J. Gordon Duncan

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Family Guy – Qualifications of an Elder

family_guy_dsNo matter your place in life, no matter what job you have, or who you are, you have to prove yourself in one area before you can be given responsibility in another.  If you are 5 years old, you have to show responsibility in small things before being given privileges in other things.  Most parents make their teenager demonstrate some modicum of wisdom before giving them keys to a car.  If you do a good job as a bag boy in grocery store, you might get moved up to cashier.  Faithfulness in small things is evidence of faithfulness in larger things.  Disregard in small things is a good test that disregard will be given in large things.

Much of life is built like this, and the way someone handles these times of testing really speak to their character.  I remember student teaching before becoming a teacher.  You have the chance to take on an entire teaching load under the supervision of an experienced teacher, get real time feedback, and figure out what you don’t know.  You do that well along with a few other things, and you can earn your teacher’s license.

I remember one guy who was in my group of teachers.  We would drive over the school each day, commiserate about being lowly student teachers, and compare lesson plans while trying to figure out how to eat lunch for less than $2.50.  We got down to the last 2 weeks of student teaching.  At that point and time, the teaching load is gradually being handed back to the experienced teacher.  The student teacher is practically on cruise control, and with a tiny bit of effort, they will be on their way to be a licensed teacher.  But a problem arose for my buddy.  During those last two weeks, the Grateful Dead were coming down from Virginia, through NC, and touring into SC.  My buddy was a huge Deadhead.  He mentioned to me that he might skip a day and go see them.  I urged him not to because I knew that his tendency would be to take a bunch of days off and follow the band from show to show.  Unfortunately, he didn’t take mine or anyone else’s advice, and the last time I ever saw him was when he pulled out to go see that first show.  Apparently, he hooked up with the band in Virginia and never came back.

Stories like that are exactly why there is a time of proving for most everybody in every walk of life.  Talent doesn’t mean squat if you don’t know how to follow through and endure the tough times.  Well, last week at Sovereign King, we discussed how God’s giving the church Godly leadership was a gift.  This week, we are going to see how those gifts are proven.  We are going to see God’s internship played out if you will.  Towards that end, we are going to ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How are future leaders of the church proven to be qualified and ready to lead God’s people?

Last week, we talked about the qualifications of an elder as found in 1 Timothy 3:1-3.  Basically those qualifications fell into 3 categories.

  • Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3
  • Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5,
  • Spiritual maturity vss 6-7

We only had time last Sunday to discuss the first category of holiness in one’s personal life.  There, Paul outlined 10 characteristics that should define personal holiness.  They are:

  • Faithfulness as the husband of one wife.
  • Sober-minded or the ability to see the big picture of scripture, personal life, church life, and kingdom life.
  • Self-controlled saying “yes” to personal disciplines and saying “no” to sin.
  • Respectable to both believers and non-believers.
  • Hospitable serving even one’s enemies.
  • Able to teach which is evaluated by people’s propensity to learn under your teaching.
  • Not a drunkard or an alcoholic.
  • Not violent but gentle meaning that people rest in your presence.
  • Not quarrelsome or valuing being right over retaining relationships
  • Not a lover of money which means your money is kingdom minded first and personal comfort second.

We also mentioned last week that all of these qualities are expected of each and every one of you.  These aren’t some fictitious higher standard made up for elders but the standard to which all believers should live.  As you prayerfully seek to nominate elders, you are looking for men whose lives are radically being transformed in these areas.  No one is going to meet these standards perfectly, but a qualified elder is someone who is day by day becoming these standards.

Having caught us up, let’s look at the second category of qualifications that you should find in an elder.  This one is Godly management of one’s household as found in verses 4-5.

4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

This is a lot like what was mentioned at the beginning of the sermon.  If someone proves themselves faithful in one area, then they can be trusted in being faithful in other areas.  One of the criteria by which you should evaluate a potential elder is by looking at how they manage their household.  If they manage their household well, then that is evidence that they may be able to care for God’s church.  This principle is proven true in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents.  If you don’t know the story, here’s a quick reminder.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells this story.  A man went on a journey, and he entrusted each of his servants with golden talents.  To one he gave 5, to another he gave 2, and to another he gave 1.  The one servant who was entrusted with 5 took that money and earned 5 more.  When the master returned, he rewarded the faithful servant for his good work.  The servant who was entrusted with 2 talents took that money and earned 2 more.  He also was rewarded by his master.  But the servant who was entrusted with 1 talent buried it out of fear.  When the master returned, he punished the servant and took away even his 1 talent.  The point of the parable is that God entrusts His servants with many things:  skills, money, responsibilities, on and on.  God expects His servants to take care of and use those gifts to God’s glory and as servants they should recognize that all they have is really God’s and not their own.

