The Bible Has High Standards For Leaders in the Church, and We Ought to Strive to Live up to Them!

The standard for being a “spiritual leader” in the Bible is really intense!  In a culture where so many are half-hearted about this, and treat it so much more like a “job” than a sacrificial mission, it’s important to look at everything that Paul wrote to Timothy about being a “pastor” or leader/overseer in the church…  I thought it would be good to test myself against these standards as well, and see how I fall short of them!  Nonetheless, I desire to embody them, and only with Christ’s power is this possible.

1 Timothy 3:1-7:   Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.  Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his 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, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he 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.

“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.”  It is certainly no small duty to have the calling of leadership over God’s people.  This isn’t something that should be taken lightly, because there will be greater sacrifice and accountability involved in it.

“The overseer is to be above reproach”.  God’s choice of men who oversee the church need to be the “cream of the crop”, not in the sense of talent or charisma, but more in the sense of a life of holiness and blamelessness.  I ask myself every day as I spend time with the Lord, “am I above reproach?”  There are times when I rush myself too quickly and miss the time to lay myself before Him.  I desire to pray Psalms 139 for the Lord to “test me and know my heart, see if there is any unclean way in me and lead me in the way everlasting”.  I don’t want make people stumble by commiting any serious sins or moral failures, but I also don’t want to say or do anything that will lead others astray.

“Faithful to his wife”.  Do I look at any woman the wrong way?  Am I willing to subject myself to the highest forms of accountability in the area of pornography, or do I think that I can manage that temptation on my own?  Is our sex life healthy?  Am I loving my wife and leading her to flourish joyfully in her faith and life?  With all the visual temptations walking in the form of the beautiful women of the world, I need to hold firm to Job’s covenant, who swore not to look lustfully at a woman, and not give a second glance, leaning on Christ to provide me with a way out.  If I sense that a girl is being flirty with me I need to cordially but firmly practice what Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife and flee from the situation!  I also subscribe to xxxchurch.com and my wife is my accountability partner in the area of porn.  If I ever were to look at something innappropriate, she’d be the first to know because they would send her an email with the site link.  Even though I haven’t fallen to porn in 10 years, I could have a moment of weakness and I don’t want to give in to it.

To be “temperate” means to exercise moderation and self-restraint.  I think of this in terms of eating food, but also in terms of watching TV and movies… or other “cheap”, easily over-used addictions that provide mindless pleasure.  My wife and I just got rid of our cable box, and even though we still enjoy DVDs and TV shows online from time to time, we’re working on having more “face time” with each other.  We want to spend a better amount of time in fruitful conversations.  We want to write music together, play board games and laugh with each other often.  There are certainly always those days when we opt out of the more meaningful things of life to lazily gaze at a series of Wonder Years re-runs, but we try to keep ourselves on track with all the enjoyment that God could have for us outside of these easy “fixes”.

To be “self-controlled” is to have healthy disciplines in place that keep me spiritually healthy and continually growing in my faith.  My most recent endeavor has been to wake up at 5am in the morning while it’s still dark and spend an hour in the Word and Prayer (with a hot cup of coffee and breakfast!).  I must admit at times when I’m especially tired or lower on sleep I may hit the snooze button a few times!  After I’m in the Word, I usually exercise for a half hour and shower, and then my wife Sarah wakes up and we go through a study we’re doing together for a half hour to forty-five minutes.  Then I’m able to get out of the door at 7:30am and be to work on time.  I’ve also realized that if I’m going to lead our congregation well on Sunday morning, I have to make the sacrifice and get up at 4:30am to spend time in prayer and the Word, because I have to be at the church at 6:30am.  I don’t always perform these disciplines perfectly, but I will continue to strive to make them ingrained in my life.  Somehow, having this morning routine has effected other areas of my life profoundly.  I find that I’m far more receptive and walking in step with the Holy Spirit, and when crises or annoyances come, I’m far more obedient to what God would have me do.  On days where I don’t practice these, I can be more snippy and short-fused (which is my natural disposition!).

To be “respectable” is to be honorable and of worthy conduct.  This is an area where I struggle more than others.  At times I may find myself caught up in coarse joking or sarcasm, certainly not to the point of being utterly disgusting and offensive, but I could certainly do better to be more polite and tactful in my speech.  In one sense, my juvenile personality wins me a voice with teenagers and cynics, but I’m also aware that these people can be won without being ridiculous and immature.

To be “hospitable” is to have an open door policy in our home, cell phone and even allow for interruptions in our routine in order to open our lives to people.  Again, this brings about heavy reliance on the Holy Spirit.  How many times have I been in a rush to get out the door and on to a busy day, and someone interrupts my flow of routine?  Can I be both responsible with boundaries and still be flexible enough to meet people in their time of need?  With the help of the Lord’s guidance this is possible.  I’ve realized that overcoming my initial irritation at interruptions has allowed me to open myself to the Lord and maybe even get a glimpse into where this person is at.  Hospitality also needs to be practiced with both people who do and don’t follow Jesus.  Sarah and I try to regularly invite friends to our home to enjoy food, coffee, movies and conversation so that we can be a blessing to them, no matter where they’re at spiritually.

