Biblical Qualifications for Local Church Leadership

This was my final paper for my Systematic Theology class.  Tons of great stuff that God brought to mind through reading a variety of things and having a ton of cool conversations with great leaders!  Please see my list of sources at the end.  I want to make sure that the right folks get credit for their hard work!

BIBLICAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR LOCAL CHURCH LEADERSHIP

INTRODUCTION

When you drive down the street in the Bible belt, you see multiple signs for new church plants starting at the local high school or in the new movie theater.  Some of those churches go on to impact the community in a huge way for the glory of God.  Unfortunately, a number of those churches are here today and gone tomorrow.  There are a variety of reasons for that, but the word leadership can summarize most of them.  The Bible has given the role of church leadership special attention in the book of Titus. God has a perfect plan and design for the qualifications of those who will be serving in leadership positions in His church.

Our world has moved into an age of technology unlike anything seen in previous generations.  People of influence organize their messages into sound bites and people are on the edge of their seats waiting to be entertained.  “It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest.”

Local church leaders have an opportunity to invest in and influence eternity by the way that they follow God’s design for leadership.  In the first chapter of Titus, we see that Paul is addressing Titus in an effort to inform him of the task ahead.  Titus is a personal letter written to challenge this young leader.  Paul was getting ready to move on and leave Titus behind.  Titus was going to be responsible for cleaning up unfinished business in Crete.  Once that project was started, Paul charged Titus with appointing elders in every town.  Paul continues in Titus 1:6-9 by laying out the specific qualifications for local church leadership.

As you read through these twelve qualifications, it is easy to see that Paul was more concerned about the character of a leader than anything else. “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

All twelve of these characteristics fall under the two themes of blameless and hospitable.  There is no mention of any academic training or particular physical attributes of a leader.  That confirms that leadership must be grounded in good character and disseminated through relationships.  Paul realized that Crete wasn’t the most conservative setting for church.  However, with proper leadership, even the most unlikely communities can be impacted by the gospel.

BLAMELESS

It is interesting to see that Paul began this section by talking about the character of a leader.  He didn’t say he should have good character or even be well thought of, he said an elder should be blameless.  Blameless means being above reproach in every way.

I John 1:5-6 talks about the what these leaders will be sharing, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”   That passage speaks very clearly to the fact that God knows no darkness and someone who is leading on his behalf should not be entertaining any kind of darkness either.

In our society, it is becoming common to see both secular and Christian leaders fall from their positions of influence because of moral compromises they have chosen.  Those things don’t just happen.  They occur when leaders fail to see the need for accountability in their lives.  “Our society has replaced heroes with celebrities, the quest for a well-informed character with the search for a flat stomach, substance and depth with image and personality.”

Paul began his qualifications of a leader’s character by talking about the elder’s family.  He spoke of an elder being the husband of one wife and having children who “believed and behaved.”   If a leader is going to stand up in front of a group of people, it is critical that they have the support of their family behind them.  In order to lead a church, an elder must first be able to lead his family in such a way that honors God.

Many people have taken this passage to mean that a church leader must be a married man.  If that were the case, both Paul and Jesus would have been disqualified for church leadership because neither of them was married.  Some say that single men have a better opportunity to lead in a church because they can be more single focused on the ministry at hand.  Others would say that having a wife and children give a leader an opportunity to have accountability at home as well as in his ministry.

This passage would also lend itself to disqualifying a man who has been divorced and remarried.  That begs the question of whether the passage means one wife at a time or one wife total over a lifetime.  There is no clear delineation to be found.  However, most mainline denominations prefer that their lead pastor not be divorced.  This passage would also prevent a homosexual man from being in church leadership because it speaks of being in a relationship with a woman only.

The sixth verse in Titus chapter one also talks about the children of a leader.  It doesn’t say that it is a requirement to have children, but if the leader has children, they should be believers who are not wild and disobedient.  Unfortunately, the stigma of many pastor’s children is that they are wild and disobedient.  Does that mean that person should be disqualified from local church leadership?  The passage doesn’t speak specifically to what should happen, but it is important to remember that having disobedient children can take away your opportunity to minister to others who have been negatively impacted by your children and the choices that they are making.

As you continue reading through Titus chapter one, verse seven starts talking about specific qualities of the leader.  Paul used the word blameless again and focused on five particular qualities, “not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.”

A leader cannot be overbearing.  It is important for a leader to understand how to lead a team.  Life and ministry are both designed to be done together in community with other believers.  Many of the leaders who have fallen due to character issues have fallen because they took a lone ranger approach to ministry.  In his book, The Call, Os Guinness talks specifically about the benefits of shared leadership.  He mentions three things in particular that happen when leaders function in a team; weaknesses are covered by the strengths of others, the work is not as overwhelming, and people are held accountable for character choices.

