Commentary by Walter Albritton


August 1


The Biblical Qualities Expected of Good Church Leaders


1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-19


Key Verse: They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. – 1 Timothy 3:9


          After Pentecost, the early church began to grow rapidly. Some of the Apostles offered leadership, especially Peter. Paul, however, quickly emerged as the dominant leader of the expanding church. The new church needed structure and a game plan for local leadership. Paul provided both structure and a strategy for leadership in the Pastoral Epistles, his letters to Timothy and Titus.

          Through his missionary travels, and his letters, Paul kept up with the struggling young church. He recognized the need for capable leaders and outlined the qualities needed by those chosen to serve.

          Some leaders were given the title “elder,” while others were called “deacon.” The word “elder” is sometimes translated in English as “overseer,” or “bishop.” In the first century, an elder or bishop did not have authority over several churches, as is the case today. In the beginning, the “elder” served as the pastor, or shepherd, of the congregation.

          The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word meaning “servant.” Deacons assisted the elders in the work of the church. In a sense, the elder preached and taught the Word, while the deacon demonstrated or acted out the gospel. Deacons did this by meeting the needs of the church members, especially widows, orphans, and the needy.

          In recent years, the United Methodist Church has embraced this biblical plan by providing for the ordination of both elders and deacons. Elders are ordained to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. Deacons are ordained to serve in a variety of ministries such as music, Christian education, and administration. Those elected to the office of bishop must be ordained elders.

          Paul offers a long list of the qualities required of an elder. They are:

1.       The desire for noble service. To desire, or set one’s heart on, the work of an elder is an honorable thing, since it is a noble ministry. Perhaps, between the lines, Paul is saying that the office should not be sought by anyone with a selfish ambition.

2.    Known for Integrity. The elder should be a person of honor and have a good reputation. To be “blameless” or “above reproach” does mean “perfect.”

3.    The husband of one wife. Faithfulness in marriage is necessary. Unfaithfulness in marriage disqualifies one from serving as an elder. This requirement is often debated but the bottom line is that a quality marriage is necessary for good leaders.

4.    Disciplined. Personal discipline is required. To be vigilant, sober, and temperate, is to be self-controlled. One who cannot control his own desires cannot expect to lead others.

5.    The gift of hospitality. The church is not an exclusive club. A good leader will care about strangers and readily welcome others to share the benefits of the redemptive fellowship. As a traveling evangelist, Paul knew what it was like to receive the gift of hospitality from others.

6.    Able to Teach. The work of the elder requires the ability to teach the truth of the gospel.

7.    A wise and healthy user of wine. Wine was a common drink in the first century. However, drunkenness was not acceptable for an elder of the church.

8.    Gentle, not quarrelsome. A good leader must be a temperate person who is not given to violence or brawling.

9.    Not Covetous. Paul understood that an elder must not be a greedy person or a lover of money. Paul warned Timothy that it is “the love of money” that is the root of evil.

10.  A good manager of his family. The orderly leadership of one’s family, or household, is necessary before one can be expected to give leadership to the “household” of God.

11.   Spiritual Maturity. Recent converts are not qualified to serve as elders. The obvious reason is the danger of pride in being elevated so quickly to a leadership role. There is no substitute for a certain degree of spiritual growth for one to lead others successfully.

12.   A good reputation in the community. An effective church leader must have the respect of outsiders in the community. Without such respect, an elder may become an easy prey to the devil’s snare of pride.

          The qualities required of deacons are similar to those expected of elders. Both have different functions in the church but those chosen for service must be persons of noble character and a good reputation.

          Churches have certain obligations to their leaders, and these Paul underlines. Leaders deserve honor as well as pay. Those who labor with integrity, fulfilling their duties honorably, are worthy of their reward.

          All leaders will receive criticism. Accusations must be supported by two or three witnesses. This is a wise rule and when it is followed, there is less disruption of the Lord’s work in our churches.

          Churches must have good leaders if they are to prosper. May God give us the wisdom to choose the finest persons of character and honor as our leaders, and never settle for anything less! In addition, may we support our leaders with fervent prayer and loving affirmation!

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