2. The Biblical Qualifications For Pastoral Eldership (Titus 1:5-9, 1
Editor’s Note: This is a heavily modified manuscript (by the author) from this message on Titus.
Some people say eldership doesn’t work. I respond, you’re right. How can it work when we appoint spiritually unfit, unqualified elders? It can’t work if we don’t follow God’s manual for eldership. And the first point is elders must be biblically qualified for eldership to work
I. The Necessity for Biblical Qualifications
When we come to the subject of church elders, the New Testament is positively emphatic about the qualifications for elders. In fact, the New Testament gives more detailed instructions on elders’ qualifications than any other aspect of eldership.
To the Lord this is a matter of great importance. God has placed a standard for those in pastoral oversight. Not just anyone can be an elder. You have no right to appoint men as elders because they are your friends or because you want to honor a person for perfect attendance. Nor should you place rich people on the eldership because they have power and influence.
Let me suggest three important reasons for the necessity of the biblical qualifications:
- To protect the church from unfit men in leadership.
Example: the qualifications protect the church from a hot-tempered man, a fighter, a dominating personality, a greedy man, an immoral, unfaithful man, an immature man, a man with poor judgment, an undisciplined man, and a man with unfit testimony in the community.
Certainly, you wouldn’t let just anyone run your business or family finances or even baby-sit your children without knowing the person’s moral character. So why should it be any different in God’s house?
Nothing is more damaging to a church than unfit, unqualified elders. An unfit elder is a source of years of endless trouble. These qualifications can help the local church stop an unfit man from becoming an elder or remove an unfit man from the eldership. No one has the right to force himself on the Lord’s people as a leader.
- To help improve the elders’ moral and spiritual character.
The more I study these qualifications the more I am impressed with the wisdom of these particular the qualifications. I want to encourage you as an elder to continue to meditate and reflect on these. There is much to learn from a deep reflection on these virtues. They will help you to keep improving your character and identify weaknesses that need work. We all can improve our “self-control,” “devotion,” our parenting skills, and husbandly skills, our balance in judgment. The more Christlike your character the better example you will be to others. These character qualifications set up a standard for us to keep aiming at throughout life.
- To help improve the elders’ shepherding skills.
If you meditate deeply on the qualifications they will show you how to improve your shepherding skills with people. Think of qualities like “not quick-tempered,” “gentle,” hospitable,” “not quarrelsome,” “able to give instruction in sound doctrine,” “[love] of good,” and “willing” to shepherd. The more you improve these qualities in your life the better shepherd you will be. We can all improve our skills with people and our family management.
Identify the qualifications that you need to work on to improve your character and abilities as a shepherd. Let us now look at the qualifications. The three major passages are 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4.
II. The Biblical Qualifications for Pastoral Elders
Our starting point will be the desire for the work.
1. Desire for Eldership Motivated by the Holy Spirit
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28).
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).
“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” (1 Peter 5:2).
The first requirement is the will and the call of the Holy Spirit.
Paul and the first Christians applauded the desire for eldership by creating a popular Christian saying: “If any man aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1). Peter, too, insisted that an elder shepherd the flock “willingly” and “eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2).
A true desire to lead the family of God is always a Spirit-generated desire. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that it was the Holy Spirit, himself—not the church or the apostles—who placed them as “overseers” in the church to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28). The Spirit planted the pastoral desire in their hearts. He gave the compulsion and strength to do the work and the wisdom and appropriate gifts to care for the flock.
The elders were His wise choice for the task. In the church of God, it is not man’s will that matters but God’s will and arrangement. So the only men who qualify for eldership are those to whom the Holy Spirit gives the motivation and gifts for the task. This is one reason they are called “God’s steward(s)” (Titus 1:7).
An illustration of desire is a missionary. How does a person become a missionary? It begins with a desire to spread the gospel worldwide. Where did this desire come from? The Holy Spirit.
2. Moral and Spiritual Character Requirements
Desire is not enough; sometimes desire for eldership may actually be false desire; deception of the heart, or the result of a dominating personality who wants to rule others. So to protect the church from false desire and unfit men, the Spirit gives us practical, objective qualifications to test the desire of candidates. If Paul was with us, these are the qualities he would look for in a potential elder.
These objective scriptural qualifications can be divided into 9 categories.
a. A Good Reputation
“Above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6)
“Respectable” (1 Tim. 3:2)
“Well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:7)
Illustration: The Great Wall of China is over 1,500 miles long (2,400 kil). It ranges in height from 15 to 30 feet (5-9 meters). It was started over 2,400 years ago. Yet, three times it was breached by people who bribed the guard to let the enemy walk through the gates. The government invested a great deal of money and man-power to protect the nation by means of a high wall, but they didn’t invest in the moral character of its people. The guards could be easily bribed with money, which made the wall worthless!