An overbearing leader tends to cause a vacuum in the organization when they depart.  It is hard for many leaders to lead with the realization that they will someday be replaced.  Regardless of whether you plan to leave a ministry at any point in the future, there is always the chance that you will be replaced or even find yourself unexpectedly incapacitated or dead.  A good leader is consistently investing in the lives of those on their team with the hopes that those people will be able to carry on the mission and vision of the ministry in order to keep reaching people for Christ.

The Bible says that church leaders cannot be quick tempered.  This means that a leader must demonstrate self-control at all times.  Any foolish man can fly off the handle and rant and rave when things don’t go the way he planned.  It takes a strong leader grounded in faith to respond to a difficult situation with compassion.   This is often referred to as gentle strength.

I serve as an administrator in a Christian school.  We are constantly encouraging our students to respond to a situation rather than react.  A reaction is instant and often does not reflect who we really are.  In order to respond appropriately, a leader must carefully consider the context of the situation and filter that through their biblical worldview so as to respond in such a way that would glorify God.  In his book, The Peacemaker, Ken Sande points out that, “God delights to make his children instruments of peace and reconciliation in the midst of conflict. ”

The next qualification we find for a biblical leader is sobriety.  That characteristic seems to be a given, but we have all seen situations where leaders have fallen from their platform of influence due to the use of alcohol and drugs.  Some leaders have taken the stance that they will never drink alcohol for any reason.  That is a measure they have put in place to make sure that they will not fall into a habit of drinking.  Other leaders believe it is ok to drink alcohol as long as it is not in excess.  The main consideration to be found here is the possibility of alcohol being a stumbling block to the people you are ministering to. “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. ”  If you are over 21, you can legally drink in most states, but you must consider, is my freedom to drink more important than the salvation of someone who might stumble due to their own weaknesses with alcohol?

Closely tied to temperance and sobriety is the admonition that a church leader should not be violent.  This does not mean that a church leader shouldn’t be passionate.  However, it does mean that their power as a leader must be kept under control.  There have been many leaders throughout history that have led by the sword and the spear.  The legacy that those leaders left was one of fear and tyranny.

The way a person responds in a situation tells a lot about their character.  The characteristics of self-control, sobriety, and nonviolence can all be observed over a period of time when selecting a leader.  Sometimes this observation is neglected and churches put into place a leader that isn’t the type that fits these qualifications.  That begins a very difficult process of trying to decide what to do with that leader and how it will impact the organization.

The last qualification that Paul lists concerning character states that an elder must be someone that does not pursue dishonest gain.  Church leaders must never find themselves in a position of leadership based on what they hope to gain from the situation.  There is a certain amount of power that comes with the position of leadership.  Leaders who abuse that power for their own gain tarnish the reputation of not only the church, but of Christ himself.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoffer addresses this, “The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. ”  Leaders who are willing to compromise in favor of dishonest gain will most likely never be able to recover from the fallout of such a selfish choice.  Jeremiah 45:5 is very straightforward about the topic of seeking dishonest gain, “”Are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them. ”

Is it fair to say that a church leader must be blameless?  Yes.  Is it easy?  Not at all.  In this passage, Paul takes great effort to equip Titus with the highest standards possible in order to make known the name of Christ to all those in Crete.  All leaders should strive to live a life that is blameless and completely above reproach.  That does not mean that leaders will never make a mistake, it means that if they do, they must own that mistake and do what it takes to make the situation right.

HOSPITABLE

The last five qualifications of a church leader that Paul mentions all fall under the theme of being hospitable.  These items focus on relationships.  In his book Developing the Leader Within You, John Maxwell says, “People who are unable to build solid, lasting relationships will soon discover that they are unable to sustain long, effective leadership. ”  In order to be a leader, there must be people who are willing to follow you and run hard after the vision that you have set out before them.  The foundation for that kind of leadership is built on relationships.

The generation that is currently growing into church leadership and planting new churches must be very aware of the influence of postmodernism in our society.  People tend to form their theology based on what others around them believe and how they view absolute truth .  The most common outreach strategy these days involves relational ministry.

Paul said in Titus chapter one that an elder must be someone who loves what is good.  This speaks specifically to the idea of surrounding yourself with people who are going to be able to speak constructively into your life.  A leader must recognize that God created us to do life together.  This is valuable in the area of their character as well as in their hospitality toward other believers.  The very fact that our God gives mercy and grace so freely shows that he values the idea of giving good gifts.  He wants the best for our lives so that our lives will be used to draw people to Himself.

To love what is good simply means being drawn to things that will benefit your life or the lives of those around you.  There is a wholesome quality to a leader who loves what is good and surrounds himself with likeminded people.

