All across America, thousands of pastors will make a grave mistake in the next few months.
They will make a serious misstep in identifying people for church leadership positions.
Pastors of larger churches will have many potential candidates, so they’ll narrow the field to those who’ve had management experience in business or enjoyed success at work. Doesn’t it make sense to have proven people in leadership? Imagine a church board that knows how to get things done, sees the value of planning, and has experience organizing people to accomplish great things.
Pastors of small churches will have few potential candidates, so they’ll broaden the field to any who have time to sit in on church board meetings. It’s likely that the church’s constitution specifies a minimum number of elders or deacons, but there’s not enough qualified people to fill those positions. In desperation, these pastors will tap anyone who can fog a mirror.
Regardless the size of the church, recruiting church leaders is a potential trap. Stepping into it will have adverse, long-term consequences for the church’s health, the fellowship of believers, and fulfillment of its God given mission.
That’s because the church isn’t a business. It’s not a therapy group. It’s a family. And like a family, its wellbeing depends upon the leadership skills of the one who sits at the head of the dinner table.
Scripture teaches, tacitly and explicitly, the church’s familial nature. Christians call each other brother and sister. Pastors treat older men as fathers and younger men as brothers (1 Tim 5:1). The Father treats those he chastens as sons (Heb 12:7-9). We view those we have led to faith and disciple as our own children (1 Tim 1:2; Ti 1:4; Phmn 10; 3 Jn 4). Paul even compared his gentle care for the church to a nursing mother’s compassion for her children (1 Th 2:7).
This is why the Bible specifies that church leaders must be men of good repute in the community, they must be skilled family managers (1 Tim 3:1-13; Ti 1:5-9) capable of correcting those who teach false doctrine.
A potential church leader’s family life reveals whether he leads others in grace and love. It is in the family that we see how they manage finances, maintain a budget, and live within their means. The family crucible reveals their ability to manage conflict, extend forgiveness, and endure painful relationships. The family lays bare whether potential church leaders have the wisdom, patience, kindness, and grace needed to manage occasionally difficult relationships. It is a microscope that reveals the ability to provide spiritually informed leadership and build others up in love.
Business acumen and innate leadership skills are not criteria for choosing a church’s leaders. Skill and wisdom in family leadership are. Anyone lacking the familial qualifications is incapable of caring for the church. So, Paul asks Timothy, “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5)
Ephesus, where Timothy pastored the church, was a large, cosmopolitan center of culture and commerce. The church’s talent pool would likely have included successful entrepreneurs, political and military leaders, and respected influencers. But the Greek and Roman cultures, they would have left them devoid of humility, long-suffering, and personal grace.
Today, as it was in Bible times, the qualifications for church leadership are countercultural. Don’t look for church leaders at the conference table in a corporate boardroom. You’ll find them sitting at the head of the family dinner table.