Illustration: Eric Alexander, once the famed preacher from Glasgow, tells this interesting story:
In 1939, as World War Two broke out, Winston Churchill was assigned a private physician to be with him at all times. This physician traveled with Churchill and gave his full attention to Churchill, living with him daily. If anyone got a clear view of Churchill’s true character, it was this man.
Years later, the physician published the diary he kept during his years living and traveling with Churchill. This diary offers a behind-the-scenes look at Churchill during a pivotal moment in history, and provides rich insights into his character. This physician came to speak at Glasgow University, and what he said moved Eric Alexander very much.
He told the students: “what the world needs above everything else you can think of is strong character leadership,” and that “the outcome of this war will depend entirely on the quality of leadership in the various nations.”
Eric Alexander took this message to heart, and said “People today are crying out for true character leadership.”
In Psalm 101, King David declares to God that he will build a nation on integrity and blamelessness of character, and that he did. See this Psalm for a great example of a leader. This is an inspiriting example.
These illustrations show that in the Lord’s work character is everything! The character of our elders is what makes the difference in a local church. We can have the best structure and rules for governance but if we don’t have men of moral and spiritual character, the church organization will not succeed in being what God wants it to be.
The problem today is finding qualified men of character. Our sinful, secular society is ruining the character of our people. We especially need to warn and prepare our young men and women for future leadership.
As we see from our own texts, the first and overarching qualification is that of being “above reproach.” The candidate for eldership should not be under a cloud of suspicions and accusations morally and spiritually. What the outside community thinks is important. If people at work or in the neighborhood say, “That man’s an elder in your church? He’s a Christian? He doesn’t live like it!” that man should not qualify to lead God’s family. The Bible says that the world’s judgment of your life counts! An elder should be a man with a good public reputation (Acts 6:3).
This qualification should be a preface to each qualification.
b. Family Life: Marital and Sexual Life
“The husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6)
In both of Paul’s lists of elder qualifications, the first specific character virtue itemized is, “the husband of one wife.” This phrase means that an elder must be above reproach in his marital and sexual life. He must be a one-woman kind of man. He must be above reproach in his relationship with other women. He must be an example of faithful monogamous marriage.
In a sexually immoral world, God is concerned about this area of life. This is a key testing ground.
However, we are seeing a plague sweep across the world in fallen pastors. It is becoming so bad that it is no longer seen as a big deal in some churches.
Illustration: A young lady told me of her discouragement with her church’s pastors. Four pastors in a row at a local church left because of adultery. She wanted to know if there were any good pastors anywhere.
Howard Hendricks, professor at Dallas Seminary, reported that in a two year period over 200 Dallas Seminary grads were caught in adultery. Dick Swartley’s book on pastors and sexual misconduct presents shocking statistics.
God demands that his shepherds be men above reproach in their marriage and sexual life.
The church is facing the difficult task of finding morally qualified leaders for the future. We must start now with our young people. We need to address issues of pornography and worldly attitudes towards our sexuality. Missionaries in Europe already complain that it is hard to find qualified men.
To address this scourge upon the church, every local church needs a sexual policy for its leaders. They need to regularly pray about this problem in elders meetings. If you need more information on a policy for your elders, let me know. We have one at LBC. We do not want to see our young elders fall prey to this sin.
Frequent question: What exactly does this qualification mean, a one-woman man? Can a man divorced ever be an elder? What if a man’s wife dies and he remarries? (See Biblical Eldership pp. 189-193.)
c. Family Life: Children
“Must manage his own household well” (1 Tim. 3:4)
“His children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:6)
An elder must also be above reproach as a family leader. His children are to be under control with “all dignity” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Children are a test of a man’s leadership. No father is perfect, but a Christian father who is an elder must be above reproach as a father in the eyes of the community. In other words, despite normal family issues and problems, he should consistently show that he is a concerned and involved father. None of our children are perfect but according to Titus, an elder’s children are not to be insubordinate or prodigals.
Frequent question: The issue of believing children is discussed further in Biblical Eldership pp. 229. I take here the term “believer” to mean a child who is dutiful and faithful to the father.
