God’s Standards for Elders, Part 1: The Heart of an Elder

God’s Standards for Elders, Part 1: The Heart of an Elder April 28, 2023

Recently, I wrote an article asking the question “What Kind of Pastor do you Truly Want?” (Link?)  The summary of it is that we must desire pastors based on God’s standards in Scripture, and not based on personality or brand. In this 3-part series, I will simply walk through the major requirements for elders in 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1. 

James was not messing around when he wrote that “ Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Those called to the office of elder within Christ’s church are held to a high standard. Because of the serious nature of leadership in the church, God did not leave it up to speculation as to what kind of men elders must be. God’s qualifications for elders are clearly laid out in 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1. And these traits show that elders are not simply to be good businessmen, successful entrepreneurs, leaders in the community, or the most gifted speakers. No, the requirements that God laid out for elders in Christ’s church are simpler and far more profound than human ability or achievement. 

In a world fixated with sound bites over sound doctrine, firebrands than fidelity, and celebrity over humility, God calls the unlikely.  It is no surprise then, that all the divinely designated qualifications for elders center on character and spiritual maturity. Every qualification for elders found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is simply a New Testament exposition, expansion, and ecclesial application of 1 Sam 16:7 ” For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 

Between 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-16, eighteen qualifications for the office of elder are plainly laid out. Each of them reveals the heart of an elder, but 3 specifically deal with the inward state of an elder.

 

1 – God’s Elder is Internally Called

In the opening of 1 Timothy 3, Paul states that the “saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” This desire, often term the internal call, is an important step in one becoming an elder. After all, who wants an elder who wants nothing to do with shepherding God’s people? Some may consider this desire to be negative as it shows pride. But there is a key difference between the ambition to glorify oneself and the ambition to serve the Lord as an elder. 

In fact, Paul himself modeled this internal fire throughout his ministry and highlighted it when he said “for if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” The internal call cannot be ignored, the desire to engage in public ministry as an elder will be confirmed when reading the Scriptures, when praying, and when sitting under the preached word. This desire doesn’t show up one morning and leave by midafternoon. And if this desire is from the Lord, it will be confirmed to the church through how one serves and loves others. A true call will be followed with all the following qualifications because it is God who prepares the elder. Simply put, God doesn’t give a true call to one who is not called.

 

2 – God’s Elder is Above Reproach

Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:2 both state that one who desires to be an elder in the church of Christ must be above reproach. Paul uses two different words to explain and round out this qualification, anepilemptos (1 Timothy) and anegkletos (Titus). These words convey the idea that one who desires to be an elder must not be able to be disgraced due to an ongoing issue. This means they must not be under suspicion for disqualifying sin, or must not have opened themselves to having a credible charge brought against them in the church (per 1 Peter 3:16).

If someone desires to be an elder, but it can be shown that they do not meet the character requirements of any of the following qualifications, they must not be admitted to the office. If it is obvious that an elder candidate is a hothead and has mistreated folks in the church, for example, they are not above reproach. This qualification is given at the outset so one can examine their own heart and life before moving forward as one who can be disgraced in the ministry. All who aspire to the office of elder must engage in that painful process. 

 

3 – God’s Elder is a One-Woman Man

In both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul states that those who are to be admitted to the office of elder must be a husband of one wife. This does not mean that to be an elder one must be married, or that an elder may not remarry if their spouse passes away. If that were the principle of the text then Paul himself would not be admitted as an elder because he broke many of the qualifications in his life before he was united to Christ. 

What Paul is speaking of here is sexual purity and fidelity to one’s spouse (if married) and the prohibition of polygamy for elders. In the words of Kenneth Berding, “Paul wants a potential overseer to be one who is above reproach in his commitment to his wife.  He should demonstrate both marital and sexual fidelity in his relationship with his wife.” If a man cannot remain sexually pure, love their wife well, or remain faithful to their marriage vows, they cannot lead the people of God.

So What?

The underlying qualifications for elders are straightforward. They must be men who cannot be charged with having rotten hearts. How many job descriptions for pastors, or elections for elders start with these qualities? Often, you’ll see keywords at the beginning of a pastoral job posting that is more “CEO” than Christ-like. A pastor can learn how to lead a meeting, run a budget, hire and develop staff, and other skills. But you can’t teach an elder to have a pure heart. Seek first an elder who is a man after God’s own heart, the rest will follow.

 

This was a guest post from David Chambers. David has been serving youth and families in the context of his local church for over 10 years. He is a proud husband to his wife Brittany and a proud father to his sons AJ and Jackson. David is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, where he pursuing a Master of Divinity in hopes of pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

 

For More In This Series:

God’s Standards for Elders, Part 2: The Character of an Elder

God’s Standards for Elders, Part 3: The Work of an Elder

 

 


  • 1  James 3:1, English Standard Version
  • 2  1 Corinthians 9:16
  • 3  Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work
  • 4  Ibid, 25.
  • 5  See Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; 9:1-4; 9:26; 22:4,5,7,8,19,20; 26:14,15; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13.
  • 6 Berding Kenneth, “What Is the Meaning of ‘Husband of One Wife’ (Μιᾶς Γυναικὸς Ἄνδρα) in 1 Timothy 3:2?,” The Good Book Blog – Biola University Blogs, November 30, 2022, https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2011/what-is-the-meaning-of-husband-of-one-wife-in-1-timothy-3-2.
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