These are the Apostle Paul's well-known words to Timothy, his "dear son" in the faith, a young man who had grown up in the spiritual instruction of his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Tim. 2:2, 5). It's a deeply tender letter at almost every verse. The apostle is writing in the "shadow of the gallows" as one commentator put it, and he is giving his final instructions and exhortations to this young pastor who has traveled, served, and learned alongside him.
Among the many jewels in this letter is Paul's charge to Timothy to find and entrust "reliable men" with the things Timothy has learned from Paul. The apostle's teaching is to live on, being passed from faithful hand to faithful hand. Consequently then, the pastor is one who of necessity must be able to spot such reliable men and be able to train them in this stewardship. If a man is not given to discipling others in this way, it's likely that he is not called to the pastoral office.
Okay... that's the easy part... saying that a pastor must do this or that. But practically, what does this look like? How is it done? What are some effective and less effective approaches to fulfilling this charge?
In this series of posts, I want to invite the pastors/elders out there to a conversation about finding and training faithful men for the task of leadership in the church. I'm no expert. I haven't been at this very long at all and I'm certain there are tons of men out there who have and are doing it well. So, as we work through the list of qualities the Apostle Paul lays out in 1 Timothy 3, I hope folks--as Paul does here with Timothy--will contribute with their experiences and learning.
Today, we focus briefly on the first qualification Paul lists in 1 Timothy 3:1--"If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task" (NIV). "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task" (ESV).
In our finding and entrusting reliable men, we're first to look for men who desire this "noble task." We're to find men who have a "heart for it," who "aspire to the office."
This, in my experience, isn't as straightforward as the words suggest. Has anyone out there come across men who "want the office," who lust for it really, but aren't fit for the task? And conversely, has anyone come across men who are fit for the office but think that desiring it is a show of pride or ungodly ambition or impoliteness? Then there are those who are probably qualified but lack desire because of some "super elder" image don't think they're qualified.
Practically speaking, one of the first things Timothy has to do is clarify and teach godly ambition, including the godliness of aspiring to be an elder. A number of the elders at CHBC are faithful in encouraging young men (including 20-somethings) to include in their personal aspirtation or goals the goal of being an elder (at least qualified to be an elder). Especially when one considers that the only quality peculiar to eldership in this list is "apt to teach," that all the other qualities are things that should mark every Christian, this challenge to aspire to be an elder is good and godly. It's another way of saying to Christian men this is what Christian maturity and Christ-likeness looks like. And that's to be desired, not shyed away from or down-played. Can you imagine the upward toward Christ pull and power of having a church filled with men strongly desiring/aspiring in a godly fashion for leadership? In my experience, the problem is generally the opposite... men aspiring for comfort, anonymity, ease and just about anything else except "the office of overseer."
Secondly, practically, Timothy will likely have to clarify and teach the goodness of the leadership task. Paul calls leadership in the local church "noble." And it is. But there may exist the impression that it's a burden, a headache, or a necessary evil. So it may be necessary, without painting a false picture of unending comfort, to develop, discuss, preach, and model joy in the ministry. After all, it's the Lord's intent that leading His church be a joy to those men with the privilege (Heb. 13:17b). Part of the nobility of the task comes from the privilege of modeling Christ for His people. The elder is to be an example in all things (1 Tim. 4:12). The man not desiring to model Christ should be asked, "What exactly do you intend and think is more worthwhile to model than Christ?" It's also noble because it's necessary. The Lord designed the church in such a way that it requires godly leaders. The sheep need shepherds. And tending the sheep is a good thing.
The task is noble and therefore to be desired.
But practically, what are some things we can do/questions to ask to discern which men have this godly ambition?
Some observations to make (feel free to add others):
1. Note those men who are regularly in attendance at the church's services (Sunday morning and night if you have one, mid-week prayer or Bible study) and the church's business meetings. Start with those who already show an active commitment to the ministry and who will be models of that commitment to the body.
2. Note the men who already appear to be shepherding members of the church yet without the title "elder" or "pastor." Who are the men that care for others by visiting or practicing hospitality, giving counsel (being often sought after by others), and who participate in the teaching ministry of the church.
3. Note those men who show respect and trust in the existing leadership, who work to understand the directions leadership pursue, who ask good/apropriate questions in appropriate settings, who avoid creating confusion or dissension in public meetings, etc.
4. Be patient and note those men who evidence the desire over time. Watch a man; encourage him. But observe the desire in fruitful seasons, in dry times, when he is full of joy, and when he is sorrowful. Does the desire persist, grow, and strengthen, or fade, wither, and weaken?
Some questions to ask (feel free to add many others)
These are just a few things we might ask of those who catch our eye:
1. Have you ever thought of being an elder? Start here. Many have never considered it and will be surprised that we ask. Others have considered it and maybe put it out of their minds because of some incorrect impressions we may be able to correct. For those who have not considered it, we should be prepared to give them some reasons why they should, ranging from "this is one way of defining Christ-like maturity for Christian men" to "I've seen these particular things in you that suggest to me this is something you should think about."
2. Have you considered that your lack of desire might be an indication of spiritual complacency or misdirection? Again, this question builds on the teaching that desiring the office is a good thing and that the qualifications for the office are a good self-assessment for Christian maturity. Pastorally, we want to press that vision into our men.
3. Why do you desire to be an elder? To what extent are you aware of anything impure (pride, power, etc) in your motives? This is a question, obviously, for those who are considering eldership. Because we don't want to lay hands on any man hastily, we need to practically tease out godly ambition from impure motives. None of us are perfect in our motivations; we're all sinners who wrestle with some mixture indwelling sin. But due diligence requires we help a man excavate his heart and that we inspect what's unearthed. Are we looking at a humble man desiring to serve, or an unsubmissive, proud seeker after control? What's the source of his eagerness and desire? We're to avoid calling men who may desire oversight "for shameful gain" or to be "domineering over those in our charge" (1 Pet. 5:3).
4. Have you ever considered what would happen to the church, to the sheep, if they have no shepherd? Does your heart respond the same way as Jesus' at the sight of shepherdless sheep? (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34) This is for those men who may recognize giftedness and some qualification but who may be shrinking away from leadership. Sometimes it's helpful to take the man's eyes off himself and focus them on the people he would be called to serve. More is at stake than whether or not an individual feels "comfortable" with the idea of leadership, though that should be attended to. At stake is the spiritual care of the sheep.
5. Have you considered what your avoidance of leadership teaches the congregation about this noble task and the care of souls? This is for men who are already seen as "shepherds" in the eyes of the body. Sometimes gifted, qualified men are helped to realized that even in their avoiding of the role they are teaching the congregation something about leadership. They are teaching them that even the men most spiritual and gifted in the eyes of the body think this is a burdensome or unnecessary task. And in teaching that by example, men unintentionally may lower the congregation's standard and expectation for its leaders and consequently lowering the quality of spiritual care and oversight they and future generations may receive. After all, the congregation is commanded to "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consder the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7).
Finding men who desire the noble task of overseer is of great importance. Choosing pastors is the most important decision a congregation makes, for the pastors will shape the congregation through their teaching and their model. And given that, the Lord calls us to find men who "shepherd the flock of God... exercising oversight... willingly, as God would have [us]... eagerly... being examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:2-3). May the Lord give us discernment, patience, and clarity of thought and observation as we seek reliable men who desire this noble task.