Self-control is the next quality that Paul mentions to Titus as a qualification for leadership in the local church.  Self-control falls under the heading of what it means to be blameless as well as what it means to be hospitable.  2 Timothy 2:24-25 speaks directly to the influence a person of self-control should have, ”And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. ”

A leader that exhibits self-control will have more opportunities to reach people for the glory of God and the good of others.  If you are going to have a chance to reach those that are far from God, you must be able to control your reactions and respond gently even in volatile situations.

The next quality in the area of hospitality is uprightness.  That means being a leader that stands up for what is just and right.  There is also an element of servant leadership that must be present in this particular area.  All throughout his ministry, Jesus stood up for those that were in need and those that society often cast to the side or declared untouchable.  Instead of doing the popular thing and avoiding the downtrodden, Jesus chose to go to them.  I Corinthians 11:1 speaks directly to this, “Follow me as I follow the example of Christ.”

A leader that is going to be upright and just in their decision making must have an awareness of the need around them.  In most cases, leaders become leaders because they were great followers who were given an extra amount of responsibility and did a good job with it.  If your heart is to follow Christ and encourage others to do the same, leadership opportunities will present themselves.

Holiness is the fourth quality in the relationship category.  This is a non-negotiable for church leadership.  This does not indicate that a human being can possibly achieve perfection, but it does mean raising the bar in the area of their personal walk with Jesus Christ.  I Peter 1:15-16 says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy. ”

In the Bible there are over 500 references to the word holy.  It is obvious that God placed great importance on the idea of holiness.  Holiness is a process.  It is a journey that requires a leader to surround themselves with people that can positively impact their walk with Christ.  Even lead pastors need people who can hold them accountable in the area of growing in holiness.

The final quality mentioned is discipline.  While this is mentioned as a separate item, it also is the summary of all of the qualities that are mentioned.  A leader can never let their guard down.  Leadership requires planning and purpose.  Pastors and other church leaders must first make great strides in their personal walk with Jesus Christ before they can invest in the lives of others.  It is usually quite easy to tell when someone has neglected this critical qualification for leadership.

Discipline earns respect from your followers.  Biblical leadership requires that spiritual discipline must be present in the life of the leader before they can ever lead someone else to do the same.  “To know the mechanics does not mean that we are practicing the Disciplines. The Spiritual Disciplines are an inward and spiritual reality, and the inner attitude of the heart is far more crucial than the mechanics for coming into the reality of the spiritual life. ”

CONCLUSION

The biblical qualifications for church leadership require a blameless character and a hospitable spirit.  People that serve in leadership positions have an amazing platform to influence people for Christ.  Because leadership can’t happen alone on an island, it is important for leaders to understand the role that others play in their ability to lead.  Leaders should surround themselves with people who can speak truth into their life and hold them accountable to spiritual growth.

God has a perfect plan and design for the qualifications of those who will be serving in leadership positions in His church.  The book of Titus was written approximately two thousand years ago and the standards for leadership have not changed a bit.  The model for the qualifications of church leadership has stood the test of time and will continue to be the measuring stick for leaders for generations to come.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boa, Kenneth.  “Leadership Qualities.” http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=3369.

Bonhoffer, Dietrich.  The Cost of Discipleship.  New York, NY: Touchstone, 1959.

Bush, Jr., Joseph E.  Gentle Shepherding: Pastoral Ethics and Leadership.  Atlanta, GA: Chalice Press, 2006.

Carson, D.A. and Douglas J. Moo.  An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Foster, Richard.  Celebration of Discipline, 3rd ed.  San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1998.

Groothius, Douglas R.  Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Guinness, Os.  The Call.  Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1998.

Hunter, III, George G.  How To Reach Secular People.  Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1992.

Mappes, David.  “The ‘Laying On Of Hands’ Of Elders.”  Bibliotheca Sacra, 154 (1997):
44.

Maxwell, John.  Developing the Leader Within You.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Moreland, J.P.  Love Your God With All Your Mind.  Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997.

Peterson, Eugene.  A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 2nd ed.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Sande, Ken.  The Peacemaker, 3rd ed.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004.

Sanders, J. Oswald.  Spiritual Leadership, 2nd rev. ed.  Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994.

Tabb, Mark, ed.  Theology: Think For Yourself About What You Believe.  Colorado Springs, CO: Think, 2006.

Wilkes, C. Gene.  Jesus on Leadership.  Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1998.

Willmington, Harold.  Willmington’s Guide to the Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1981.

1 Comment

  1. This is a great paper. I am a layperson and teach Sunday School from time to time. I was ask to teach to a younger adult class on the valuable of church leadership. I found your paper and plan to use verses from Titus and your paper to teach the lesson. Thank you for such an informative paper.
    Grace and Peace,
    Faye

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