To be “able to teach” is to be able to explain the precepts and mysteries of scripture to others.  This is an important lifelong quest for me.  I could easily fill my head with a lot of theology and talk about grand, cerebral concepts while people sit in the “pews” and saw logs, but do I live my theology, and am I able to explain the precepts of God to a heroin addict on the street, a rich upper-middle class doctor, and a young child?  If what I’m communicating isn’t penetrating to the level of the heart, then it’s just babble.

“Not given to drunkenness”.  I feel that this is a truly unpopular demand made upon especially young leaders in the church today.  I even have friends who seem to think that having an occassional beer amidst the drunks at a bar is no big deal.  And in one sense it is drunkenness that is condemned in scripture, and not having a drink.  But I’ve seen these same friends have moments of going overboard.  And I’m talking here of people on staff at churches, bible believing churches nonetheless, who are getting drunk and making a disgrace of the cross of Christ to a watching world.  We are called to not make anyone stumble.  In our culture, that would mean that the only drinking we do would be in secret, because a teenager could see me throwing a brew down in a bar and be inspiring to go and down a 12 pack because his youth pastor was doing it.  What good can come of this?  It seems that the greatest solution to the drinking issue in our church and culture is just to abstain altogether, for “everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial”.  This is a personal conviction and a grey area, I know, but I’ve been through eras in my life as a leader of God’s people where I would occasionally have a beer without ever getting drunk, and I just don’t see the point or good of that anymore.

“Not violent but gentle”.  I have deeply struggled with this precept, because I am truly a fiesty man.  My Dad had a short fuse, and so do I.  It always chilled me to the bone to realize that Jesus called anger spiritual murder.  I do understand how the root of anger can birth malice and turn into a chaotic emotion that has lost all control.  This issue has taken much prayer for me.  Will I choose to flip out at the person going 7 miles under the speed limit in front of me while I’m running late?  Will I curse and swear when the 3 year old child who lives with his family in the apartment above my wife Sarah and I decides to stomp around at 10:30pm an hour past when we’ve fallen asleep?  This takes great faith and I only need more of it.  The Lord has definitely changed this in me, because when I was 18 years old I would get angry enough to break inanimate objects on a regular basis, now I just get angry enough to yell at my cats when they behave as miscreants or fill their litter box with a myriad of turd nuggets and pee-cakes.

“Not quarrelsome”.  We live in a culture where people patronize each other often face to face, and don’t deal with conflict.  I’ve certainly been guilty of this.  The worst thing about our culture is the fact that we have Facebook and blogs to vent our frustrations, which haven’t been dealt with biblically according to Matthew 18.  I’ve also been guilty of doing this in the past.  But now I understand clearly that if I have a conflict with someone in the church, I am to go to them one on one and deal with it.  Of course if they won’t listen then I’ll have to go with a witness, and if still they won’t then I’ll have to bring it before leaders in the church.  So ultimately I hope to always put this into practice, so as to avoid any unnecessary quarreling.  And I have discovered, the hard way, that all quarreling is unnecessary.

“Not a lover of money”.  Wow, we’ve really dropped the ball on this one in our modern day church… at least in the context of the “First World”!  It’s important to mention that there are many pastors and spiritual leaders who aren’t addicted to the love of money.  There are those who constantly meet the needs of the poor, are generous with their resources, and don’t live an ugly American life.  We ought to look at the examples of leaders like Rick Warren, who tithes 90% of his large fortune to the church and the work of global mission in many varied and needy countries.  We ought to look at guys like Francis Chan, who is described in a Christianity Today article:  “Despite what is clearly a flourishing ministry, Chan remains an anomaly. He lives in a tract house in one of Simi Valley’s down-and-out suburbs with his wife and four children. He rides a 1995 Honda Elite scooter to work.  According to one comment he made in a sermon, Chan gives away about 90 percent of his income (though his church administrator preferred the phrase “most of his income”). Chan doesn’t take a salary from his church, and his book royalties, which total about $500,000, mostly go to organizations like International Justice Mission, which rescues sex slaves in foreign countries. The Chans often open their home to families who need a place to stay. One of Cornerstone’s community pastors, Bill Lucas, lived with Chan for nine months, and says he “lives out what he says.  In an age that is cynical about religious leaders, the Chans’ lifestyle no doubt helps to explain why the pastor has attracted so many listeners and readers. There is also his restlessness to bring others to a relationship with Christ, even if it means starting all over again.”  (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/october/30.42.html)

