Graduation hatWhat sort of people should be leading our churches and our parachurch groups as we enter a new millennium?

Recently I revisited my master’s thesis. Entitled “Leadership Qualifications in the Pastoral Epistles”, it sought to understand the leadership qualifications that Paul lays out in 1 Timothy 3:1-11 and Titus 1: 5-9. I found the thesis incredibly boring. I also saw the qualifications in a new light. Looking at 1 Timothy 3: 1-11 in particular, I saw the individual qualifications grouped roughly into three overall concerns.

1. A Christian leader must be able to think biblically.

Paul says an elder must be “sober-minded” (v.2). He must also be “able to teach” ( v.2). The picture that emerges is of a person able to think things through, through the grid of the Word. I suspect this goes beyond just being able to give proof texts to decisions made with little real reference to the Word. Rather biblical wisdom comes from a person whose heart, i.e. whose mind, feelings, and will, has been shaped by the Word over the years. These are people who bring the heart and mind of Christ into their leadership and their decision-making. Nowadays, unfortunately, we seem to prize management skills, image, and boardroom savvy, over biblical literacy.

2. A Christian leader must be able to lead relationally.

Paul insists that a leader must be one who is able to “handle his own household well” (v.4-5). This makes perfect sense when we remember that the earliest churches were all house churches. It is also a reminder that the church is first and foremost a family. And you don’t run a family the way you run an army. Or a company. (Remember Sound of Music?). How does one lead a family? With much love, encouragement and nurturing. With deep empathy and care for people and their feelings. Redemptively. Christian leaders are bridge-builders. Not congregational pugilists.

3. A Christian leader must have a consistent witness.

Not only does Paul insist that leaders of the church be those who handle their own household well, he also wants them to be people who are “well thought of by outsiders”(v.7). I am sure Paul is not asking us to submit to non-biblical leadership criteria. However there are standards akin to the Ten Commandments that seem to be universally recognized. Maybe Paul wants to ensure that candidates for Christian leadership do not have different faces for the church, the family, and the world. On numerous occasions, non-Christian friends have told me that they were surprised that certain people were in church leadership considering the kind of ethics they practice in business. And the way they these Christian leaders treated people in the office and at home.

Different churches and parachurch groups will have their own systems for leadership selection. Whatever the system, people in Christian leadership should be people who consistently demonstrate biblical wisdom and relational leadership.

Unfortunately, I find many groups afraid to insist on any kind of criteria. (The three criteria mentioned above are by no means exhaustive.) I suspect many are afraid that if they were too insistent on biblical criteria, no one would be willing to serve.

Therefore it needs to be said that no leader is perfect. Because no one is perfected this side of heaven. Here the bible is brutally honest. In his earlier years, Paul was so goal oriented he had no time to give John Mark a second chance (Acts 15: 36-41). And old Peter wasn’t quite rock-like in the face of public pressure (Galatians 2: 11-14). No, we are not looking for perfect leaders. We are all people under construction – leaders included. However it is one thing to say that a person’s potential has yet to be realized. It is quite another to say that someone is far away from being anything like what the bible requires.

In my years of ministry, I have discovered again and again, that the single most important human criterion for the health of a church or a parachurch, was the quality of the leadership. As we enter into a new post modern millennium, the question arises again. What type of people should lead us?

People rooted in the truth. People who are relational. People who are authentic.

Criteria given by God 2,000 years ago. Timeless.