Thursday, July 19, 2012

Qualifications for Church Ministry - 1 Timothy 3

Paul gives instructions to Timothy, a pastor, regarding the qualifications of ministers that should be in his church. 

 1 Timothy 3:14-15 (ESV)
14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

Paul has laid a foundation of good teaching, unity in community, and prayer in the first two chapters of this pastoral letter. Here, he continues his systematic and practical instruction for church life by describing the qualifications of elders and deacons in the church.

Elders and deacons are at the core of community life. In the church, they become the servants of all. They are prime stakeholders, responsible for community organizing, teaching and training in scripture, administration, service, and equipping others to do the work of the ministry.

Elders and deacons can rightly be called "church leadership", but leadership in the church is different than leadership in the world. In Luke, Jesus said to the apostles, later the leaders of the church, that they were to be servants, just as he was.

Luke 22:27 (ESV)
For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Peter, the main spokesman among the apostles, said this of elders in the church:

1 Peter 5:1-3 (ESV)
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2  shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

This passage also shows us that those called apostles (like Peter) functioned as elders in the early church (he calls himself a fellow elder).

In Acts, Paul speaks to the elders in a similar way:

Acts 20:28,32-35 (ESV)
28  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33  I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34  You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

As with all roles in the church, elders and deacons are gifts of God, and are empowered by God to fulfill their role. They serve the church in faith. They need not campaign or manipulate to be elected or selected. In a healthy church, those that have a desire and fulfill the character qualifications may be permitted to serve.

1 Timothy 3:1 (ESV)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.

Paul begins by describing the qualifications of an elder. In the ESV, they are called "overseers" in this chapter. The titles "overseer", "elder", and "pastor" are often used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. The role's description stays constant. Sometimes the apostles also act in the role of elder, so we have a clue as to the role there as well.

Three notable things are the same in the description of both elders and deacons.

Desiring Church Leadership (1 Tim 3)

1. It is good to want to be in church leadership.
- The desire to be in church leadership is itself an indication of calling. (This includes women who desire to be in leadership. 1 Timothy 3:1 calls the desire "noble".)
- It is not wrong, vain, or ambitious to want to be in church leadership
- Those who want to be in church leadership should not be despised or discouraged, regardless of perceived ability to do so.
- Those who do not want to be in church leadership should not be coerced, regardless of their perceived gifting or ability to do so.

2. Character is promoted
- Integrity and character are described as qualifications above gifting, experience, vision, ambition, or any other qualification usually expected for leadership as the world understands it.
- To quickly burden someone with the role of elder or deacon before they have the character to handle it is to set them up for failure.
- Ministry without character, no matter how eager or gifted the minister, will be damaging to the minister and the church.

3. There is no size limit to the leadership teams
- Pastoring in a church is not the role of only one person. Elders and deacons work together to build up and equip the community.
- Teams work in mutuality to serve the church humbly.

Therefore, any person in a church with the desire and character for church eldership or deaconship can be given a role on a team of leaders, regardless of the size of the team, or percentage of the church already in leadership.


Elders are primarily responsible for the scriptural teaching and preaching in the community and spiritual development of the community and its members.

Qualifications for Elders (vv 1-7)

1- They are above reproach (v2), and have a good reputation (v7).

2- Their family is their first priority.
- They are faithful to their family (a one spouse person - v2).
- They manage their household well (vv4-5).
Therefore, in the case of people with families, a healthy relationship with their spouse and children is essential. Furthermore, all church members, ministers especially, should be encouraged to make their family their priority. The first responsibility for ministers is to minister to their families, and then the church. If the minister's family is not healthy, the church will not be healthy.

3- They have healthy relationships
-not violent, but gentle (v3)
-not quarrelsome (v3)
Both of these qualifications can be seen in a person's relationships.

4- They have good self-discipline (v2)
-sober-minded (v2)
-self-controlled (v2)
-respectable (v2)
-not a drunkard (v3)

5- They are generous
-hospitable (v2)
-not a lover of money (v3)
Church elders are givers.

6- They are able to teach (v2)
This is the first qualification that is not an issue of personal character. It is the only gift listed. It is absent from the list of qualifications for a deacon.

7- They are not a new convert (v6)
-Leadership as it exists in the church is markedly different from leadership as it exists in the world. Leadership in the world comes with acclaim and prestige and power. In the church a leader equips and serves, others. They are not a person of power as the world knows it. To wait a time before entering an eldership or teaching role, a new person has an opportunity to simply receive grace and freedom in community before taking on the burden of leadership. When they have learned to receive, they will better be able to give.


The Greek word for deacon means server, as in a server in a restaurant. For this reason, Acts 6 is often given as the first example of deacons in the church. In the early church, controversies arose over the distribution of food amongst the widows in the church. The community had grown rapidly, and the apostles did not have the time to properly judge or administrate the practical issue. They responded by suggesting the role of deacon.

Acts 6:2-4 (ESV)
2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The congregation chose from among themselves people who were able to fulfill the role of administration and practical ministry within the community. In churches today the role of deacon may include tasks like creating a church budget, scheduling and organizing of community events, administration, dissemination of information through announcements or otherwise, banking, research, facility maintenance, making and serving food, collecting donations, or any other form of practical service in the church that requires making decisions on the community's behalf.

Put simply, elders serve the church primarily by saying things. Deacons serve the church primarily by doing things.

Qualifications for Deacons

1- They hold their faith with a clear conscience (v9)
-they are dignified (v8)
-not double tongued (v8)
These are all part of having integrity. What they say matches what they do, and what they do remains the same and has conviction.

2- Their family is their first priority.
- Their spouse also has integrity (v11)
- They manage their household well (v12)
Therefore, in the case of people with families, a healthy relationship with their spouse and children is essential. Furthermore, all church members, ministers especially, should be encouraged to make their family their priority. The first responsibility for ministers is to minister to their families, and then the church. If the minister's family is not healthy, the church will not be healthy.

4- They have good self-discipline (v8)
-they don't drink too much (v8)

5- They are not greedy for money (v8)
-Deacons are givers.
-This is also an issue of integrity, since the verse describes "dishonest gain".

6- They are tested (v10)
-This is similar to the elder's qualification that they not be a recent convert. Issues of character are seen over time, so time should be taken to know if someone fits the qualifications.


It takes work to have a healthy community. Every person in community is uniquely gifted to serve and to lead in the way Holy Spirit has filled them to do so. Any and all who show a desire to serve as elders and deacons should be allowed the opportunity if the meet the qualifications of good character and time. Those that don't will have the opportunity in community to grow in their character until they do have the character to fulfill these roles.

Not everyone wants to be an elder or deacon in a church. Whether someone does or does not, healthy community will seek to find where each person does fit according to their gifts and needs.

It is all in and through and for Jesus that we live in true Christian community. This is our unity in the diversity of gifts.

Read 1 Timothy 3

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