The reason for this is that the church is a family, not some religious institution.
d. Personal Self-Control
“Sober-minded” (1 Tim 3:2)
“Self-Controlled” (Titus 1:8)
“Not greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7)
“Not quick tempered” (Titus 1:7)
“Not quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3)
“Not a drunkard” (1 Tim. 3:3)
“Disciplined” (Titus 1:8)
Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, so this qualification is about having Spirit-controlled leaders.
Proverbs says, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (25:28). A person without self-control becomes vulnerable to vices, passion, lust, and emotion. Self-control protects and balances a man’s character. An elder must be a man who displays self-control and a balanced, stable mind and life.
This matter of self-control is important. A number of the qualifications revolve around a person being “self-controlled.” Self-control is especially needed in the following areas:
Alcohol—which is a huge problem in many cultures.
Money—which is also a large problem in many cultures. Some missionaries have realized that they cannot hand money over to the locals because stealing is a way of life. Some of our own missionaries have discovered their best men pilfering church funds or misappropriating church monies. This has been very discouraging to our missionaries to see key brothers steal. Let us not be naïve about these temptations.
The Abuse of Authority—you may think sexual misconduct is the biggest problem among church leaders. But a bigger problem is the abuse of authority. This problem leads to many other problems.
Anger—hot-headed shepherds hurt the sheep. A man with an anger problem will be the source of much conflict within the church.
Quarrelsome—quarrelsomeness is a work of the flesh and condemned in several places in the New Testament. A quarrelsome person causes a lot of unrest and confusion in the local church.
Balanced Judgment – “Sober-minded”—there are men who are unstable mentally and emotionally. They go to extremes. They are unbalanced people. They too cause much trouble to a group of people.
e. Relational Skills with People
“Gentle” (1 Tim. 3:3)
“Upright” (Titus 1:8)
“Not quick tempered” (Titus 1:7)
“Not quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3)
“Not arrogant” (Titus 1:7)
An elder’s work is a people-centered work. He must shepherd people, and thus, interpersonal skills are essential to his work. A number of the qualifications for an elder deal with relational skills. The most beautiful is “gentle” (1 Tim. 3:3). This word should be clearly understood. It is a key virtue required of a Christian elder.
See Biblical Eldership pp. 197
In pastoral work, relationship skills are preeminent. Thus shepherd elders must be gentle, stable, sound-minded and not contentious. He cannot be a fighter or hot head. Some men are all for debate and conflict and these men do not qualify as elders.
An elder cannot be arrogant (Titus 1:7). The NASB terms this person “self-willed”
Biblical Eldership pp. 232
This means not self-willed or self-pleasing. This is the kind of person who wants his own way, who is not a team player and does not work well with other elders. This is the kind of elder who must have control over people and use his authority in a lordly way. It is acting like Diotrephes in 3 John. These kind of men often push their way into leadership and cause the church many conflicts. These men are not humble servant-leaders. They will tend to manipulate people and abuse their authority.
Illustration: Of the pastor in Sedalia, CO. This pastor knows the Bible like the back of his hand but he can not get along with people. Therefore, he is constantly causing fights with people in his own church. His church, as a result, is small and struggling. He is a shepherd who kicks the sheep and drives out any who disagree with him. He is an angry and unstable man.
f. Hospitable and Loving
“hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8)
“a lover of good” (Titus 1:8)
Most people would never think that hospitality is a requirement for an elder. That is because they are thinking of board elders, not pastoral elders. Elders are loving shepherds of people.
Hospitality is one of the most powerful tools we have for ministering to people and getting to know people. After people have been in our home, they see us differently.
Loving what is good speaks of an elder who does kind deeds for other people, and who is helpful and generous to needy brothers and sisters. Never underestimate the power of hospitality and loving deeds of kindness to influence people for God and for leading the Lord’s people.
See especially Acts 20:34-35
These two qualifications are intimately connected to the doctrine of love and the new commandment of Jesus Christ (John 13:34), the sum of all Christian virtue. Hospitality promotes love and is a sign of loving Christianity. Elders need to be loving men who care for the sheep. When people know you love them, they listen to you with greater receptivity.
g. Personal Integrity
“Above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6)
“Being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3)
“Not greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7)
“Upright” (Titus 1:8)
“Hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9)
“Holy” (Titus 1:8)
In America, a big problem is credibility among Christian leaders. Howard Hendricks says we are suffering from AIDs, “Acquired Integrity Deficiency.” Hendriks says, we are producing celebrities today, but few people of character. So many have been caught in sexual misconduct or financial scandals, or have shown themselves to have an unhealthy love of power and authority. We have leaders who trade character for cash. Power, fame, and money corrupt many of these big-shot leaders. Some have called this the greatest challenge to Evangelical leaders. It is embarrassing. We desperately need men of integrity.
