How the Church Picks Its Leadership
Immanuel Baptist Church – August 16, 2020
Who should be in leadership positions
in Christian churches?
And, how should they be selected?
People answer those questions differently,
depending on which church tradition they come from.
In some hierarchical churches, like the Roman Catholics,
appointments to local churches
come down from above within the hierarchy.
In some liberal churches,
qualifying for leadership is largely a popularity contest,
or a matter of who you play golf with.
If we look at some mega-churches,
it might seem that the qualifications for leadership
are a having polished TV image,
and being an entertaining speaker
who can dance across the stage while preaching.
Aside from these extremes,
you can find all sorts of variations
in how different churches select their leadership.
But, what does the Bible say?
Does God give us guidelines in Scripture?
The question of who to choose
to fill a leadership position
came up very early in the history of the Church.
We read about it in the First Chapter of Acts,
right after Jesus left the disciples
and ascended to the Father in heaven.
If we turn to Acts 1:12, we’ll see it establishes the setting.
The Apostles had just watched Christ
ascend bodily into heaven at the Mount of Olives.
And we read at Acts 1:12,
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had come in, they went up into the upper room, where they were staying; that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.
So, the 11 faithful Apostles are all there,
meeting together in an upper room
where they were staying while in Jerusalem.
Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem
until he clothed them with power
by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon them.
That would happen on the day of Pentecost.
But, in the meantime, the Apostles were to wait.
Verse 14 tells us what they were doing while waiting,
and who else was there with the Apostles.
14 All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
15 In these days, Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples (and the number of names was about one hundred twenty), and said,
So, it was a congregation of believers—
around 120 people, including the 11 faithful Apostles
and other brothers and sisters in the faith.
And Peter is about to bring up to them
the matter of filling a vacancy on the 12 Apostles.
Peter’s words begin at Acts 1:16.
16 “Brothers, it was necessary that this Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to those who took Jesus. 17 For he was numbered with us, and received his portion in this ministry.”
Peter is talking about Judas Iscariot,
the unfaithful one among the 12 Apostles,
who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
Peter is about to quote prophetic words
from the Psalms of David.
But, first, Luke, the author of the Book of Acts,
adds an explanatory note about Judas Iscariot,
that is placed in parentheses in many Bibles.
18 (Now this man obtained a field with the reward for his wickedness, and falling headlong, his body burst open, and all his intestines gushed out. 19 It became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem, so that in their language that field was called ‘Akeldama,’ that is, ‘The field of blood.’) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Judas hanged himself.
So, perhaps it was after his body was hanging for a while,
that the rope broke,
so that his body fell and burst open.
In any case, Peter was about to introduce
one of the Psalms of David
that applied to replacing Judas—
filling the position Judas left vacant.
Quoting from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8,
‘Let his habitation be made desolate.
Let no one dwell therein;’
‘Let another take his office.’
So, Peter brought Scripture into play in the matter
of filling the vacancy among the 12 Apostles—
the position left vacant by Judas Iscariot.
And this is the very first occasion in the New Testament
where a leadership position in the Church
is about to be filled.
Peter went on to say how someone should be selected
for that position among the 12 Apostles.
21 “Of the men therefore who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
So, Peter was spelling out the qualifications
to be met for a man to be selected to fill that position.
It must be a man who shared
all the same experiences the Apostles shared,
throughout Jesus’ 3-1/2-year ministry—
not someone who joined them recently,
but someone who had been
following Jesus all that time.
It would be a man who was there
at the very beginning of Christ’s ministry,
when John the Baptist was baptizing,
right through Jesus’ ascension to heaven.
There were two men who met the qualifications.
23 They put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 They prayed, and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place.”
So, the Apostles prayed
and asked God to choose which of those men
should take Judas’s empty position.
How would they know God’s answer?
Verse 26 says,
26 They drew lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
They could draw lots in this situation,
because both men were qualified.
It would never be appropriate to draw lots on a matter
where God’s Word already told us
which choice was right, and which was wrong.
With Matthias added to their number,
there were now 12 Apostles, once again.
What does that tell us about how God wants the Church
to choose its leadership today?
