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Posts Tagged ‘selecting elders or overseers’

A pastor friend recently asked if I would post something about how to select a church’s governing leaders.  Whether they’re called elders, overseers, deacons, the church council, or the board of directors, what’s the best way to choose such leaders?

While I don’t consider myself an expert in this area … like most pastors, I’ve made some mistakes in selecting leaders … let me offer three suggestions (each post this week will cover one suggestion):

First, choose people whose lives reflect the biblical qualifications.  Paul instructed both Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-13) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9) to look for certain character and behavioral qualities in church leaders.  Some thoughts:

*Scripture isn’t dealing with a person’s history but with their lifestyle.  When Paul lists “not given to drunkenness,” is he saying that if a person got drunk once, that person should never be a church leader?  When he says “not a lover of money,” is Paul referring to someone’s overall life pattern or elimininating someone from consideration because they did love money for a time?

There are obviously some one-time incidents that would eliminate a person from consideration (murder comes to mind), but we must also leave room for the grace of God.

I once knew a man who was divorced early in life.  He was the most well-respected man in our entire church – he preached, did counseling, taught an adult class, shared his faith freely – but some people refused to let him become a governing leader because he was divorced (as a believer) soon after his first marriage.  They believed he violated the qualification of being “the husband of but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2).  However, he married a fine Christian woman after his divorce and they had an exemplary marriage for several decades.  Did he meet the biblical qualification?  I believe he did.  Others would disagree.

*Scripture encourages us to look for people who can manage their own lives.  Someone once asked about former Yankee baseball manager Billy Martin, “How can he manage a team of 25 men when he can’t manage his own life?”

In looking for spiritual leaders, we need to look for people who can manage their money, their temper, their alcohol, and their tongue.  If they can manage themselves, then we want to know if they can manage their family (1 Timothy 3:4-5).  If they can manage both themselves and their family, they stand the best chance of managing their church.

*Scripture encourages us to look for people whose lives have been consistent over time.  In 1 Timothy 3:10, Paul says of deacons (and the same principle applies to elders/overseers), “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”

In general, I only asked someone to serve as a governing leader if I had been able to observe their life for at least two years.  That made their behavior predictable … though not necessarily perfect.  A church’s governing leaders are sometimes under stress … maybe they have to deal with a wayward staff member, or declining offerings, or a case of sexual immorality … and you’d like to know ahead of time how they’re going to handle tough situations.

This is why I wanted all potential governing leaders to serve in a leadership position somewhere in the church before I considered them for the governing board.  If they hadn’t served as a leader first … and then they became a governing leader … how could I predict their behavior on the board?  I couldn’t.

Sadly, some people are exemplary believers in non-leadership positions … but they become tyrants when they become leaders.  The only way I know to minimize this risk is to make sure everyone serves as a non-board leader before they’re ever considered to become a governing leader.

*Scripture encourages us to know something about the spouses of leaders as well.  Bible scholars are divided as to whether 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to deaconesses or deacon’s wives.  Let’s assume for the moment that Paul is discussing the wife of a governing leader (whatever applies to deacons also applies to overseers/elders).

The wives of leaders need to be “worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but temperate, and trustworthy in everything.”

It is possible for a man to be perfectly suited to become a governing leader … but to be disqualified because of his wife.  The problem?  She can’t keep a secret.

I’ve had governing leaders tell me, “I never tell my wife a thing about what’s going on in the church.”  However, I had one leader tell me, “I tell my wife everything that’s going on in the church” … and I’ve served with leaders whom I suspected told their wives plenty if not everything.

I do not believe that everything discussed by a church board should remain confidential.  That’s ridiculous.  The governing leaders make all kinds of decisions, and most of them can/will be shared openly with the congregation.  I believe that a church with transparency is far healthier than a church full of secrets … especially concerning issues and policies.

But when governing leaders meet, they also discuss people in the church … by name … and those discussions need to be kept confidential.  As a pastor, I was willing to discuss anything and everything at the church except what was going on in the lives of individuals … unless it was already public knowledge.

In other words, we need to be open about the institution of the church but be protective of the individuals in that same church.

Any thoughts about what I’ve written?

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