Of King David the Scripture says, “With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand” (Ps. 78:72). David was a man of integrity and the people knew it. He had both character and competence. Again, in Psalm 101, David seeks to be a blameless ruler. Read a portion of this to the congregation.
Elders need integrity in how they handle money, authority, and doctrine. The elder than must be a man of his word, a man you can trust.
Another way of testing an elder’s integrity is to ask: Can you trust this person’s word? What about his promises? Be wary of someone who says he will do something and then doesn’t. A man is no better than his word. An elder should not be the kind of man that manipulates people.
Finally, does this elder’s profession match his practice? Is he “holy” and “upright”?
See Biblical Eldership pp. 234-235
h. Spiritual Maturity
“Not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6)
It may be that some newer converts became elders and because of pride fell easy victim to false teaching. I say this because this qualification is elaborated upon and it could explain how this eldership, which had been trained by Paul, failed some six years later.
An elder needs to be a person who has been saved for some period of time and has the opportunity to acquire a good reputation among the people. The length of this period of time will be different for different people.
It is very important to note that there is no specific age given for an elder. It has been a big mistake among some churches to think of elders as men in their sixties and seventies. Some churches teach that men in their thirties, forties and fifties cannot be elders. This philosophy has killed many churches. The word elder does not indicate age, but community leadership. Specific ages are not indicated.
A man could be drunk on the street one day, then the day after his conversion be an evangelist, but not an elder.
The logic of scripture is this: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” In the catalog of elder qualifications, three requirements address the elder’s abilities to perform the task. He must be able to manage his household well, provide a model of Christian living for others to follow and be able to teach and defend the faith.
a. Family Management
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3:4)
“His children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:6)
An elder must be able to manage his household well.
The Puritans referred to the family household as a “little church.” This perspective is in keeping with the scriptural reasoning that if a man cannot shepherd his family, he can’t shepherd the extended family of the church. Managing the local church is more like managing a family than managing a business or state. A man may be a successful businessman, a capable public official, a brilliant office manager, or a top military leader but be a terrible church elder or father. Thus a man’s ability to oversee his household well is a prerequisite for overseeing God’s household.
Let us remember that the local church is an extended family. It is made up of many families, so the family model is at the heart of eldership. The best testing ground for an elder is his own family.
Frequent question: Often, people see this requirement and ask “Does an elder have to be married to be an elder?” My response is no, a man does not have to be married to be an elder. The present qualification only applies to married men. Most men will be married. The question of marriage is addressed more fully in BE pp. 190.
We live in an age in which marriages are breaking apart at record levels. We need to do all we can to strengthen the families in our local churches and help men to be good and loving household managers. Ephesians 5:22-33 is an extremely important passage for our men to know well. Note well that in Ephesians 5, the husband is to take the initiative to love his wife. It is not the reverse.
We need to understand that anyone who becomes an elder puts his family at risk, because of all the work and stress that eldership entails. Thus, elders need to protect one another’s families. This is where shared leadership should be a big help.
b. Personal life Example
“Being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3)
An elder must be an example of Christian living that others will want to follow. Peter reminds the Asian elders “to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3b). Edmund Burke said, “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn by no other.”
Character and deeds, not official position or title, are what really influences people for eternity. Oswald Sanders states very clearly that leadership is influence. If you are not influencing people for God, you are not leading. If your character and behavior is not a model for others to follow, you are not leading. If the way you speak and react to conflict is not an example to others, you are not leading. When D.E. Hoste was asked to define leadership, he replied, “It occurs to me that perhaps the best test of whether one is a qualified leader is to find out whether anyone is following him!”
Today men and women crave authentic examples of true Christianity in action. Who can better provide the week-by-week, long-term examples of family life, business life and church life than local church elders? This is why it is so important that elders, as living imitators of Christ, shepherd God’s flock in God’s way by being examples.
Let us not underestimate the power of our influence to change lives. Long before there was the printing press or books that the average person could own, much truth was taught through human example.