And there are many more examples of sacrificial Jesus followers who have abandoned the worthlessness of riches, like Keith Green, A.B. Simpson, Charles Wesley, Rich Mullins, Shane Claiborne, and David Platt…

Yet, we are in our scenarios in our world.  We need to remember that as Americans, even if we are in the lower-middle class, we are wealthy.  The 3rd World experiences poverty that we could never imagine- not having clean drinking water, or living on a ear of corn a day.  So with that presupposition we should interpret what being a “lover of money” truly is.  We live in an age where too many pastors drive luxury cars and live in lavish homes with big screen TVs, and 401K’s.  They take regular trips to Barbados and other various vacation destinations.  They have nothing but new designer clothes, and they have all the latest toys- iPods, expensive computers, iPhones and iPads.  I write this from a year old MacBook Pro, while wearing my designer Vans shoes.  I eat three meals, usually of my choice, a day.  I am filthy rich because of this.  But there are families of 6 in Bulgaria that live comfortably in a 4 room apartment, and there are people in Africa who are living with families of 10 in a one room mud-hut.  Is there something wrong with this picture?  Yes there is.  We as pastors ought to live sacrificially, which in America, is still a very comfortable life.  We’re afraid that if we drive a junk car people will make fun of us, we’re afraid that if we live in a smaller home people will accuse us of making our family suffer.  But we aren’t thinking biblically, we’re thinking in our American framework.  We as pastors in America shouldn’t make the excuses we do- the American church represents merely 4% of the total population of the global church!  The way we think and act as a cultural expression of the Body of Christ is not in the majority.  The prophets would call us greedy and consumeristic, as well as shutting our ears to the cries of the poor.  Their voices are not irrelevant to us today.

“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.”  These principles have begun with loving my wife and leading her well, most of all by example, so that she may flourish and have joy, purpose and peace in her life and faith.  But now that she is pregnant with a little girl, I realize that I hope to follow all the precepts we’ve mentioned above, as well as being fiercely loving and nurturing to my child.  I only hope and pray that God will allow my wife and I to be the beginning of a good legacy, and that we’ll be remembered by our great-grandchildren as people who loved and lived for Jesus in a way that’s tangible and inspiring to them.

“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”  When I first “got nabbed” by Jesus, I immediately wanted to be in a leadership role of some sort.  I was certainly by no means a humble man, especially when God grabbed a hold of me.  Then I came across this passage and it ran a chill down my spine.  Being conceited, like I was, is the same mistake that the devil made- trying to put himself equal with or above God Himself.  Now after more years of hitting walls and maturing I can say that I prayerfully seek to hear the Lord’s voice instead of confusing His with my own.

“He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap”.  I certainly wish that all pastors would see how important it is for the church to have an impact on it’s surrounding community, region, country and globe in small and big ways.  I really believe that this verse is telling us that we should be the cultural custodians of the communities in which we minister.  When we pick up dry cleaning, or grab chinese food, or pay for groceries, people always have their eyes on us, especially if they know we are pastors or church leaders.  We should reflect Christ at all times.  Beyond that, we should continually be in redemptive relationships with people who don’t know Jesus yet.  We will have difficulty encouraging our people to reach out to those outside of the church when we are not seeking to do so as well.  It’s interesting that if we don’t do this, we’ll “fall into the devil’s trap”.  I suppose it is the devil’s trap just as well to become insulated and religious without being fueled by the merciful mission of Jesus.

So there we go!  I’ve tested myself against this passage of scripture, and just like when I first read it, I have a long way to go!  However, I’m grateful for the work God has done and continues to do in my life in all of these areas, and can only pray He’ll do the same for you, whether you’re a churchy church-man or just a normal person who loves the Lord.

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3 thoughts on “The Bible Has High Standards For Leaders in the Church, and We Ought to Strive to Live up to Them!

  1. Ben we’ve covered the same ground so many times about “pastors drive luxury cars and live in lavish homes…” etc, etc. You always seem to focus on the few, mostly on TV, that live this lifestyle. However I believe the majority of evangelical pastors serve NOT for the money but because they love Jesus and His people. Most pastors I know do not make a lot of money, drive older cars, don’t eat out a lot, live on a budget, and give their tithe to the church. When I became a pastor I took a 40% cut in pay, bought a cheaper house, drove my car until it died at 13 years. I am not unusual. I hope you can stop making an over-generalization about pastors that gives a wrong impression of many of us who truly love the church, love God’s people and help those who need it. Living sacrificially is a very subjective and relative term and something that each true believer must seek God on.

    • Thanks for the comment Bill. Yes I agree- “each true believer must seek God on what it means to live sacrificially”. I’m glad both you and I are doing that, and may we continue to bring glory to Jesus at our maximum capacity! Keep up the good work brother.

  2. Pingback: more dialogue on the language of identity (and confusion and sin) « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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