That is the principle behind why an elder should lead a Godly home before leading the church.  If a man can lead his family in Godliness, then he might be able to lead his church family.  If he cannot lead his family in Godliness, then he definitively cannot lead his church family.  Maybe a man might have the skills to lead the church, but if his family is suffering, then he needs to put the time and effort into leading his family and not in leading the church.  Trust me, no matter how skilled, you want your elder to have put time in and proven himself in leading his family, and if he has failed at home, trust me, no matter how skilled, you don’t want him as an elder.  So the real question I guess is, “How do you know if someone can leads a Godly home AND lead the church in Godliness?”

Well, an elder is a guy who can lead both.  He can lead his family in Godliness and lead the church in Godliness.  And the way you can know this is that by examining his life, as much as you can tell, you see that His home is his first and foremost place of ministry.  Yet you can also tell that he has time and vision to lead the church.  He realizes that if he helps a church grow and sees many people come to know Christ yet fails to nurture his family in Godliness, he has failed.

Let me share a story with you that impressed how this principle should work.  Amy and I were at church planters’ basic training, and Steve Childers was speaking.  Now if you don’t know who Steve Childers is, He is in charge of Global Church Advancement, and has forgotten more about church planting than most church planters will ever know.  He told the story about his first church plant where he gathered everyone in the room and cast a vision for what the church was going to be like.  He detailed the mission and the vision and how the small groups would work ultimately leading to an effective outreach into the community.  The crowd was excited and galvanized.  They were ready to go start a church.  Steve went home that night still excited about how everything went.  He asked his wife, “Honey, how do you think the meeting went?”  She said, “It was incredible.  You did just a fantastic job presenting a vision for the church.  I only wish at some point and time in our life, you would have articulated a mission or vision like that for our family.”  Steve went on to tell us that if we build the church at the expense of our families, then we are failures and not good servants.

An elder is a man who is clearly leading his family in Godliness and can simultaneously lead the church in Godliness.  Now, men hear me out.  Every one of you is leading your family.  You are the spiritual barometer for your household.  You are either doing a good job at leading your family in Godliness or you are doing a job that will bring you shame.  Men, people should be able to look at your household and see the passion that you have for your wife and children and their well-being and their Godliness and know that you can put that much passion into leading the church.  You almost worry that he is so dedicated to his family that he can’t lead the church but his dedication to his family is what enables his service to the church.

This gets turned around sometimes when a man can lead the church but his family is left behind.  If a man can lead the church well but is negligent on leading his family, I’m not interested in his bastardized church leadership.  God looks for men, and you should as well, that have such a special relationship with their wife and children, that you wish that same kind of care for yourself and the church.

There are so many areas to go in describing what leading a Godly family looks like, but to keep it contextual, let’s take those 10 characteristics above, and see what applying them, modeling them, and instilling them in your wife and children.

  • The elder exercises faithfulness and dedication in his home, and teaches his family to be faithful and dedicated to God, each other, and the church..
  • The elder exercises sober-minded, big picture thinking of scripture, personal life, church life, and kingdom life in his home, and teaches his family to be sober-minded, big picture thinkers in all of those areas as well.
  • The elder exercises self-control saying “yes” to personal disciplines and saying “no” to sin in his home and teaches his family to be self-controlled as well.
  • The elder’s home is a model of being respectable to both believers and non-believers and the elder teaches the disciplines of respectability to his family.
  • The elder’s home has an atmosphere of hospitality serving friends and enemies alike, and the elder teaches his family to be hospitable to whomever God sends across their paths.
  • The elder teaches his family well, and they learn under his teaching, and he teaches his family how to be teachers.
  • The elder is not a drunkard or an alcoholic in his home, and he teaches his family not to be drunkards or alcoholics.
  • The elder is not violent either in speech or action to his family, and he teaches his family to be gentle.
  • The elder is not quarrelsome and values the relationships in his family over being proven right all the time, and he teaches his family to do the same.
  • The elder’s home does not demonstrate a love of money but instead his home reflects a passion for the kingdom of God, and he teaches his family to live in the same way.
  • God says if you can’t do those things in the home, then you can’t do those things in the church.

