Week of March 13: Qualifications and expectations of church leaders
By Rev. Doreen Smalls
Scripture Lesson: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
There is a plethora of information available regarding leadership. Bookstores and other retail shops stock shelves with an abundance of books on this subject. On any given day, one can attend a seminar or training on leadership. Many persons have been proclaimed by others or by themselves to be experts in this field. With so many theories and resources, where does one begin? Paul’s letter to Timothy is a great place to start.
Every fall in United Methodist congregations, the lay leadership team (formerly known as the nominating committee) begins the process of selecting local church leaders. Most will agree that identifying leaders is not an easy task. In many churches there are more offices to fill than there are people willing and able to serve. So, how will you decide who should be asked? What qualities do you look for in a leader? What guidelines are used to determine who is the best fit for this position?
In the third chapter of first Timothy, Paul offers a list of characteristics that should be reflected in church leaders. “A bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money…Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money”(1 Timothy 2:2-3,8).
It is important to understand that bishops during Paul’s writings had a different meaning than they do today. A bishop was a not leader over an Episcopal area as he or she is today but that person was identified as local church leader or official. Although bishops and deacons are the only offices mentioned, these attributes should be evident in all church leaders. Regardless of the size of the church, the denomination or community setting, these leadership qualities remain invaluable. And careful considerations should be exercised when placing authority in those who represent what we believe and who we are as Christians.
In the first century, the criteria for church leaders were closely related to the behaviors an individual was expected to exhibit at home because Christians met in private homes. The larger community could determine what type of leader they would be in church by looking at what kind of person they were in the home. Today, we try to separate our home life from our church life, our private life from our public life. As Christians, the same traits that are demonstrated in our public life should be revealed in our private lives as well. If the church took a poll and compared individuals’ private and public lives, what differences would we see?
A Matter of Ethics
Throughout this epistle, the author lifts up several ethical standards that we should strive to live by. Included in the lists are behaviors that a person should aspire to and other behaviors that one should avoid. Paul encourages self-control, respect and hospitality while he discourages intoxication, violence and arguments.
While all of the characteristics have been mentioned in the Bible prior to Paul’s writing, they are worth repeating. Ethics are moral standards that never become outdated and are always relevant. As Paul reminded Christians in the first century so we must remind ourselves and others of the accountability and the humility that should accompany servant leadership.
In the United Methodist Book of Worship under the “General Examination” of candidates for consecrated and ordained candidates, this is written: “You are to lead the people of God in worship and prayer, and to nurture, teach, and encourage them from the riches of God’s grace. You are to exemplify Christ’s servanthood; to build up the people of God in their obedience to Christ’s mission in the world, and to seek justice, peace, and salvation for all people.”
What Christian leaders have served as an example for you?
Verse 13 concludes the list of requirements for office with an encouragement to those who serve well. It states,”…those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” The misbehaviors of some elders and deacons lowered the opinion about church leadership in the minds of outsiders as well as Christians. So confidence in the office and in the people in the offices needed to be restored.
Today this same confidence needs to be maintained. Unfortunately some Christian leaders have displayed inappropriate conduct, which has had a negative impact on the community of faith. This epistle reminds leaders not “fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil”(1 Timothy 3:7). While none of us are perfect, we should constantly “strive toward perfection.”
And Paul encourages believers to “hold fast to the mystery of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9). We persevere in our faith with the help of God’s grace. Grace empowers us to live according to the will of God. So while we all face various struggles, let us not forget that we are not alone. God is with us. In the midst, where do you turn for encouragement?
Rev. Doreen Smalls is an associate director at the Office of Connectional Ministries and she serves as Conference Secretary to Global Ministries. If you have any comments or questions, you may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.