Friday, November 02, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Mature and Humble

You ever heard the phrase "the zeal of a new convert"? It's used to describe someone who is fervent and boiling over with enthusiasm because of their newfound beliefs or commitments. It's a bit of a cliche, but it's a helpful description of recent initiates. New converts tend to have a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, they're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (to use another cliche) but not according to knowledge.
The Lord's next requirement for those who would lead His church as under-shepherds is that "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:6).

The apostle gives us both the qualification and the rationale.

The Qualification

"He must not be a recent convert." That is, the elder must not be a new believer. Literally, he must not be "newly planted" in the faith. Like a tender shoot, he will be unable to withstand the steady trodding and sometimes trampling that comes with pastoral ministry. His faith must not be new but aged, like a mature vine that produces ripe fruit.

New believers are like new children, the freshness of new life encourages and excites us but there must be the recognition that they are vulnerable. Their lack of maturity requires that time be taken to instruct, shape and care for them. Because they need such care, they are not themselves sufficiently equipped to provide pastoral level care to others.

It's good of the Lord to tell us this in His word, and good for the church to heed it. The tendency in some churches, particularly those eager to get people "plugged in" or involved in ministry, will sometimes be to take new converts and press them into service wherever there appears an interest or a need. When we do that, whether it is the eldership or children's ministry or the praise team, we open ourselves to making two mistakes: (1) placing the person in a service setting beyond their ability (even teaching children, if we're doing more than "baby sitting" for a couple hours, requires good facility in the basics of the faith), and (2) neglecting the more needful care and instruction we should be giving the new convert.

So, while Paul raises this issue especially with elders, it may be prudent to apply this more broadly in the church by encouraging new converts and members to complete appropriate theological and ministry training before involving them in a particular area of service, or by encouraging them to take the first six months of their membership and focus primarily on learning and building relationships in the church. But back to eldership....

The potential elder is not to be a recent convert to the faith. There will be much that he needs to learn, apply, and master in his own life (Rom. 12:1-2) before he can begin to disciple and shepherd others in this way. Paul does not give us an age requirement or some length of time that automatically signals maturity. We all know Christians who have been Christians for decades but probably lack the spiritual maturity requisite for the eldership. And conversely, we've probably me a number of people who spiritually were "born old" and evidence remarkable maturity for their "Christian age." Patient discernment is needed. What we would like to see is consistent maturity in life and thought over time.

The Rationale

And we would be wise to search for maturity because of the particular danger that attaches itself to the office. The word of God says an immature man "may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil." Pride and demonic condemnation. Two very dangerous spiritual foes await the novice. Someone unable to handle the mantle of leadership as "servant of all" may be given to lofty thoughts of himself. And that pride will affect how he handles others, perhaps leading to harsh treatment of the sheep and unwillingness to follow leadership himself. Ultimately, such a novice is vulnerable to falling in the office, leading to "the condemnation of the devil." That condemnation could either be interpreted as the same judgment the devil received for his pride or the slander and accusation of the devil, who stands ready to accuse the brethren. Either way, to invite a novice to the office of elder is to invite him to onslaughts from within (pride) and without (judgment).

Calvin summarizes well: "novices have not only impetuous fervour and bold daring, but are also puffed up with foolish confidence, as if they could fly beyond the clouds. Consequently, it is not without reason that they are excluded from the honour of a bishopric, till, in process of time, their proud temper shall be subdued."

Some Observations and Questions

1. When was the man converted? Is the potential elder a new Christian? If so, he is not qualified for the post. He may be a man with great zeal and desire to serve, but it's better to disciple and train him for a life of godliness and push into the future of maturity considerations for eldership.

2. What is the man's level of spiritual maturity, even if he were converted some time ago? By spiritual maturity, we mustn't think age or number of years as a Christian. Does the man demonstrate Spirit-filled living, bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5)? Does he respond with kindness, patience, and compassion in varying situations? Does he meet the qualifications previously stated (sober, etc.)? Is he a young man with maturity beyond his years? Such a man should be considered as long as he is mature.

3. To what extent is the man given to pride? Pride is an enemy to us all. It has many faces and forms. But to what extent is a man aware of his pride? Does he act proudly and appear blind to it? Or, does he fight his pride like a Christian, making his life open to and submitted to others? Will the office of elder tempt him to arrogance and exalting himself over others? Consider the man's leadership experiences in other places. Does he evidence pride in those settings? Would his employees or coworkers regard him as a humble or a puffed up man?

4. One measure of pride might be over-confidence in the face of spiritual temptations and dangers. Warned about the accusation and temptations of the evil one peculiar to the eldership, does he show godly concern or too much sureness of his own ability and strength? Or, is he gripped with a sense of his own inadequacy (2 Cor. 2:16) and need for God's spiritual protection? Blindness to our need for spiritual protection and vigilance in watching our lives most certainly leads to dullness of heart and rests on the pride off self-confidence.

5. Is the man sensitive to critique and criticism? Certainly not every criticism a person receives is accurate or warranted. But how will we know whether a criticism is accurate or unjust if we refuse to consider them in the first place? Is the prospective elder prone to knee-jerk defenses and rationalizations in the face of critique and criticism? Does he interpret every disagreement as opposition? Pride sometimes manifests itself in an "untouchable" attitude toward the critique, criticism and even slander of others. But a humble, poor in spirit attitude will prayerfully consider such comments an opportunity for reflection and growth.

6. It might be helpful to ask the man and others if he is able to submit to the opinion of others (especially other elders) even when he holds a different opinion. Can he submit to others when he disagrees? Can he recognize that the other elders are biblically qualified, gifted, and Spirit-filled men who may hold a different opinion?

In looking for reliable men, in endeavoring to be reliable pastors, we can not afford to minimize the importance of spiritual maturity and humility.

1 comment:

Steve said...

How refreshing it is to find a man with the balance of integrity, Biblical depth, zeal for the church, and a man who knows how to be a brother to other men.

Thanks for this post.