The final category of characteristics as detailed by Paul in 1 Timothy is spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Maturity

6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Now I use the term spiritual maturity to describe the seasoned life of the believer.  That maturity in this passage takes on two characteristics:

  • They can’t be a recent convert.
  • They must be respected by non-believers.

Paul warns here that a person who has recently come to know Christ as their savior should not become an elder because if they do, they might become puffed up, conceited, and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Let me see if I can explain this command in this way.  You know when you first fell in love?  Maybe you remember the moment either as that first gooey eyed stare on a date or maybe that moment is encapsulated for you on the day you took your marriage vows.  Either way, those are great moments in which to look back.  Now fast forward to today.  You love your spouse but living out that love in the midst of bills, children, and so many other things is when you found out just how much you love them.

That is exactly how it is with your relationship with God.  When you first become a believer, you are rightfully incredibly excited.  You’re guilt is gone, and you have more joy and peace than you have ever had in your entire life.  Now fast forward until today.  You love God but living out that love in the midst of bills, children, and so many other things is when you find out just how much you love Him.

That is Paul’s point.  You can’t make a recent convert an elder.  The recent convert has not proven that his declared love for God can handle adversity yet.  For any of our young couples here, bask in the joy of young love, but the depth of each of your love will be determined by how well you do once you have been married a while.  That is also how it is for the believer.  Your love for God is not measured by your zeal for Jesus when you first know Him but your zeal for Jesus after you have known Him for a while and you have faced adversity.

Also, if you ordain a young elder, there is every reason for that person to be tempted into thinking that they have arrived and develop a conceited and entitled spirit.  The word for puffed up in the Greek literally means to go up in the air like a puff of smoke.  Now what does it mean that a young, rashly ordained, conceited elder might come under the condemnation of the devil?  Does the devil get to condemn conceited elders?   No the usage of the word in the Greek there is called an objective genitive.  It means that the elder can fall under condemnation for pride just as the devil has fallen under condemnation for pride both of which come from God.  The story of Satan’s fall from the highest of angels is found in Isaiah 14.  The idea here is that you don’t want to lay hands on an elder too soon because the elder will get all puffy headed and prideful and God will have to demote him from his position as elder just as Satan was demoted from the highest and most beautiful of angels.

So, you want to look for an elder who has the spiritual maturity that comes with loving God over a long period of time.  His love has been tested and been found true.  Your elder must be able to function in this position of leadership without growing proud, conceited, or as Paul puts, all puffy headed.  One of the evidences of this maturity is found in verse 7.  Not only is the potential elder mature in His devotion to God, He demonstrates the transforming work of God by earning a good reputation even with people outside the church.   Here is one area, perhaps one above all others, that the church has sorely missed out on.  You want to look for an elder who is respected by outsiders as well as those inside the church.  Not only should you within this church admire and respect this man in the managing of his household, but non-believers as well.

The reason that I think that this is so challenging is that in this day and age, it is hard to find any Godly believers who active, on-going, respectable relationships with non-believers.  These things are essential for the elder in part because they are essential for evangelism, and if your elder doesn’t evangelize, doubtful many of you will either.

Having a respectable relationship with non-believers provides two things:

  • Living out your faith in such a way for non-believers to respect provides a Godly example for the church.  This means having friends who are non-believers and having relationships with them that are not solely based on arguing or debating.  Arguing and debating with non-believers is not respectability.  They are respectable relationships based on love and service.
  • The second thing that living out your faith with non-believers does is that it provides a fertile soil for evangelism to grow.  If you love and serve non-believers and show them that you are able to have friendships with them whether or not they are a believer, you provide a foundation by which you can proclaim the Gospel truths of Jesus.

The church is desperately in need of this type of leadership.  The church needs Godly elders who embody a personal holiness, a holiness in leading their home, and spiritual maturity that comes from years of walking with Christ and is evidenced by good, respectable relationships with non-believers.

