1 Timothy 3: “Elders, Deacons, and You”

Paul continues to write to his young protege Timothy regarding leadership in the church. Paul’s desire at this point is to basically right out the resume for an elders and deacons in the church. In my tribe (Church of the Nazarene), we do delineate between elders and deacons, but we view those as pastors in the church and not lay leaders. Although here in Paul’s letters there is no distinction between whether her’s referring to pastor’s or lay leaders, it’s safe to assume that at this point they were looking for “qualified” lay leaders to serve as pastors in the church.

The Pastor and The Mule

In the life of the church there are men and women who are called by God to lead the church and Shepherd God’s flock. I do believe that everyone is called to serve God and advance his Kingdom, but for pastors, their call comes with a higher level of accountability. Remember the words of Jesus’ brother James concerning the role of teachers in the church, James 3:1 (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. 

But someone needs to step up, someone needs to lead the church that way God wants it led; that means sometimes taking the initiative.

A farmer’s mule once got very sick, so the farmer called in a vet who, after a thorough examination, gave the farmer some very large pills. “Give the mule one of these pills 3 times a day, and he’ll recover.” The farmer takes one look at the pills and says, “Hey doc, how am I supposed to get these pills down the mule’s throat?” The vet smiles and says, “Easy. Find a piece of pipe wide enough to fit the pill into. Put one end of the pipe into the mule’s mouth, put the pill in, and blow on the other end. Before he knows what’s happening, the mule will swallow the pill.” The vet drove back to his office, but a few hours later the farmer comes staggering in looking terribly sick. “Man, you look awful! What happened!” The farmer replies, “THE MULE BLEW FIRST!”

The moral of the story is somebody has to take the initiative—even in the church.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 (NLT)  is the place where we find Paul building the resume of both “elders” and “deacons.” The term translated overseer in the NIV was first used outside the church to refer to supervisors of various sorts. As a description of one level of church leadership, it appears in Acts 20:28 and, again alongside “deacons,” in Philippians 1:1.

Elder and Deacon List

Criteria for an Elder:

  1. Above reproach: Because it stands at the head of the list, it means: “Not liable to criticism as he would be if he failed in any of these qualities”
  2. Husband of one wife—completely faithful to his wife
  3. Exercise self control
  4. Live wisely and
  5. Have a good reputation
  6. Enjoy having guests in his home
  7. Able to teach—not just teaching gift; but spiritually prepared to teach others truths
  8. Not be a heavy drinker
  9. Not be violent
  10. Gentle
  11. Not quarrelsome
  12. Not love money
  13. Manage his family well
  14. Not a recent convert
  15. Respected by outsiders

Criteria for Deacons:

  1. Well respected
  2. Have integrity
  3. Not a heavy drinker
  4. Not dishonest with money
  5. Committed to the central truths of the faith
  6. Have a clear conscience
  7. Manage his family well
  8. Be faithful to his wife

Here’s something interesting to note about the two lists, the focus of the list is not the duty of an elder or deacon, but instead the focus is on their reputation both with believers and unbelievers.

This is a list for anyone to aspire too today. You don’t have to be a pastor to live to this standard, but as a pastor, you really don’t have a choice.