Please submit your resume, and once we have reviewed it, we may call you for an interview.” Then you look over the job description: long hours, loss of sleep, being misunderstood, criticism to be expected, heart-wrenching decisions to be made. Do I really want this work?
The above is certainly not the way in which the Spirit of God raises up men to fulfill the work of leadership in an assembly. But He has given us at least two, if not three, descriptions majoring on the character of the men He chooses to make leaders in the assembly. Those lists are found in Acts 20:25-35, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. In addition, Scriptures such as Isaiah 40:11, John 21:15-17, 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Hebrews 13:17, and others focus more on the work of the overseer.
The purpose of those Scriptures that deal with the qualifications of leaders must be understood in their context. This is not a checklist for me to hold up against those in leadership in my assembly. This is a list by which I judge myself if I am in leadership or aspire to that work (1Ti 3:1). Many have used the lists of qualifications as an excuse to dismiss a leader’s moral right to guide the assembly, insisting that they can disregard anything said by a particular man because “he is not really an overseer according to 1 Timothy 3:1-4.”
Please remember what the Lord Jesus told His disciples. They were challenged by the scribes and Pharisees and their hypocrisy. Yet He instructed them, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not” (Mat 23:2-3). He enjoined them to recognize the position of leadership even though the men failed to live as they ought to. Those men would be held accountable for their own failure; my responsibility is to observe what they say when it is in accordance with the Word of God.
Another consideration is that in small assemblies God works with what is available. A man may not be apt to teach, but circumstances require that he rise to the work of leading the assembly. This reflects a weakness among us that we cannot deny. But keep in mind that the vast majority of qualifications are moral and spiritual, and not related to gift. Thankfully, God is far more gracious than we are.
Having hopefully dismissed one or two wrong concepts concerning the purpose of these lists, the question can be asked, “What is their purpose?” As suggested, it is a list of qualifications by which I judge myself and any aspirations I may have for the work of leadership in an assembly. How do we approach the qualifications? I think they can be divided into a few groups. I will use 1 Timothy 3 as the backbone for our consideration but will interweave some of what we have in Titus 1 as well.
Traits that Are Essential
“Blameless” heads the list of 11 moral qualities, six that are positive and five that are negative. The word “blameless” occurs a total of three times in the letter (3:2; 5:7; 6:14 – “unrebukable”) and carries the thought of being beyond reproach or unassailable. No charge can be substantiated against him. He is marked by self-control and a sense of the seriousness of life. He is not influenced by alcohol or avarice, power or place. “Given to hospitality” in the context of first-century Christianity would mean far more than inviting believers to your home for a meal, but it certainly embraces an open home, heart and hand.
“Apt to teach” is the only item which suggests “gift.” Ephesians 4:11 does say that the “pastor-teacher” himself is a gift to the Body. But the linking of “apt to teach” with hospitality in 1 Timothy 3 tends to suggest that this is not so much a gift of public teaching but of being able to give personal instruction to the saints of God. Titus’ requirement that he be able to exhort the believers and muzzle the gainsayers further supports the thought of a more personal approach to teaching. He also adds to the list the awareness of the leader’s role as a steward of the people of God (Titus 1:7), a lover of good men, just, pious and temperate.
Titus lists five negative and seven positive traits. There is the balancing of the natural tendency of assertiveness and aggression. He is not controlled by aggressiveness, alcohol, anger, abuse or avarice.
Training in the Home
The matters of marriage and family have generated the most controversy among some believers and teachers. Does a man have to be married? If his wife is taken home to heaven, can he remarry? What does it mean to be a “one-woman man”? Must he have children? Must those children be saved? And what happens if one of his children who was once in fellowship drifts away into the world? Should he step away from leadership? What does it mean to “rule his own house well”? Are his children expected to be perfect? You can probably add permutations and combinations to these if you have moved amongst assemblies for any time.
While it is valuable for a man to be married and have a family, the wording does not make it an essential prerequisite. The benefit to marriage is that by ministering to his wife in their marriage, he is able to learn a woman’s sensitivities and makeup. This will enable him to serve the needs of the sisters in the fellowship more capably. Also, learning to blend firmness and love in raising his children will serve him well in dealing with the believers in the assembly. What is vital is that he be a man who is able to be faithful in his affections – whether unmarried, married or remarried – and balanced in his approach to leadership. “Ruling his own house well” will serve as a training ground for “taking care” of the church of God. He cannot save his children, but he must be able to display authority in the home, having “faithful” children who own his authority, if he is going to wisely handle authority in the assembly.
The Truth of God
He is a man who is marked by faithfulness: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught” (Titus 1:9). In his address to the Ephesian elders, Paul commended them to God and the Word of His grace. Here is the material with which the leader must occupy himself, and with which he must lead and feed the people of God. The writer to the Hebrews concurs with this principle when he reminds the believers of their past leaders “who have spoken unto you the word of God” (Heb 13:7).
Those who lead the people of God must be men of the Book, men who are able to feed the people of God, whether privately or publicly. Each admonition to shepherds begins with a call to “feed the flock” (Joh 21:15; Act 20:28; 1Pe 5:2; Isa 40:11 and, in contrast, Eze 34:2).
The Test of Experience
“Not a novice” is mentioned because he might be lifted up with pride and fall just as Satan fell. A case can be made that pride is the original, ultimate and crowning sin. If I understand Scripture aright, no one is immune to it at any stage of life. However, Paul here warns about the possibility of someone who lacks experience and spiritual maturity falling into the sin of pride of position and thus falling as Satan fell. Again, it must be stressed that Paul does not place an age restriction on leadership. His concern is with spiritual maturity that may come at a relatively young age for some believers and be late in developing in others.
The Testimony from Without
He must have a good testimony among believers. That is obvious or else he will not have their confidence in leading them. Here, however, the requirement is that he have a “good report” of those who are not part of the assembly. A man is expected to reflect the integrity and honesty of character which is characteristic of the assembly. He represents the assembly publicly and must live consistent with its testimony. His business life and community life must be without strain or compromise. The danger is that otherwise he is leaving himself open to the snare which the false accuser, the devil, can bring against him.
Most of what is expected of those in leadership should also mark each believer in the assembly. Perhaps only the matters of “apt to teach” and “not a novice” set him apart from the remainder of the assembly. Spiritual maturity is the goal of each one who comprises a testimony for God. Sitting in judgment on leaders is soul-withering. Pray for them and submit for the good of the assembly and its testimony (Heb 13:17). Someone has well said that if you want better leaders, then pray for the ones God has given you.
 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.