“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach.” (1 Timothy 3:1-2)
According to the scriptures, what makes a man eligible to serve an elder is not his charisma, gifts, experience, education, or eloquence but character—the scriptures emphasize character over competence.
This is quite different from what we experience in the business world when looking for a job; for example, a lawyer who studied at Harvard, who is a good communicator, and who has experience working for renowned law firms would have better chances of finding a new job than a less experienced right-out college lawyer.
And this is understandable. We all want capable, qualified, and experienced people working in our companies who can help the company grow and generate profit. And the same is true for our churches. So, likewise, we want capable and qualified leaders serving in our congregations. However, contrary to the business world, which might not go beyond the background check to verify someone’s integrity, the scriptures teach us that God values character above everything else, and for a good reason, because like Jesus, who taught obedience by example, so the elders are to set an example before the congregation in their personal/devotional, family, and public life.
In God’s view, qualification has nothing to do with intellectual formation or skills but with who we are before him. When appointing men to serve in leadership positions, the Lord considers the heart, not gifting. And this is good news for all who aspire to serve as elders and might think they do not have the “right qualifications” to serve. Because the work that elders do is a fine, noble task, as Paul said in our passage above, elders ought to have a noble character, not a noble curriculum to serve.
Therefore, when appointing men to serve, the existing elders and the church must look for men that fulfill the biblical qualifications and be careful not to add to the standard given in the scriptures as requirements bearing the same weight of the word of God.
Elders are to live a blameless life, and those who desire to do the fine work of shepherding God’s people desire a good thing. Therefore, they must aim not only for the position but to do the work of caring for God’s people.
Elders are to be an example, but they are far from being perfect models. Thanks be to Jesus, who, by dying on the cross, showed us that he is the ideal model, the true shepherd of his people, who never leaves or forsakes his people.
Fellow elders, be encouraged by the fact that the creator of the universe has called you and me to this fine work of leading his people; our labors will be rewarded with a crown of glory that is already waiting for us and remember, in our weaknesses his grace is sufficient for us. And for those who aspire or believe that they have been called to serve in a different capacity in the church but are not sure, my encouragement is this; aim first and foremost to be a man with a singular devotion to God, his word, your family, and rest. Because at the appropriate time, Jesus, who sees beyond outward appearances, will make things clear to you and the church.
Praise the Lord that in his mercy has raised fallen men to serve our congregations in the power of his Spirit, and through their example and love (as imperfect as they are), God is leading and showing his care for his people.