That was an unusual circumstance.
Obviously, we can not apply those same qualifications
when selecting pastors, elders, deacons,
or others in church leadership today.
But we do learn a few things from this example.
First of all, we learn that there are qualifications
for positions of leadership in the Church.
It should never be a just a matter of personal friendship,
or playing golf with the right people,
to get someone into such a position.
And we also learn that the choice should be God’s,
Letting God choose our leaders involves prayer,
as the Apostles prayed.
And it also involves looking to the qualifications
that God spells out in his Word, the Bible.
Where do we find those qualifications?
Well, since Peter led the Church
in filling that vacancy among the 12 Apostles,
we can start off with what Peter wrote later,
in his First Letter to believers.
At 1 Peter 5:1, he wrote,
1 I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and one who will also share in the glory that will be revealed.
So, besides being one of the 12 Apostles,
Peter also spoke of himself as an “elder.”
And he considered himself a “fellow elder”
alongside the elders in the churches he wrote to.
The term “elder” isn’t used in today’s churches
as often as other titles like
pastors, deacons, trustees, and so on.
But the New Testament uses the term “elder”
to refer to those who teach, shepherd and oversee
Peter makes that clear
when he goes on to say to those elders,
2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, not for dishonest gain, but willingly; 3 neither as lording it over those entrusted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock.
Depending on how churches are set up today,
the men doing this work Peter describes
could include people
who today are called “elders” or “deacons”
“pastors,” “ministers,” and so on.
And Peter is encouraging these people,
to do their work as a service to God,
not for the money, if theirs is a paid position,
and not to be bossing people around,
but to lead by example.
This gives us some insight into the personality
that should be displayed
by those in church leadership.
But some of the other New Testament letters
actually spell out in detail
the qualifications God specifies
for the positions of pastor, elder, or deacon.
Paul outlined these qualifications in detail
in his letters to Timothy and Titus,
because he left those two men behind
in churches he planted.
Timothy and Titus had to get those churches established
by appointing qualified leadership.
So, we might look first at Paul’s letter to Titus,
beginning at Titus 1:5.
5 I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you;
So, Paul gave Titus the assignment of appointing elders
in the churches in different cities
across the large island of Crete.
The elders would oversee the churches
and would preach and teach in the churches,
so they would be like
pastors and elders or deacons
who oversee matters and teach in churches today.
Paul spelled out for Titus the Spirit-inspired guidelines
as to who would qualify
to be appointed to these positions.
Beginning in Titus 1:6 he says,
6 if anyone is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, who are not accused of loose or unruly behavior.
So, in order to be appointed to church leadership
a man could not be in a polygamous relationship
with multiple wives,
as was common in those days
and in some 3rd world countries today.
Nor could a man be appointed who was
living with a girlfriend without being married to her.
The inspired advice continues, spelling-out
the behavior and personality traits required
in anyone appointed to church leadership.
7 For the overseer must be blameless, as God’s steward; not self-pleasing, not easily angered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for dishonest gain; 8 but given to hospitality, a lover of good, sober minded, fair, holy, self-controlled;
Someone who is in it just for the money
would be disqualified.
So would a violent person, given to outbursts of anger.
A heavy drinker would be disqualified.
Only someone setting a personal example
of good behavior and hospitality
could be appointed.
And, since the “elders” would be
pastors or teachers in the church,
the inspired qualifications include
faithfulness to the Gospel message,
and the ability to defend the faith.
Verse 9 says,
9 holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict those who contradict him.
Already back then in the First Century there were
teachers of false doctrine coming into the churches
and trying to mislead the brothers and sisters
into adopting doctrines and practices
contrary to Scripture.
So, the men appointed to oversee and teach
needed to be sound in their own doctrine,
and able to defend the truth
against those false teachers who arose.
As Titus went from city to city on the island of Crete,
he would need to look for men in each church
who met these qualifications
to be appointed into positions of leadership.
Paul’s younger associate Timothy was entrusted
with responsibility similar to Titus’s,
so Paul enumerated the qualifications for appointees
in his First Letter to Timothy, as well.
