THE BLOG
05/17/2011 10:20 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2011

Who Can Lead the Local Church?

What qualifies someone to be a leader in the church? Can someone just announce to the rest of us that "God called me" or "God spoke to me"? How can we evaluate maturity and health in a person who wants to influence others in the local fellowship? What about a Bible school degree? Isn't that enough? What if the degree has lots of letters and abbreviations after it? Surely that's enough?

Timothy had the same questions for the Apostle Paul and here is his answer as recorded in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 (NIV):

"Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how he can take care of God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap."

Paul was clearly pointing out that the bar should be raised more for leaders of the church than for others in the fellowship. Paul was not giving a long list of impossible rules -- that's what the Pharisees were known for doing. No, Paul was giving a short list of reasonable expectations for a significant leader such as an elder or what we would call a pastor.

Paul was also saying that other people should evaluate potential leaders before they could lead. So often, I hear people say, "God is the only one who can appoint me" or "God is the only one who can restore me." It's true that God is the only redeemer of our souls, the giver of all our gifts and the only one who can forgive our sins, but God has always used delegated human authority to evaluate men and women who desire to lead a local church. Paul was writing to humans who were trying to choose human leaders. Paul did not say, "take everyone at their word and give leadership to whomever wants it."

This same list of requirements is meant for those who have disqualified themselves from pastoral leadership and want to be restored. The same requirements that originally qualified us for leadership are the same for those wanting to start over. It also means that, once again, delegated human authority will have to recognize the work of God in a person's life the same as in the beginning of their ministry.

If a leader has a personal mature relationship with God that is evidently growing, has a vigorous, vibrant family and is a generous steward of his personal finances, then leadership in the local church should be considered. If any of these three areas are unhealthy, it is a sign of either immaturity or a lack of character.

Notice the passage in 1 Timothy does not mention that a lengthy education is required, although Paul and the other leaders were certainly educated. Character and maturity were the benchmarks 2,000 years ago and still should be today.