In the Pastoral Letters, Paul lists several character traits that must be present in the life of someone who is a candidate to become an elder or deacon. He also mentions some things that would disqualify someone from becoming an elder or deacon.
For example, Paul states that an elder must be “above reproach” and “gentle” and must “have a good reputation with outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:2-7). Presumably, a candidate for eldership who is a laughingstock in the community or is a violent man would not be considered further.
However, Paul also limits the eldership to those with spiritual experience. He says a candidate “must not be a recent convert” (1 Tim. 3:6). Deacons “must first be tested” (1 Tim. 3:10). If they pass the test, then they may serve. Elders are to be family men (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6), which cautions against younger men, many of whom lack the wisdom that comes from experience guiding a family unit.
In a biblically functioning church, elders and deacons lead the church into deeper spiritual growth even as they continue to grow spiritually themselves. But not everyone is included. The eldership and deaconship are exclusive—limited to those men who distinguish themselves in a godly manner in several ways.
Other passages attest the exclusivity of biblical church leadership:
- In Acts 1:23-26, the apostles needed to select another man to join the apostleship. There were at least two men who met the qualifications, but only two were nominated. Of the two who were nominated, only one was selected—and this after prayer and spiritual discernment.
- In Acts 6:1-6, the apostles learned about a problem where food was not being distributed throughout the community in a godly way. Their solution was to delegate this task to godly men. Rather than simply gathering all the men together and asking them to handle it, they asked the congregation to choose only seven men who were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. These men would handle the food distribution.
- In Galatians 2:1-10 (esp. 2, 6), when Paul went to Jerusalem to share his gospel with the believers there, he did not meet with all the men but with “those who were held in high esteem.” Why? Didn't this leave some out? Yes, it leaves some out, but it reinforces the principle that biblical church leadership is not inclusive of everyone but exclusive—according to God's word.
There are no “rights” in the church. We give up our rights for other people. Godly leaders know this and exemplify it.
What objections do you have to this? What other scriptures would you use in this discussion?