This article is about the qualifications and the desire for the office.

Source: Clarion, 2004. 3 pages.

Seeking Office in the Church?

There is a constant need to fill the vacancies in the offices of the church. We may be thankful that time and again many of those vacancies are filled and that the Lord continues to provide leadership in the church. Without good leadership the church of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot exist.

However, there are often disappointments. Some people wonder why a certain person is chosen and not another person. They see flaws in the system and question whether or not biblical criteria were properly applied.

The question is, who is qualified, how are those qualifications to be determined, and is the system flawed?

Who is Qualified?🔗

Technically, in the case of elders and deacons, any male member who is a communicant member and who shows that he takes his responsibilities to the Lord and his people seriously should be eligible for the office. However, some are automatically excluded because they are either too young, or too old, or because they do not have the necessary physical or mental health. These men, of course, are not lesser members of the church, or less worthy than others. On the contrary, the Lord uses all kinds of people to promote his kingdom, including severely handicapped persons who will never serve as office bearers.

The Lord wants to use qualified men to rule the church, and biblical criteria ought to be applied in determining their eligibility. In applying these criteria, passages in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 usually receive the emphasis. Those passages, however, are far from exhaustive. All the qualities of a Christian ought to be considered. In addition, passages that speak about the fruit of the Spirit and other such passages must be taken into account as well.

A consistory has to be careful that it does not exclude potential office bearers for the wrong reasons. It is tempting, for example, to leave someone off the list who holds others accountable and who is not afraid to speak his mind. Such men are needed, for consistories can and do make mistakes, and they need to be pointed out and admitted, otherwise the congregation will become frustrated with the leadership and it will suffer.

The Desire for the Office🔗

As stated earlier, people at times are disappointed about the process and the result of office bearer selection. For example, there are those who truly desire the office and who have even prepared themselves for the office in various ways but are often overlooked. Are they being unfairly denied the opportunity to serve as an office bearer in the church? For Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1,

If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.

This text seems to suggest that men who actively pursue the role of office bearer in the church should be given a position. However, it is important to understand Paul’s intentions in this text. Paul is simply stating that it is good to desire office in the church. But it is important to distinguish between desiring the obtainment of office and insisting upon the obtainment of office. The Scriptures teach us that the office should seek the man, not the man the office. That is what we read, for example in Hebrews 5:4: “No one takes this honour upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.”

If we carefully examine the passage in Timothy in light of the context in which it was written, then it becomes clear what Paul means in this text. During Paul’s days it was difficult enough to be a Christian, let alone to be an office bearer. These people were persecuted. They suffered many hardships. Having an official function in the church only increased the likelihood and the severity of such persecution. Therefore, it was not an office that people desired. They saw the great sacrifices that would have to be made, and also the responsibility that came with the office.

Within that context Paul says in effect, “If you want to be an office bearer in the church then you are actually desiring a good thing. For when you desire that office, then you desire a noble task.”  As he makes clear throughout his letters, he knows how difficult it is to be an office bearer. He himself suffered many hardships and much abuse from without and within. But he also knows that the office has many rewards of its own.

We can easily see a parallel to the situation discussed by Paul when we look at the state of the office of the teaching elder, the minister, in our current context. Nowadays there are few men who present themselves to the Theological College to begin training for the ministry. Many young men will tell you that they are not really willing to make the sacrifice. They find that the study is too long, and too difficult. They would rather go to work and make money.

And those who do not mind studying for a long time would rather pursue another professional career. The ministry is more demanding than many other professions because there is a lot of demand on your time. Also, as a minister, you live in a glass house – you and your family are always in the public eye. You are prone to be criticized. In addition, the material rewards of the ministry are often not as high as other professional or business careers. For these reasons, and others, most young men do not want to make the sacrifice required in becoming a minister.

Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3 remind the reader that we must consider other things as well when reflecting on whether to pursue office of minister in the church. He reminds us that it is a noble task. It is something you should desire. The rewards may not be the same as other careers, but the ministry has rewards not found in other careers. As a minister you deal with the hearts and the souls of God’s people. You have to be busy all the time with God’s works. And that comes with wonderful rewards.

And the same thing is true for all office bearers. To be an elder means that there will be demands on your time and energy. It means that you will have to make yourself vulnerable for criticism. For in leadership positions you are always being second-guessed. There are many sacrifices to be made. It is not easy to be an elder or a deacon. Yet, like the ministry, it has many rewards – spiritual rewards. The greatest reward is that you can be an instrument in God’s hand to bring others to faith, and to bring about healing. Also, if you are not afraid of criticism, there is a great opportunity for personal growth in the Lord.

Personal Honour?🔗

Given all of this, let us return to the issue presented earlier. Some men are chronically left off the list, or are rejected by the congregation. Indeed, it may be because all their qualities are not properly considered. Everyone is responsible to the Lord to choose in accordance with biblical criteria. Nevertheless, the Lord calls through the congregation, and the congregation therefore has the final say as to who shall serve in the office. That is also the example we have from Scripture. When the church needed deacons in order to relieve the workload of the apostles, then all those assembled there were involved in choosing these men (Acts 6:1-6). They decided who possessed the biblical qualifications for the office.

Some men seek the office for personal honour. Others do not have the right temperament to be an effective office bearer.

As James says, Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.James 3:1

And therefore not everyone should be an office bearer.

It is indeed disappointing when those who truly desire the office do not get chosen. But, just following a certain course of study or preparation does not automatically qualify someone for the office. There are other matters to take into consideration.

It is true that our system of choosing office bearers is not perfect. Because we are sinful people, it can’t be perfect. We certainly do not have perfect office bearers either. And that is why it is humbling that in spite of their sin the Lord allows them to serve in the office. But office bearers in our churches are chosen according to biblical directives. There is no better system.

For those who are not chosen, it is important to remember that you do not have to be a minister or an elder or a deacon to in order to be fruitful in God’s kingdom. There are many other ways in which to serve the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to serve Him, no matter what your position. For then we honour God’s Name, and that is what it is all about.

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