8.) Yes, you have been “called,” but you still have to say, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” You have to answer that call willingly.
- Not as Lords over God’s Heritage. You are not the “Big Cheese”. If you want this job so people will honor you, you really should find something else to do—be a politician, maybe, or an entertainer. This is not about power, or position, or personal glory; it is about service, and submission to God.
- Examples to the Flock. You have to take this one seriously. You are a role model, whether you like it or not. You are supposed to be leading by example. It is not acceptable to not “practice what you preach.” You must lead by example.
- Finally: Expect your reward from Jesus. He is our master, and the one to whom we look for reward. If you get confused about that, so that being an elder or pastor is just a job; a way to earn an income, then you have forgotten whom you serve, and should just go get a secular job somewhere. If Jesus is really the One whom you serve, then all the frustrations of the job will just be part of dealing with Sheep, and you are joining the True Shepherd in His work, and will join him in his joy and His reward.
That is what the scriptures say regarding the qualification of Elders. God takes it seriously: I trust that we can also take it seriously, and apply it to our lives as a Church.
Lord Jesus, turn our eyes upon you, the Great Shepherd, and let us see your perfect example. Raise up men to oversee your flock. The Harvest is plenteous, as you have said, but the laborers are few.
Make us your laborers, and raise us up into your service.