The church is a family. It is a group of brothers and sisters in Christ, submitted to God the Father by the working of God the Holy Spirit. The church is a family.
Every family requires leadership. The church is no different. So, it's surprising that the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit adds another qualification for those who desire to be overseers in the Lord's family, the church. He writes, "He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"
Notice the urgency and insistence about these qualifications. The prospective elder must possess these qualities. That's said of all the qualities, but here it has a louder ring to it. There is no way for a man to be a qualified elder and not be in the habit of consistently managing his own household well. He simply must. And this managing of the home is prerequisite to serving as an elder. It's not something that is "learned on the job;" it is a minimum qualification for even accepting the application. An inability to manage this smaller household by definition means a man can not manage God's larger household, the church. And an elder is called to nothing less than tending to God's family and household.
And, notice that it's "his own" household that must be managed. Women get an unfair and bad rap being sometimes stereotyped as busy bodies and meddlers into the affairs of others. Well, here, Paul warns against men who may be too preoccupied with the affairs of others and too little occupied with things going on under their own roof. One thinks of Eli's hasty and mistaken rebuke of Hannah as she prayed while abdicating responsibility for his wayward boys in 1 Samuel. An elder tends to affairs at home.
To "manage" his home includes both the supervision of his family as well as the nurture of the family members. If a man only supervises but fails to nurture, he may be either a tyrant or an absentee landlord. Neither is fitting for a father, much less an elder. If he only nurtures but fails to supervise, he may play the part of the permissive "good cop" and "friend" to the children but never give appropriate guidance. He is to govern the home but with gentleness and concern for each member of the family. The word "manage" here is the same word used of the Good Samaritan who risked himself to bandage and care for the wounded man. The Samaritan responded with caring supervision and concern. This is what the prospective elder will be called to do in the church.
The apostle tells us immediately what this good management concerns. It is "with all dignity keeping his children submissive." Paul has already addressed the fact that the prospective elder is to be "a one-woman man," indicating the singleness of heart he has for his wife if married. He will love her as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5). But here, Paul has particular concern for a father's relationship with his children. The NIV renders this "see that his children obey him with proper respect." The word "dignity" can apply either to the father in his role or the children in their submission and obedience. And, actually, one would expect both with a qualified elder. Such a man is worthy of respect and it shows in how he leads his home. He is dignified, respectful or reverent. Correspondingly, his children should treat him with respect and reverence. There is to be a mutuality in this regard.
Some Questions and Observations (Please Share Others)
1. Is the prospective elder attentive to his home? Does he provide leadership to the affairs of his home? What does his wife say about his involvement? Does she commend him or tend to camouflage lack of involvement with rationalizations? Supervising the home can be measured in a number of ways, from knowing and attending to the family's finances to leadership in decision-making about the kids' education to the physical upkeep of the home itself.
2. Does the prospective elder care for his children? Is that care demonstrable for each individual child? An elder will often be called to tend the individual members of the flock. It's wise to observe that tendency in a prospective elder with his individual children.
3. Do the children submit to their father? Are they obedient to their father? Is it evident that they respect their father and regard him highly? Or, is the relationship characterized by animosity and rebellion? Obviously, the particulars of the situation matters here. It may be that a child is spiritually lost and struggling, yet still obedient and respectful to their father. Paul's instruction here doesn't call for a perfect home and perfect children--none exist. So, it's as wise to ask if the father is managing the home well in the midst of difficult circumstances, his children showing proper respect despite the present challenges.
4. Would the children say that the father is qualified to serve as an elder? Age and understanding matters here. But if the children are old enough to understand the decision at hand, would they support their father as worthy of the office? What grounds would they give for affirming or denying a man's qualification? Sensitivity is required. But what our children see in us is likely to be what the church sees in us--only our children tend to see it first and without the mask of religious hypocrisy.
5. For single men or married men without children, it would be important to know what their attitudes are toward children and child rearing. Is he opposed to having children or is he postponing having children (if married) for some period of time? In that case there may be selfish tendencies shaping his life. For single men, it might be worth considering whether the man has other opportunities for shepherding children that serve as a proxy of sorts on this issue. Does he volunteer with any ministries or community programs that serve youth? Does he have nieces and nephews? Does he volunteer to care for children of other families in the church? If so, how do the children in those programs respond to him and how does he care for them? Workplace relationships may provide a similar proxy.
The Lord requires that His church be managed by men who know how to supervise and nurture His children. To a great extent, that is the task of pastoral ministry. And where are we to find these men? Where else? At home taking care of business. May the Lord be pleased to raise up men gifted for the task.
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