Qualifications for Elders & Deacons
Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Yesterday, our elders and deacons finished up an officer’s retreat and we had a great time together. We talked about all the things we love about this church – all the ways we have seen God at work in this church. We identified a few blind spots. We also did some dreaming about the future, prayerfully considering where God might lead us.
And I’m excited to tell you this morning that we have decided to open nominations for new elders and deacons! In God’s good providence, we’re in the perfect place in 1 Timothy to consider exactly what that means and what we should be looking for as we nominate men for elder and deacon.
We want to encourage you to carefully consider the qualifications listed in the Bible as you pray about who to nominate. I’m going to start by reading the first 13 verses of 1 Timothy 3.
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The word overseer is often used interchangeably with the word elder. It’s the same office, so I’m going to stick with the word elder (since that’s what we call them at Christ Fellowship).
Elders are primarily responsible for the spiritual needs of the church, teaching and shepherding the members of the church. Deacons are primarily responsible for the physical needs of the church – mercy and service.
The Apostle Paul highlights at least four basic qualifications for elders and deacons.
First, we are looking for men who are called. We are looking for men who are called.
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
We know Paul isn’t referring to worldly ambition because he condemns this in other places.
Everywhere in the Bible, it is God who calls men to positions of service. Men never call themselves. But there is a desire to serve, a willingness to serve. The desire is not for the office or the position. According to Paul, the desire is for the task or the work.
So how do we know if a man is called? We look at his life. Does he enjoy the work of the church? Is he already doing the job of an elder or a deacon without the title?
Over and over, Jesus teaches his disciples that leadership is NOT a position or a title. Leadership is service. We don’t aspire to be recognized. We don’t aspire to have authority. We aspire only to serve God.
As D.L. Moody once said, “We only work for one person.”
Leadership in the church is not something you surrender to. No one should have to twist your arm into doing the work. It will be a delight to the one whom God calls.
And so, I want to say to the men of this church, if you don’t want to do the work, then you are not called to do it. If you’re not already doing the work, then you aren’t called to the office.
And to the church, you are looking for men who enjoy serving – men who are already doing it. Men who are called.
Second, we are looking for men of good character. Men of good character.
As I read the list of qualifications Paul gives, this seems to be his primary concern. God wants us to look for men of good character.
The trouble with this is that character is not only what someone appears to be. Character is who someone really is. That was a problem in the Corinthian church. The people were gifted, but they lacked character.
The world looks for gifted people, people with a lot of skill. We will be tempted to choose the men with the most knowledge. Or the men with the most worldly success.
God wants us to focus on the man’s character. But how do we see that? The only way to see it is through relationships.
How can you know if someone is self-controlled? How can you know if someone is gentle, not violent? How can you know if someone is a lover of money or not? You’re not going to see any of this on a Sunday morning. We need men to show us who they are in real relationships.
God wants us to have the kind of relationships in the church where we know each other.
So, we are looking for men who aren’t afraid to be known. Their character must be visible to us. Their lives must be on display. There is nothing to hide.
Of course, this is not a standard of perfection. Remember, Paul has already described himself as the chief of sinners in this same letter. In a very real sense, no one is really qualified to lead God’s church.
Instead, the question here is one of reputation. This is what Paul means by “above reproach”.
Does the man have a reputation of being violent? Is he known to be quarrelsome? Is he known to be a drunkard? Is he respected? If he is married, does his wife think he should serve as an elder or deacon? What would his friends say?
We will ask these questions because the character qualification is a protection for the church.
There will be difficult decisions to make. There will be heavy discussions. We want men of character representing us. Not men with quick tempers and an ax to grind.
Men, if you lack character, then God is not calling you to be an elder or deacon.
Church, look for men of good character and good reputation. If you don’t know him, don’t nominate him.
Third, Paul tells us to look for competent men.
Paul says that both elders and deacons must manage their household well. Elders must not be recent converts. Deacons must be tested before they serve.
All of this is a measure of competency. Can they do the job? If a man’s household is not well-ordered, then how can we expect him to manage the church? If he’s a recent convert, how can he shepherd other Christians towards maturity?
There is also an additional qualification for elders. They must be able to teach. They must be able to share in the ministry of the Word. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a good preacher, but he must be able to help lead the discipleship of the church.
How do we know if men can do this? They need to be tested. They need to demonstrate an ability to handle God’s Word. They know it. They know and understand doctrine.
Men, if you haven’t been tested, then you aren’t being called. We don’t need to make someone an elder or a deacon hoping they will one day learn how to do the job or one day learn Scripture.
Church, the men that already demonstrating an ability to do a good job are the ones you should want to lead you.
Look for competent men.
Finally, we are looking for Christian men. This may seem obvious, but it absolutely needs to be said.
The kind of maturity we need to see is the men who serve the church as elders and deacons can only happen as a result of genuine faith in Christ. It’s not a product of self-righteousness or pride. It’s produced by faith and repentance and steeping in humility.
Paul will end his letter to Timothy with several warnings.
Sin very often hides in darkness. Some men are very good at hiding their real motives. Some that seem to be Christians are not.
We must be careful that the men we choose are more than just outwardly religious.
All of the qualifications Paul gives should be understood as the fruit or the evidence of a deeply changed life. They are the fruit of the Gospel.
Some of that evidence can be faked. But the humility and the confidence found in Christ is not something people can fake.
Remember again that in chapter 1 Paul calls himself the chief of sinners. This is a man who was probably the most important leader in God’s church. But he had no agenda to make much of himself.
At the same time, he was not afraid to stand up for the truth. He was not afraid to fight for the unity and purity of the church.
This is what the Gospel does to us. We make less of ourselves and more of Christ, just as Christ Jesus humbled himself on the cross for us.
And so, this is really the most important qualification. Don’t consider men who want to look good.
Look for men who will point you to Jesus. Because that will be their job. Men, help us see Jesus. Church, choose men who want you to see Jesus.
Christ Jesus is the only true head of the Church. May He lead us in wisdom and protect us from the enemy.