Elders in Every Church (Part 4): Other Qualifications for Elders

Elders in Every Church (Part 4): Other Qualifications for Elders

In addition to an elder being a mature man who exemplifies the life of a Christian, there are certain qualifications on top of the character qualifications we discussed in the previous two lessons. In this lesson, we will notice the qualifications that pertain to his family, his ability, as well as other miscellaneous qualifications.

His Family

One does not need to marry and have children in order to be a faithful Christian. There are examples in the New Testament and examples in the church today of single men and women who are faithfully serving the Lord. However, if a man is going to serve as an elder, he must be married and have children. Furthermore, there are certain qualifications about his family that must be met.

An overseer, then, must be…the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2).

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1 Timothy 3:4).

Namely, if any man is…the husband of one wife, having children who believe…” (Titus 1:6).

Let us consider what these verses teach about the qualifications for an elder’s family.

An elder must be the husband of one wife – When Paul gave the qualifications, he described what an elder must be. The Greek word translated “be” is in the present infinitive tense. It means that he is and continues to be. In other words, a man must be the husband of one wife when he is appointed as an elder and must continue to be the husband of one wife while he serves as an elder.

There is nothing wrong with a Christian being single. Paul told the brethren in Corinth, “But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I” (1 Corinthians 7:8). He then said, “I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is” (1 Corinthians 7:26). Paul was writing as an unmarried man. For others to remain as he was would mean they would remain unmarried as well. Clearly, a Christian can faithfully serve the Lord without marrying. However, a single man cannot be an elder.

Also, a divorced, separated, or widowed man also cannot serve as an elder. Paul said an elder “must be…the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2), not “must have been.”

Does it matter who his wife is? Absolutely. There are qualifications for an elder’s wife as well: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11). The implication is that his wife will be involved in the work somehow. We are not told specifically how, though we can safely conclude it will not be a leadership role (1 Timothy 2:11-12). However, as his “help meet” (Genesis 2:18, KJV), she will be involved in supporting and assisting him in his work. Therefore, her character and behavior must meet the standards given by the Lord.

An elder must manage his own household well – The King James Version says he must be “one that ruleth well his own house” (1 Timothy 3:4). He has to have proven that he can exercise oversight properly in the home so that brethren can have some assurance that he will exercise oversight properly in the local church. “But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5). According to God’s design, the husband is the head of the household (Ephesians 5:23). He is to lead like Christ (Ephesians 5:25, 28-29). In the same way, elders oversee/lead the congregation. Peter said, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight” (1 Peter 5:2). They are to shepherd the church like Christ (1 Peter 5:4).

An elder must keep his children under control – This means that an elder’s children must obey him and respect him. This is the result of him bringing his children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). The Hebrew writer described how this respect is developed: “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them” (Hebrews 12:9). While “discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (Hebrews 12:11), in the end it does produce a positive result. As children learn to respect their father and heed his instructions, the result is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

An elder has to have proven his ability to keep “his children under control” (1 Timothy 3:4) because, in a sense, he must keep the church under control as well. If one does not raise his children to respect and listen to him, there is no reason to believe he will be able to do this with the local church. Again, this is why Paul followed up this qualification with the question: “But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5). It is certainly true that a child may, despite the best efforts of his parents to train him properly, choose to forsake the way of the Lord when he is grown (cf. Ezekiel 18:5-13). After all, everyone has freewill and can choose to obey God or not. However, even if a father might not be morally responsible for the rebellion of his children in some cases, the fact remains that the “proof” that he is able to “manage his own household” is absent (1 Timothy 3:5), making him unqualified to serve as an elder in the church.

All of this is important because part of the elders’ responsibility is to discipline those in sin and error. Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica to avoid those who continued in sin: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). In warning about false teachers, he told the saints in Rome, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17; cf. 2 John 9-11). Elders, because they are overseers of the local church, are to see to it that such things are handled appropriately.

An elder must have children who believe – The King James Version translates this as “having faithful children.” Brethren often wonder if this mean that an elder’s children are to be faithful to him or faithful to Christ. It is certainly true that they must be faithful to him since he is to keep them “under control” (1 Timothy 3:4; cf. Titus 1:6). As he trains his children, he is also to be leading them to serve the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Again, his ability to keep his children “under control” and “[manage] his own household” demonstrates that he is able to “take care of the church of God” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). In the home and in the church, he is not just leading his children or church members to be good citizens and upstanding members of society, he is leading them to be faithful Christians.

This phrase means that an elder’s children must be Christians, not just prospective Christians. It is true that the word faithful can mean trustworthy, yet in this context it is referring to a believer in Christ. This word is used this way the majority of times it appears in the epistles (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 6:15; Ephesians 1:1; 1 Timothy 4:12; et al.). This same word is used for elders’ wives (1 Timothy 3:11). Could she be a non-Christian, yet a committed wife, and her husband still serve as an elder? No. If one is to serve as an elder in the local church, his wife and his children must be faithful Christians.

