Some Advice For Today’s Church Leaders
From the Apostle Paul
[1st Timothy chapter 3]
Today we will continue our ongoing study of the apostle Paul’s writings, taking up where we left off last week at the end of chapter two. In this letter to Timothy, Paul cautions him about certain individuals who crave to be in charge of a church, especially when it is for the wrong reasons. Notice Paul’s terminology as he applies it to the church because it is different than today for the most part. So, let’s explore the details of this chapter beginning at verse one.
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 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 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.” (1st Timothy chapter 3, verses 1-7, NIV)
Notice Paul’s terminology right here in the first verse. He calls the senior church leader an overseer. Not a bishop, an archbishop, or a pope (my apologies to all my Catholic brothers and sisters, but that’s what the Bible says, I mean no disrespect). These are man’s terminologies, and they should be viewed with skepticism. They weren’t commonly used until at least 300 years after the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. The head of a church, what we have become accustomed to calling pastor, reverend, or bishop, should have the title of overseer. And yet it is very seldom that we see or hear the senior leader of a church addressed as such. This goes to show you just how far off base the modern church has become – regardless of denomination – since that time. “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach…”. Paul makes it abundantly clear that anyone who desires to be the head of a church had better not have any skeletons in their closets. But he goes much further than that. Divorced men and women, greedy people, heavy drinkers and others who “party hardy” have no business in the pulpit. Neither do people with overactive libidos, or who have a bad temper or a mean disposition, or who are recent converts. On this last point, this could include anyone who has been a Christian for, say, less than 5-10 years
An overseer must have a good reputation outside the church as well as within. Nobody wants to have a crook or a swindler as the head of any church. Contrast that to some churches today, who spend all their money buying TV airtime so they can beg or grovel for even more. I know of two Christian TV networks, whom I will decline to name, that have millions of dollars in the bank drawing interest. The interest alone on these deposited millions would generate sufficient income to keep most any church solvent. Yet they always beg for more. I know of two pastors right here in Atlanta where I live that do this very thing. One of them drives a Rolls Royce, the other drives a Bentley convertible (as before, I will decline to name them). The question in my mind is, what are these two “ministers” doing driving around in cars with six-figure price tags? That money should be given to the poor and needy, as well as to help fund outreach programs at the local, state, national and global level. The price of a Rolls Royce would be sufficient to build at least three houses for Habitat for Humanity. That’s three more homeless families that could be taken off the streets. Those who squander their church’s money on highly expensive cars, enormous homes, expensive clothes, boats and even airplanes (I’m not kidding, there are TV evangelists who have their own planes!) will be held accountable by God at the final judgment. Having said enough about that – at least for now – let’s continue starting at verse eight.
“Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who serve well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (1st Timothy chapter 3, verses 8-16, NIV)
Deacons, for those readers who don’t go to church much, are basically assistant overseers. They answer to the overseer and the church as a whole, and they are held accountable to one another. They must be respectable, having a good reputation both within and out of the church, and it is imperative that they take their limited authority very seriously. They can’t be shady salesmen or unscrupulous businessmen or women, and their reverence towards God, combined with their faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ, must be at the forefront of their lives. “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” This point is simply non-negotiable to any serious Christian. Church leaders can’t be compromising with God, they can’t lead Jekyll and Hyde double lives, and they and their wives must remain faithful to one another to set a good example for the rest of the church to follow. “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.” This brings to mind a couple of experiences from my own past. I first became saved by Christ and committed the rest of my life to Him back in 1992. Since then I have served as a musician in five different churches, but I never started off that way in any of them. I sat quietly and fed on the Word during my initial time with these churches. I quietly let them know that I was a keyboard player and that I was available if needed. Then, provided that the Lord led and encouraged me to do so, I continued to attend weekly while beginning the process of learning their music. On average, it took me as much as four to six months just to get myself to a point where I had learned their songs enough to be able to play them (I can read music, but I mostly play by ear). During this trial process I learned as much as I could about that particular church while giving them an equal chance to get to know me as well. This is how I allow myself to be tested by them and approved by God in that congregation. Deacons and overseers are similar in this regard, except that the process for them would be more rigorous than a musician. This is just one example of what it means “to be tested”.
“A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who serve well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” Based on Paul’s writing, a divorced person can’t be the head of any church. There’s no telling how many people are breaking this law of God even as I write this. I can only tell you that the pastor at my church has been married to the same lady for 31 years. Besides my blogging, book writing and my website, if I didn’t have those I would still settle for being just a musician, having all of my former sins from before I gave my life and my heart to the Lord washed away by the blood of Jesus. That is good enough for me, and I am contented with that. But I serve to the very best of my ability in order to receive “excellent standing” and “great assurance” in Christ, not just to make a good impression with other people. I encourage you all to find a way to do the same. It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, just get it done with the knowledge that your service gives you the greatest assurance in Christ.
“…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” The church, regardless of denomination, is God’s household. Are we loud and boisterous during church (babies excluded)? Of course not, no one would do that. But order should be maintained, not because of man-made traditions but because God is present, or at least I would certainly hope so. The same goes for our everyday living. Let me ask this question, for example. When you are driving in your vehicle, do you drive it as if Jesus was sitting in the passenger seat? Because, you know, he really is whether one believes it or not. Think about that the next time you’re stuck in traffic, or if somebody cuts you off or pulls out in front of you. That’s the proper perspective on this entire issue, and on this particular chapter of 1st Timothy as well. Jesus is both physical body and Spirit, and he “was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” He will be returning soon to take home his Bride, which is the church. His bride must be spotless and without wrinkle or blemish, as the Bible says in the book of Revelation. Since the time of His return is very nearly upon us, let’s take today’s lesson to heart. While you’re at it, start warning people that His return is nearly upon us. Therefore, this is how we should be living. We’re just about out of time.