Every church is the lengthening shadow of those who lead it. Therefore, no issue is more important in any church than having the most-qualified people who model true spirituality serving in leadership as elders. This explains why the lists of qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) are so strict and demanding. Unfortunately, in most churches of America the method of appointing and selecting those who lead is skewed.
In those churches leaders are chosen by majority vote, having been selected because the candidates are good businessmen or popular among the congregation or wealthy or long-time members or well-known, impressive individuals in the community.
Nice and important as those factors may be, they have nothing to do with whether a person is qualified to be a servant leader, able to guide the flock of God in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.
Qualities Only God Can Cultivate
Being a spiritual leader calls for qualities only the Lord can cultivate in a person’s heart. It has to do with:
- Maturity, not popularity
- Inner character, not external image
- Faithfulness and godliness at home with one’s family, rather than being successful and influential in the marketplace
- Gentle and peaceable in difficult/complicated situations, rather than strong-willed, argumentative, and intimidating
- Competent and accurate in handling the Scriptures, rather than a mover and a shaker in the midst of “church politics”
- A person of humility, sensitivity, and grace, one who is genuinely submissive to the Lord’s will, not someone who is power-hungry or operates with his own agenda (to name only a few contrasts)
The qualified individual is vulnerable, quick to acknowledge his own limitations, weaknesses, and inadequacies. He has known great personal pain, experienced loss, failure, grief, and brokenness, which qualify him to deal wisely and compassionately with sheep who struggle and/or stray. Such broken vessels have inner strength of character, great depth of understanding, and patient endurance through hard times.
They remain committed to the discipline of prayer, to doing what is right according to scriptural guidelines, and to sacrificing their own time and energy without reluctance, self-pity or complaint.
First Place for An Elder
Since Christ is the “head of the body, the church,” He must “have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18). And that means everything! In other words, whoever serves in leadership as an elder must be willing to
- Listen to Him above all
- Honor and obey Him above all
- Please Him above all
- Exalt Him above all
It isn’t difficult to realize that those qualities are rare, not only in the church at large, but equally so in the ranks of the local church. Therefore, it takes time to find such individuals, to observe their lives as they serve others over the long haul, and then to determine if they are the Lord’s choice. Such a decision calls for prevailing prayer, keen observation, wise discernment, waiting on the Lord, and finally unforced, mutual agreement among those already serving in leadership.
That process takes an enormous amount of time and patience.