His Ability

The office of an elder is not just a title or an honor bestowed upon someone. As we noticed earlier in our study, elders have a work to do that has been given to them by God. Much of the work involves teaching the word of God. He must have the ability to do this.

An overseer, then, must be…able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).

Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

Let us notice what these verses say that an elder must have the ability to do.

An elder must be able to teach – This qualification is about teaching in general; the next two qualifications break down teaching into two different areas (exhorting and refuting). Qualifying to be an elder is about more than just demonstrating godly character – he must also be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). This can include preaching, as Paul indicated later in his letter to Timothy: “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). However, doing the work of a preacher/evangelist is not required for one to serve as an elder. There are many ways in which one can teach – preaching sermons, teaching Bible classes, engaging in one-on-one studies, and leading group studies. A man must prove that he is capable of teaching in such ways before he can be appointed as an elder.

Furthermore, since the qualifications are ones that he must continue to meet, he must remain a capable teacher of the word. The only way this can be done is if he continues to do the work of teaching. The Hebrew writer said, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). While this was referring to one departing from the faith, there is a principle that applies to this qualification for the elders. Forgetting the word of God causes one to drift away from the word of God. Likewise, if one stops teaching the word of God, then over time he will lose the ability to teach. There is nothing wrong with an eldership supporting a preacher to work with the congregation, nor is there anything wrong with giving members of the congregations opportunities to teach in order to develop their ability to do so. However, the elders ought to continue to teach in some capacity – publicly and/or privately (Acts 20:20) – so that their skills might remain sharp. When an elder is no longer “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), he is no longer qualified to be an elder.

An elder must be able to exhort in sound doctrine – This means he must be able to positively proclaim the truth. Paul told the Ephesian elders, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). Similarly, if the elders are to do their work of exhorting in sound doctrine, they must not omit anything that would be “profitable” (Acts 20:20) – which includes “all Scripture” (2 Timothy 3:16). In teaching the truth, he must be able to encourage others “to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22).

An elder must be able to refute those who contradict – This means that an elder must be able to oppose false teachers that will arise. It is not always easy to answer error. Paul said that in “[refuting] those who contradict” (Titus 1:9), elders must be able to silence the false teachers (Titus 1:11). This necessarily requires one to have a good knowledge of the truth. More than that, he must also be able to “demolish arguments” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV) that are presented by the false teachers. This is a difficult – though doable – task because it requires that one be able to clearly explain the truth and why the false teaching is false so that others will understand the distinction.

Miscellaneous

In addition to the character, family, and ability qualifications for elders, there are a few other qualifications that one must meet before he can be appointed as an elder.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of an overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Timothy 3:1).

Not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6-7).

Let us notice the remaining three qualifications.

An elder must desire the work – Some have questioned whether this is actually a qualification. After all, it is hard to imagine a mature, spiritually- minded Christian man who is otherwise qualified yet does not desire to serve the Lord in this capacity. However, even if one wants to classify this as something other than a qualification, it is still a requirement. One must be willing to serve as an elder. Peter told the elders to whom he wrote, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God” (1 Peter 5:2). If one is going to serve as an elder, it will be on a voluntary basis. God never forces us to do anything.

However, when an otherwise qualified man is unwilling to serve as an elder, there is a problem. We must do what we can for God. Remember Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). What if the five-talent man did nothing? What if he buried one or two of his talents instead of using all of them for his master? The implication in the text is that he was considered “faithful” because he used all that the master gave him (Matthew 25:20-21).

Paul said that one must aspire to the office of an elder. This word means to stretch one’s self out (Thayer). It requires growth and improvement to reach the point in which one is qualified. This means one must develop over the course of many years in order to be able to serve as an elder. Therefore, one must start early. A man should not think about the possibility of serving as an elder when he is in his fifties or sixties. Rather, when he is in his twenties or thirties (or even earlier) he should think about the possibility of someday serving as an elder, aspiring to that work, so that he can develop himself to the point that he will be qualified when he is older and called upon to serve in that capacity.

An elder must not be a new convert – On one hand this is practical. Except in very rare cases, new converts will not meet the other qualifications that have been given. However, there is another reason. Paul said that an elder must not be a new convert “so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.” Ideally, every elder will have been under other elders prior to his appointment. Of course, this will not always be the case. A congregation being without elders for fifty years does not disqualify men who are now able to serve in that role. However, one must have experience as a Christian and being “subject to one another” (Ephesians 5:21) before being entrusted with the oversight of a congregation.

An elder must have a good reputation – This does not mean that false accusations will disqualify one from being appointed or serving as an elder. Christians are often falsely accused (cf. Acts 21:27-29). Jesus said this would be the case: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11). What this qualification means is that an elder must consistently do good before all. There should not be a legitimate accusation that someone from “outside the church” could make against him. Just as elders are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), they are to be examples of the flock to the world as well.

Summary

It is vitally important that the right men are appointed as elders. Because of this, we find strict qualifications in the New Testament. It is not impossible for these qualifications to be met; but at the same time, not everyone will be able to meet them. Being qualified to serve as an elder is about more than just being a strong Christian man – his family, ability, and other factors must be considered.


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on Hope, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Thankful.