Now as we come to an end of looking at the Biblical qualifications of an elder, you may have one of two ideas floating around in your head.  You may be thinking, “God has blessed SK well.  We have a couple of men like that who I think are going to lead us in Godliness.”  Or you might be thinking, “Wow, we are never going to have elders with these guys.”  Let me encourage you in this way.  The only person who fits the bill of the above characteristics is Jesus.  He is the chief elder of the church and you will have the privilege of hearing Tim Burden on the very topic next week.  All of the men in this church measure up in some way on that list, but yes, some do more than others.

  • First and foremost:  spend time in prayer.  Do not make such a weighty decision lightly or flippantly.  Ask God for wisdom long before you ever nominate anyone.
  • Speak with the person you are considering to nominate.  Ask them about their own sense of calling.  They may clearly say that they feel no sense of call in even being nominated at this time or they may be aware of theological disagreement they have SK that they do no wish to pursue changing.
  • Don’t be disappointed as you first consider who to nominate.  We are all gradually being transformed into the image of Christ by future of the fact of the Resurrection-powered Holy Spirit that lives in each and ever believer.
  • Even if you see a potential elder falling short in a particular elder, pray still about nominating him.  You are looking for Godly men who are being radically transformed into the image of Christ.  You are looking for men who cannot help but be about Jesus and the work of the Kingdom.
  • Nominate them and allow the process to do its work.

Between now and the called congregational meeting, I’ll provide you with more details, and go into greater depth about how the elder needs to line up with a Godly life, theological agreement with the principles of SK, and how they should embrace the mission of the church.  If we do those things, and ask God for much wisdom, then we should have no fear that God will provide us with an incredible session of elders. Let’s pray.

This article also appears at Raleigh Examiner.

October 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

SK Video Sermon Preview for 101809

Silvertone_Paul_Stanley_Sovereign_ProTomorrow (10/18/09) is the kick off of Sovereign King’s “Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way” series on church leadership.  A good friend recommended that 90 seconds to 2 minutes was about as much as most folks would watch for a video clip, so this week I tried to edit myself a bit better.

Below the clip are the 3 related articles to this series.  Look for the sermon notes on Sunday evening.  Thanks.

Related articles:

The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

There is No Higher Standard

October 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

boyfriendpillowThe ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

Related Articles:

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

There is No Higher Standard

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There is No Such Thing as a Higher Standard

higher standardWhile contemplating Godly church leadership and preparing for the upcoming Sovereign King series, “Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way,” I’ve bumped into a few myths about Godly leadership.  In fact, what I want to do is dispel one commonly held myth – one in which many of you might hold.

As we look at those 3 categories of requirements 1 Timothy 3 (Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3, Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5, and Spiritual maturity vss 6-7), we need to understand this:  elders and overseers, pastors, and deacons are not held to higher standard than anyone else in Christianity.  They are held to the very same standard to which every believer is held.  Let me explain.

There is no such thing as a higher or lower standard or higher or lesser righteousness Biblically.  God has commanded us how to live in the scriptures in accord with His character.  So, there can be no higher obedience than what God has commanded.  If there was a higher standard, then that would be what God commanded.

Let me use the most common example to illustrate how people think about this…drinking alcohol.  Scripturally there is no evidence whatsoever that a drink of alcohol is sinful.  In fact it is commanded by Paul to Timothy, exemplified by Jesus, and even commended in Proverbs 31.  Now some folks will say, “Well drunkenness is a sin, so I’m never going to drink alcohol.”  That is a perfectly fine application, and I support it wholeheartedly.  Rock on.  But that application is not a higher righteousness.  If not drinking at all was the level of righteousness that Jesus wanted, He would have commanded us to not drink at all.

People have this impression of officers though.  They think they should be held to some fictional higher level obedience.  Folks, obeying what God has commanded is hard enough.  Obeying any extra rules is impossible and even counterproductive.  No, the elder, deacon, pastor, and overseer are judged presently for their character whereas most people in the church are not judged at all for their character unless their actions rise to the level of church discipline.

The officer though lives their Christian life for the world to see and evaluate.  In essence, the occupation of the church officer is the occupation of being a believer.  The job of an officer is to be a Christian.

Essentially, in nominating, training, and ordaining officers, you are looking for people who are radically being changed into the image of Christ.  They are not meeting an ever moving higher standard than the rest of the Christian world.  They are living up to the standard to which all believers are called to live.  Find those men within the context of your church’s mission and theological convictions, and you will find your officers

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

Related article:  Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 6 Comments