WANTED: Christian leaders and teachers! Must have church membership and a pulse! Does this sound familiar? Too often in ministry we find ourselves shorthanded when it comes to responsible leaders. We have positions to fill and not enough qualified leaders to fill them. As a result, we enlist unqualified volunteers hoping for the best and then we find ourselves disappointed. Timothy was a young pastor at Ephesus who probably faced this same ministry challenge. His mentor, the apostle Paul, gave him some key characteristics to look for in potential leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-15. Paul deals specifically with pastors and deacons in this passage, but these qualifications are a must for anyone in Christian leadership. These characteristics deal with three areas of a leader’s life: his character, competence, and creed.
A leader’s character must be “blameless” and “respectable” (vs. 2, 8). A leader must take every measure to protect his integrity and never give away influence. The reason for this is to avoid falling into “disgrace” and “a snare of the devil” (vs. 7). We lose influence when we lose integrity. How many leaders have been destroyed because a scandal destroyed their influence? Paul warns of some common character flaws that endanger our integrity: sexual sin, self-indulgence, greed, anger, and hypocrisy (vs. 2-8). Nearly all leadership failings stem from these character flaws. Many may disagree with our theology, but a true leader will never give others a valid reason to question his integrity or ethics.
A Christian leader must also be a competent leader who is “sensible” (vs. 2). Someone who is sensible has their priorities straight, is disciplined, and is serious about their responsibility. An unorganized, unprepared person who is flippant about their duties does not need to be given spiritual responsibilities. A Christian leader must be “able to teach.” It is not enough to know God’s Word personally; we must be able to communicate it to others so they understand it. Some aspects of competent leadership must be developed over time, such as the ability to wield leadership with humility (vs. 6). This is why young Christians should not be placed in leadership roles immediately (vs. 6, 10). We must follow before we can lead. One great indicator of leadership competence for an adult is the status in their home. An irresponsible spouse or parent will make an irresponsible leader (vs. 4, 5, 12). Individuals who don’t display competence in secular matters won’t be competent with spiritual matters either (Luke 16:10, 11).
A leader must be committed to some type of creed; in our case that creed is the Bible. Christian leaders must hold “the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (vs. 9). What is the mystery of faith? “[God] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (vs. 16). If a leader cannot affirm the doctrines of Christianity, he is certainly not eligible for Christian leadership. Leaders in a local church should be familiar with the church’s doctrinal statement to insure clear communication on what type of teaching is expected. We cannot compromise our convictions especially where leadership is concerned.
I recently heard a Christian speaker say that we recruit 95% of our problems. Perhaps this is true. It is not enough to simply desire to be a leader (vs. 1), but one must possess godly leadership abilities and ethics. Paul gave this list of leadership qualities to help the church identify those ready to lead and to help leaders to stay on track (vs. 15). We need to intentionally develop these traits in others in order to raise up capable leaders in our churches. If we discard this vital checklist from our leader training and enlisting process, we are ignoring the God of order and inviting chaos into our midst.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 5, 2013.