One of Paul’s strategies for teaching his converts was his own personal life model. He calls upon his converts to follow his example. Listen to this quotation by Marshall and Payne: “This methodology of modeling, example and imitation was basic to Paul’s whole ministry….We are always an example to those whom we are teaching and training, whether we like it or not. We cannot stop being an example….It [training] cannot be done in a classroom via the supposedly neutral transferal of information. The trainer is calling upon the trainee to adopt not only his teaching, but also the way of life that necessarily flows from that teaching” (The Trellis and the Vine, p. 72ff). (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:16). Setting a good example is a key factor to effective leadership. Howard Hendricks has said, “The measure of you as a leader is not what you do but what others do because of what you do.”
c. Biblical Knowledge
“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9)
An elder must be able to teach and defend the faith. It doesn’t matter how successful a man is in his business, how eloquently he speaks or how intelligent he is. If he isn’t firmly committed to historic, apostolic doctrine and able to instruct people in biblical doctrine, he does not qualify as a godly leader (Acts 20:28ff; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9).
The New Testament requires that a pastor elder “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9a). This means that an elder must firmly adhere to orthodox, historic, biblical teaching.
Since the local church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15b), its leaders must be rock-solid pillars of biblical doctrine or the house will crumble. Since the local church is also a small flock traveling over treacherous terrain infested with the false teaching that comes from “savage wolves,” only those shepherds who know the way and watch out for wolves can lead the flock to its safe destination. An elder, then, must be characterized by doctrinal integrity.
In many churches, the elder candidates are never tested as to what they really believe or they really know about Scripture. Thus, we have elders who are not qualified doctrinally to be elders. They don’t think according to Scripture or solid Scriptural doctrine. Titus 1:9 is a very important qualification that needs to be much emphasized. If a candidate for eldership does not know his Christian doctrine, he can be helped and trained. But this will take several years.
d. Communication Skills
“be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9)
“able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:3)
“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4)
It is essential for an elder to be firmly committed to apostolic, biblical doctrine so that he can do two things: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able (1) to give instruction in sound doctrine and also (2) to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9b).
This requires that a prospective elder has applied himself for some years to the reading and study of Scripture and has formulated sound doctrinal beliefs so that he can intelligently reason and logically discuss biblical issues He must also demonstrate that he has the verbal ability and willingness to teach others.
There should be no confusion then about what a New Testament elder is called to do. He is to teach and exhort the congregation in sound doctrine and to defend the truth from false teachers. This is one of the big differences between board elders and pastor elders. New Testament elders are both guardians and teachers of sound doctrine.
This does not mean that an elder must be a gifted orator or a skilled preacher. Some elders may be skilled preachers and teachers (1 Timothy 5:17-18), but all elders must be able to communicate to others the gospel and sound Scriptural teaching. This can mean he speaks on an individual basis, to small groups, or even to a larger congregation.
The importance of some elders being able to labor diligently at preaching and teaching is brought out in 1 Timothy 5:17-18. This is an extremely important passage to the congregation to understand. The best protection from false teaching and provision for maturing the congregation are elders who labor at preaching and teaching the word. This is a passage we will study in another message because it demands a great deal of time.
III. Examination of Potential Elders
“And let them also be tested first; then let them serve…” (1 Tim. 3:10a)
“The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (I Tim. 5:24-25)
One of the biggest mistakes made by local churches is that they do not adequately examine candidates for eldership. Many men are appointed elders after a phone call or group nomination. After the man is serving as an elder, it may be discovered that his doctrine is out of sync with the local church and other elders or that he has serious character and personality flaws that make his eldership ineffective.
Since the qualifications are so essential, the Scripture requires an examination of a candidate’s moral and spiritual fitness before serving as an elder: “Let them also be tested first; then let them serve…” (1 Tim. 3:10). Paul also refers to this matter in 1 Timothy 5:22, 24, 25. He warns against hasty appointments. And he tells Timothy that a careful assessment of character and deeds is possible.
The word for “tested” is best translated as examined. This does not mean a vote but an examination process. The candidates should be examined as to their fitness in relationship to the Biblical qualifications.
Of course, there is the other extreme, and that is looking for perfect candidates. When potential candidates are found, training and effort developing these men can pay off in long term profit to the local church. Jesus trained his twelve men. They were not perfect when he first met them.
The list of qualifications is worthless if there is no examination of them by the body.
The Scripture says examine but it doesn’t give details. The exact process is left to the missionary or elders or local church. However it is done, it should be done seriously and thoughtfully.
Regarding the appointment of elders. There are four major pillars. Within these four pillars there is a lot of freedom as to the mechanics of appointing elders.
- Personal desire for pastoral oversight (1 Tim. 3:1, Acts 20:28)
- Meeting biblical qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4)
- Public examination (1 Tim. 3:10; 5:24-25)
- Public appointment (1 Tim. 5:22, Acts 6:6)