In this case, the Apostle supplies
two different lists of requirements,
one list for those he calls “overseers”—
which would mean pastors and teaching elders—
and a second list for deacons,
who would care for other work in the church.
We find the inspired guidelines in 1 Timothy, Chapter 3,
where it begins like this,
talking first about what would apply
to pastors and elders who teach:
1 This is a faithful saying: if a man seeks the office of an overseer, he desires a good work. 2 The overseer therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, modest, hospitable, good at teaching;
Just as in his letter to Titus, Paul here again emphasizes
the good example that should be set
by those in church leadership.
Besides being good at teaching,
a pastor or elder would need to be exemplary
in his marriage and home life.
Paul goes on in Verse 3 to elaborate on these qualities
by listing the negatives—the attributes that disqualify
a man from serving among the leadership:
3 not a drinker, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having children in subjection with all reverence; 5 (but if a man doesn’t know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the assembly of God?)
Everyone drank wine with their meals in those days,
and Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding,
so that isn’t what Paul meant when he said
“not a drinker.”
Rather, I think we all know what it means for a person
to be known as “a drinker,”
and that sort of reputation would disqualify one.
Likewise, a greedy, quarrelsome or violent man
would be ineligible to hold office in the church.
And a disorderly household with unruly children
would also be grounds for disqualification.
Paul then goes on to say that “a new convert”
who just began to follow Jesus,
should not be appointed.
6 not a new convert, lest being puffed up he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have good testimony from those who are outside, to avoid falling into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Being thrust too quickly into leadership
could be a stumbling block for a new Christian.
So, it is best to let a man become seasoned in the faith
before appointing him to teach as an elder
or to be a pastor.
It could also become a snare or a trap
if someone with a bad reputation in the community
were appointed to a leadership role in the church.
Now, all that has been said, so far, has been in reference
to teaching elders and pastors.
But Paul goes on, in his letter to Timothy,
to outline the qualifications for deacons.
In today’s churches the line is often blurred
between “elders” and “deacons.”
The terms are sometimes used interchangeably,
so many churches don’t have elders—
just pastors and deacons.
Biblically, though, the distinction
mainly involves preaching and teaching.
Elders preached and taught,
while deacons served the church in other ways.
So, when Paul enumerates the qualifications for deacons,
you’ll see that they are pretty much the same
as the qualifications for elders,
except for preaching or teaching.
Spiritually and morally, those appointed as deacons
must meet the same high standards.
In Verse 8 Paul says,
8 Deacons, in the same way, must be reverent, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for money; 9 holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 Let them also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are blameless.
So, the same high standards of godly conduct
apply to deacons as well.
The moral failings that would disqualify a man
from being a pastor or elder
would similarly disqualify him from being a deacon.
Those appointed as deacons
would also need to be men with moral lives,
not living with a woman out of wedlock
or in a polygamous relationship.
And, as with elders, the Lord expects deacons
to have exemplary households.
Paul continues in Verse 11,
11 Their wives in the same way must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
So, God holds deacons to the same high standard
as pastors and elders
who teach and oversee the church.
That’s because serving as a deacon
is an equally privileged position,
with comparable rewards and blessings.
Paul concludes in Verse 13,
13 For those who have served well as deacons gain for themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Yes, when we come down to the bottom line,
it’s all about Christ Jesus.
He is the head of the Church,
and we are all individual parts of the “body” of Christ.
As head of the Church, Christ makes the rules—
including the rules for appointing leadership
in the local churches.
And he does all of this
because of his loving care for all of us
and for each one of us.
He is the Great Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep.
And those who hold positions of leadership in the churches
act as his under-shepherds,
caring for the sheep He died for.
We saw that earlier, when we noted that Peter
told those in leadership to
“2 Shepherd the flock of God . . . making yourselves examples to the flock.”
God cares deeply for the wellbeing of his sheep,
and he also cares for the wellbeing
of those in leadership.
He expresses this at Hebrews 13:17,
where the inspired admonition is
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they watch over your souls as those who must give an account. To this end, allow them to lead with joy and not with grief, for that would be of no advantage to you.”