Do You Qualify for Congregational Responsibility?
HOW do you feel about responsibility? In the world today many men shirk it or avoid it because it brings duties and obligations. Others ambitiously seek responsibility, hoping thereby to gain prominence, power and control over others and to grant themselves special privileges.
In the Christian congregation there is no room for either of these attitudes. (Matt. 20:25-27; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3) Yet there is a need for men who are willing to take on responsibility. These must have a very different attitude toward responsibility than do so many worldly persons. They should ‘reach out’ for responsibility, yes, but motivated by a desire to be of service to others—primarily to God and then to their neighbor, particularly those in the congregation. They rightly seek to bring honor to God and make his name prominent and respected—not their own.—1 Tim. 3:1; Gal. 6:10; Prov. 8:13.
In the early Christian congregations of the first century, men were appointed to positions of responsibility either as “elders” (Greek, pre·sbyʹte·roi) or as “ministerial servants” (di·aʹko·noi). (Titus 1:5; Phil. 1:1) Elders were to exercise oversight of the congregation in a spiritual way, serving as ‘shepherds’ of God’s flock. (Acts 20:28) Ministerial servants assisted them, caring for “necessary business” that did not so directly involve spiritual oversight.—Acts 6:1-6.
Whether serving as an elder or a ministerial servant, these men should be like God’s Son who accepted the heaviest responsibility any man has ever borne, yet who came ‘not to be served, but to serve.’ (Mark 10:45) Their proper attitude might be compared to a man who, on meeting someone trying to find a certain place, says, ‘Let me show you how to get there.’ Or like one who, seeing another carrying heavy burdens, says, ‘Let me help you with your load.’ Do you have that spirit?
SCRIPTURAL QUALIFICATIONS TO BE MET
Desire to serve, however, is not all that is required. God’s Word also sets out certain qualifications that must be met by those who serve as elders or ministerial servants. Consider these now, and as you do, ask yourself whether you would qualify for such congregational responsibility. And think of these qualifications in their proper setting—as recorded initially for Christians in the first century of the Common Era. This will avoid any inclination to view them from worldly standards, including those prevailing in today’s business world.
Certain basic requirements apply to elders and to ministerial servants alike. Among these are that such men be:
Free from accusation. They should be “irreprehensible,” that is, not subject to any genuine accusation of wrongdoing. (1 Tim. 3:2, 8, 10; Titus 1:6, 7) This, of course, does not require absolute perfection on their part. If it did, no human descended from the sinner Adam could possibly qualify. (Jas. 3:2; 1 John 1:8) But no charge of any weight should be involved. And if there were any charge, it certainly would have to conform to Scriptural standards of right and wrong, not mere worldly standards, which are so often perverted. (1 Tim. 6:14; Col. 1:22) If some past wrong of a serious nature was committed, the man must have since lived down any reproach resulting and made a good name for himself by his fine conduct. Thus the appointment will bring no reproach on the congregation in the eyes of God or of the world.
Not a drunken brawler. He should not be one who overindulges in alcoholic beverages, losing control of his thinking and emotions. In fact, as shown by the requirements for ministerial servants, he would not even be ‘given to a lot of wine,’ hence not one with the reputation of being a “heavy drinker” (The Jerusalem Bible).—1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:3.
Not a lover of money, not greedy of dishonest gain. Since greedy persons are Scripturally classed along with fornicators, idolaters and drunkards, a materialistic person would certainly not qualify for responsibility in the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:11; 1 Tim. 6:9, 10; Heb. 13:5) Those qualifying shun all “dishonest gain.” (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2) The term “dishonest” applies not just to such practices as cheating, fraud or so-called “sharp” methods typical of a corrupt world. The Greek word so rendered has the basic meaning of “disgraceful” and may also be translated “shameful” (Revised Standard Version), “base” (An American Translation), “sordid” (New American Standard Bible). Similarly, though the Greek word for “gain” may refer to monetary or material gain or “profits,” as in commercial transactions (Jas. 4:13), it is by no means limited to that. It refers to any kind of profit, gain or advantage. (Compare Philippians 1:21; 3:4-8.) So, if any man were to use a position of responsibility in God’s congregation either to favor himself over others with personal material benefits or to gain advantage over others by power, prestige or prominence, this, too, would be ‘shameful gain.’ He would not be acting honestly toward the heavenly Owner of the flock who assigned him to serve unselfishly, humbly.—Compare 1 Peter 5:2, 3; Acts 20:33-35; Luke 16:14.
Presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection. Neither ministerial servants nor elders should be mere lads but should be men old enough to have children. If married, the man should earn respect as a good husband and father, one presiding according to Bible principles. (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; Titus 1:6) Does this require that he have absolute success with every family member as regards their response to godly principles?
He would work toward that goal, of course, yet—despite his fine efforts—this may not be the result. Some circumstances go beyond human ability to control. A man’s wife may not be a believing Christian; she may even oppose or persecute him for his faith. (Matt. 10:36; Luke 12:52) Or, from among his children there may be one who slips and commits some immoral act, or who even proves to be a ‘bad apple’ among the bunch. We should note, however, that even some of God’s own spirit sons proved rebellious, as did his first two human children. Yet their actions could in no way be charged to any fault or delinquency on God’s part.
Therefore, if a family member of a Christian husband or father becomes involved in wrongdoing, the important question is: To what extent does the man of the house bear responsibility for this? Was he delinquent in his duties? If so, he would not have the respect of the congregation or those on the outside. On the other hand, if he had done all that reasonably could be expected, in fact, having good success with other family members, the failure of one member to respond to his fine direction would not automatically disqualify him.
Not newly converted. For either position, elder or ministerial servant, he should have been “tested as to fitness” first, demonstrating his reliability and devotion. (1 Tim. 3:6, 10) This takes time. And, as a rule, more time would be required in the case of an elder than of a ministerial servant, as the very term “elder” would imply. Individuals vary and their rate of spiritual progress varies, however. Therefore no specified time is set forth, but those recommending such a one must exercise good judgment and not be hasty in pushing a new one ahead, “for fear that he might get puffed up with pride” like the Devil. Let him first develop the “mental attitude” of Christ—one of humility.—Phil. 2:3-8.
Certain other requirements are listed specifically for ministerial servants. Yet it goes almost without saying that these should also be fulfilled for those qualifying for positions as elders. Among these requirements are that the man be:
Serious. Other translations of 1 Timothy 3:8 use such expressions as “dignified,” “men of dignity,” “respectable men,” “men of high principle,” and these are also acceptable meanings of the Greek word used by the apostle. So, while occasional humor is not out of place, none of these men would be constantly ‘clownish’; nor would they be men inclined to take responsibility lightly.
Not double-tongued. Hence, straightforward and truthful, men “whose word can be trusted,” not hypocritical, gossipy or devious.—1 Tim. 3:8, New American Bible; Jerusalem Bible; An American Translation.
With a clean conscience. Before God, his conscience should bear witness that he is not a person who makes a practice of what is underhanded, unclean or defiling, even though these practices are not publicly known. (1 Tim. 3:9; Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 4:2; 7:1) Unless he himself conscientiously adheres to and upholds right principles, he surely could not qualify to serve God’s flock in a responsible way.—Matt. 23:3.
Besides these requirements, basic to both elders and ministerial servants, there are others referring particularly to the elders. Their assigned work as shepherds and teachers is reflected in these requirements that highlight the ability to give kind, helpful, but firm, guidance and direction to God’s “sheep.” They include being:
Moderate in habits; self-controlled. One qualifying as an elder should have his mental and physical powers under due control so that he does not go to foolish extremes, nor act in an erratic, unbalanced manner. Hence, he is able to conduct himself in a sober, clear-minded way.—1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 4:5; Titus 1:8.
Sound in mind. The elder should be a sensible person; his speech and actions being rational and purposeful. His balanced thinking and outlook would be built up by the healthful teachings of God’s Word.—1 Tim. 3:2; Rom. 12:3; compare Mark 5:15; Acts 26:25; 2 Corinthians 5:13.
Orderly. The Greek term used here (1 Timothy 3:2) is the same word translated “well-arranged” at 1 Timothy 2:9 (New World Translation). So an elder should have an orderly, respectable pattern of life, being a man of ‘courteous behavior,’ hence ‘not ill-mannered,’ as other renderings of the Greek term show. (Compare 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40; the Greek words there, however, being of a different source.) While certainly no one should disregard or downgrade punctuality to the point of being inconsiderate or discourteous, it may be kept in mind that the Christian congregation in the apostle’s day did not make a major issue of exact precision in time, as does the modern business world. Record keeping was also doubtless at a minimum in their day. To be an effective shepherd of the flock an elder is not Scripturally required to be an expert clerical worker or accountant. There may well be someone among the ministerial servants who can handle whatever needs to be done in this respect. (Acts 6:1-6) Above all, an elder should not be a disorderly or unruly person, one who shows disregard for apostolic counsel.—1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6-12; Titus 1:10.
