Elder Leadership Baseline

Biblical Leadership


There is no lack of verbiage describing traits for leaders in general and in the church in particular. Leadership models abound. Even though some of these opinions are helpful, this very brief offering deals only with the foundational concepts that underlie the leadership qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. 


Nor will I deal with concepts surrounding leadership traits drawn by implication – even though that is legitimate (for instance, an analysis of how Jesus led his disciples). 


The Leadership Qualifications


I will only mention these traits in this article (see Elder Qualifications for further discussion). Depending on how you count there are 25 traits. There will be variations depending on how the similarities are handled (the children in 3:4-5 v 1:6 v 3:12; the love of money in 3:3 v 1:7 and 3:8; the much wine in 3:8; the holding fast phrases in 1:9 v 3:9; and whether you include or exclude the women in 3:11).  The list from the NASV is as follows: 

1. Above reproach (avnepi,lhmpton) 3:2; (1:6 + 1:7+ 3:10 = avne,gklhtoj = beyond reproach)

2. Husband of one wife 3:2; 1:6; 3:12

3. Temperate 3:2

4. Prudent 3:2; (1:8 translated “sensible”)

5. Respectable 3:2

6. Hospitable 3:2; 1:8

7. Able to teach 3:2

8. Not addicted to wine (mh. pa,roinoj) 3:3 + 1:7; (3:8 = mh. oi;nw| pollw/| prose,contaj = not given to much wine)

9. Not pugnacious 3:3; 1:7

10. Gentle 3:3

11. Peaceable 3:3

12. Free from love of money (avfila,rguroj) 3:3; (1:7 + 3:8  mh. aivscrokerdh/ = not fond of sordid gain) 

13. Manages household well 3:4-5; 1:6; 3:12 (three similar statements)

14. Not a new convert 3:6

15. Good reputation 3:7

16. Not self willed 1:7

17. Not quick tempered 1:7

18. Lover of what is good 1:8

19. Just 1:8

20. Devout 1:8

21. Self-controlled 1:8

22. Holding fast the faithful word 1:9; (3:9 = holding to the mystery of the faith)

23. Man of dignity 3:8

24. Not double tongued 3:8

25. Tested 3:10


It is possible to group these traits into kindred categories. In fact I have done so in

previous studies: General, Marital, Conduct, Domestic, Ministerial, Maturity, Character,

Performance (see 1 Timothy studies). I don’t know if such attempts are especially

helpful however. 


Foundational concepts


a. Leadership begins with desire. Note the terms “aspire” (ovre,gw) and “desire” (evpiqume,w) in 1 Tim 3:1. They are nearly synonymous terms. The general idea is intensity.  In fact, “aspire” literally means “to stretch forth” or “reach”. This is a basic assumption – the “if” is a first class condition. Do you want to lead your home? Your organization? Your wife? I’d like to broaden this idea of aspirations out a bit to beyond church officers. Here are some questions.

i. What are your priorities? To a great extent, the way you use your discretionary time reveals your priorities. If you had to miss either a meal or personal devotions tomorrow, which would it be? If you could only spend time today using media or working out, which would it be? 

ii. What are your passions? All of us get cranked up about something. The ballgame, coin collecting, our work, camping, and etc. That’s okay. However, are you also passionate about things that really matter? Like personal godliness. 

iii. What is the source of your personal significance? Success at work? At your recreation? In the community? In your children’s accomplishments? Grandchildren? Why not in your relationship with God? 

iv. What is your life goal? Let’s cut to the chase - at the end of your life, what do you want to have accomplished? When you stand before the Lord what words do you want to hear? Yes, this is what  NAU 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 is all about:  Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Remember the sea shell illustration from John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life p 45-46:

 An American Tragedy: How Not to Finish Your One Life: I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on the 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it AI thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life – your one and only precious, God-given life – and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgement: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life. 

v. What is your beginning point? Has it ever occurred to you that, in essence, where you end up is framed in a large part by where you begin? 

vi. How do you measure your manhood? By your brains, your brawn, your sexuality, your money, your position, your athleticism, your toys, the beautiful people around you, or etc? Why not spiritual maturity.  We must get over the notion that genuine spirituality is “girly”. 

b. Leaders are not necessarily born. Anyone can have this desire. It is an indefinite “anyone” (1 Tim 3:1; Tit 1:6). There are no pre-conditions. However, it is true that a man can have a desire but, for whatever reason, not meet the standards. 

c. Leadership requires effort. Because of the general word “work” (ergon) in 3:1 we must assume that a leader will expend time and energy in the production of his leadership. It does not happen by osmosis. Apply this to all areas of leadership – work, church, community, organizations, family. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

d. Leaders are not perfect. Successful leaders, in God’s view, are those who exhibit the qualities laid out in our texts. “Must be” (dei/) leaves little wiggle room. However, both verbals in 1 Tim 3:2 are present tenses (dei/ verb indicative present active 3rd person singular from dei and ei=nai verb infinitive present active from eivmi,) – thus the focus is on present circumstances, not on the past. The question is not whether or not he was or was not this or that in the past.  Nor does this mean perfection or exact conformity to the stated characteristics (or Paul himself would have been excluded). It does mean that a person’s life must be free of glaring deficits when compared to these qualities. This gives all of us hope.

e. Leaders are always part of God’s plan. Tit 1:5 indicates that leaders are always and everywhere needed.  God will always have leaders. Essential to the success of his program. Every “institution” needs a leader(s). Why not be a leader rather than a follower? 

f. Leadership is primarily a matter of character rather than method. [Key principle] I can’t emphasize this enough. The corporate world would be immensely benefitted by implementing this idea. Other factors are certainly significant – conduct (but this flows from character) or wisdom (but this flows from God). 

g. Church leadership traits are transferable. Even though these qualities must be evident in church leader’s lives, they are really marks of maturity that all believers should strive for. 

i. Elsewhere in Scripture believers in general are admonished to incorporate these characteristics into their life. (For instance re hospitality – 1 Pet 4:9; rre temperate – Tit 2:2; re prudent – Tit 2:5; re gentle – Phil 4:5;re free from the love of money – Heb 13:5; and etc). 

ii. Maturity lists such as the fruit of the Spirit have a similar flavor to this list. The one another statements of the NT are also analogous. 

iii. The historical setting makes this evident. Timothy is to select from among believers those in whose life these traits are clearly evident. The underlying assumption is that these would be the “cream of the crop.” In other words, all believers share the same objective – these traits. All are in the same pool of candidates. Some are further along toward the objective than others. Therefore, pick only certain ones from the larger group composed of individuals who are all headed in the same direction. Clearly, the idea is not that only church leaders ought to exhibit these qualities and everyone else is exempt. 

iv. So, whether you desire to serve as an office bearer in the church or not, you should desire to cultivate these traits in your life. If you do, you can become a leader in the truest sense of the term. 


© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2017. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source