Hospitable. He should welcome strangers to the Christian meetings, showing equal interest in the lowly and humble as in those ‘well-to-do.’ He should also show hospitality to his brothers, to the extent his circumstances allow, and according to their needs.—Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; Jas. 2:14-16.
Qualified to teach. He should be “holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art [or, manner, way] of teaching, that he may be able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:2) His qualifying does not come by worldly schooling or mental quickness or fineness of speech. (Compare 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 13; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6.) Rather, it comes because of his “holding firmly to the faithful word” in the way he teaches. (Compare 2 Corinthians 10:1; 2 Timothy 4:2.) Thus, while standing fast for what is right and true, he is also able to keep himself restrained and to ‘instruct with mildness those not favorably disposed.’ (2 Tim. 2:23-26) He may not find reproving easy, but love causes him to do so courageously where true need exists. (Acts 20:19-21, 26, 27) What if he has little ability as a public lecturer? This does not keep him from lovingly shepherding the “sheep” as individuals or families with “healthful teaching,” encouraging them in the Christian way of life. (Titus 2:1-10; compare 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2.) Even among elders, not all will show “speech of wisdom” or “speech of knowledge” to the same degree, but this variety is to be expected and does not necessarily indicate some lack of meeting Scriptural requirements for eldership.—1 Cor. 12:4-11.
Not a smiter, but reasonable, not belligerent. He neither strikes persons physically nor is he abusive or cutting in his speech, browbeating others. He is “reasonable,” or, as the Greek term literally means, “yielding.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says of this term: “ . . . not insisting on the letter of the law; it expresses that considerateness that looks ‘humanely and reasonably at the facts of a case.’” (Jas. 3:17; Heb. 5:1, 2; compare 1 Peter 2:18.) So, he is not authoritarian; not inclined to make a major issue out of trifles. (Compare 1 Corinthians 9:12, 18-23.) A related Greek word means “kindness.” (2 Cor. 10:1) Not being “belligerent,” he avoids quarrels, hence is not “prone to wrath” or quick-tempered.—1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7; 3:2; Jas. 1:19, 20.
Not self-willed. Literally, not ‘pleased with himself’ or “self-satisfied.” As Greek lexicons indicate, he takes a humble view of himself and his abilities, not having such a high opinion of his own judgment as to feel and act superior; not “self-reliant” or “self-sufficient,” as though able to handle everything himself, or better than anyone else. He is, therefore, happy to share responsibility, humbly working with others as a body, and appreciating the value of a multitude of counselors.—Titus 1:7; compare Numbers 11:27-29; Romans 12:3, 16.
A lover of goodness; righteous. Being “righteous” relates to one’s conformity to God’s law, his standards of what is right and just. Such a man would be fair, impartial, not guilty of favoritism. (Luke 1:6; John 7:24; Jas. 2:1, 4, 9) “Goodness” differs from righteousness in that it goes beyond simply what justice requires. (Matt. 20:4, 13-15; Rom. 5:7) One who loves goodness will do more for others than just what is required or expected of him, generously performing helpful and kind acts, being warm, considerate. He also sees, appreciates and commends the goodness of others.—Titus 1:8; Luke 6:35; Acts 9:36, 39; 1 Tim. 5:10.
Loyal. He is a man maintaining unbreakable devotion and integrity to God’s law and to the interests of the Christian congregation, whatever the consequences.—Luke 1:74, 75; Acts 4:19, 20; 5:29; 1 Thess. 2:10.
Surely such a man would have a “fine testimony from people on the outside.” As with the prophet Daniel, a trustworthy man in whom opposers could find no negligence or corrupt thing, such outsiders would have to say, ‘We can find no excuse for accusing him, except we find it against him as regards the law of his God.’—1 Tim. 3:7; Dan. 6:4, 5.
It is natural that those qualifying for congregational responsibility will be stronger in some of these qualifications than in others. Think of the variety among the apostles—the contrast between Thomas and Peter—yet the early governing body was begun with these men. But such men should meet all the requirements for their particular responsibility to a reasonable degree and with reasonable consistency. One slip in judgment, for example, does not mean a man is not “sound in mind,” nor does one expression of anger necessarily make him “belligerent.”
In reality, the requirements are by no means beyond being reached by any sincere Christian man, for, as an examination of the Scriptures reveals, the vast majority of these qualifications are set forth as things that ALL Christians, both men and women, should strive to attain. The men holding these positions of responsibility, then, should basically be representative of what the congregation as a whole should rightly stand for, representative of what every true Christian should be. How do you measure up?