- The church is not doing enough to address problems (youth, homelessness, etc.)
- The church and Christians are not open-minded; they’re backward and discriminatory.
- The church and Christians—especially preachers—are out for your money.
- If the church has the truth, why are there so many divisions and denominations?
- The church is obsolete and unnecessary, and Christians are dangerous to society.
- The church and Christians are boring, not exciting, killjoys, dead.
- Christians are self-righteous and mean.
- The church is full of hypocrites.
That last complaint, the church is full of hypocrites, probably covers a lot of the other problems and complaints. Many people in the world, in one way or another, consider Christian people and the Christian church as a whole… hypocritical.
And, let’s face it. Many of the critiques I just read out… are on the money—at least for some churches and professing Christians.
- There are Christians who are self-righteous and mean.
- There are Christian preachers and churches who care more about money than people.
- There are Christians and churches that are not open-minded in the best sense of that phrase… who are stuck in some bygone era and unable or unwilling to take the truth and engage contemporary society.
- And Christians are a quarrelsome lot. We divide sometimes over the most insignificant things.
It will not do for us to just ignore such criticisms. Yes, the people who raise them are likely hypocrites themselves. But that’s what we’d expect to find out in the world.
But is it what we should expect in the church? Have our critics done us a service by pointing these things out? Do we agree with them? If we agree, what are we to do?
The Apostle Paul comes to his final qualification for elders/pastors in 1 Timothy 3:7--"Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."
It turns out that what unbelievers think of us really does matter, especially for potential elders and leaders. A man who desires to be an elder must have a strong reputation with those outside the church. These outsiders, non-Christians, are witnesses certifying and corroborating the potential elders' testimony. It's not that folks are neutral about him; "he must be well thought of." The opinion must be positive. If a man is well-regarded inside church but poorly regarded by non-Christians, he is not a suitable candidate for the Christian ministry.
The reason Paul gives under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is similar to the reason given for why an elders hould not be a new convert but mature. A poor outside reputation makes a man vulnerable to falling into disgrace or a trap of the evil one. How many men in pastoral ministry with poor reputations have tarnished the witness of their local church, the Name of Christ, and the gospel? That's precisely what the enemy of the elect wishes to have happen--men falling on their own sword of poor reputation and bad living in the name of Christ.
Elders are to commend the gospel and everything that conforms to sound doctrine. Even the Christian's enemies should feel ashamed about their evil comments in the face of a life lived well for Christ (1 Pet. 3:16). These are the kind of men we are to pray for and look for when it comes to the office of elder.
Some Questions and Observations (Please feel free to add others)
1. What does the prospective elder's non-Christian neighbors and co-workers report about him? Are they witnesses to what they would consider Christian or un-Christian behavior in the prospective elder?
2. Is there evidence that the outsiders' opinions are accurate or inaccurate? It is improbable that Paul intends the local church to take the opinion of non-Christians without reflection and discernment. Paul himself would not be judged by any man when that judgment was unfounded and where faithfulness was demonstrable (1 Cor. 4:1-4). Likewise, the local church should neither dismiss the opinion of outsiders regarding her leaders or swallow "hook, line, and sinker" any charge brought aagainst a man.
3. Does the prospective elder engage in the affairs of the wider community? A prospective elder should be salt and light in the world. That will be reflected, in part, in the non-Christian relationships he maintains and the civic and community contributions he makes.
The call to serve Christ as an undershepherd is a high call. Not everyone may take the mantle of leadership in the church. Those called must be examples to the flock in every area of life (1 Tim. 4:12). Such men must be models of devout faith inside and outside the church, commending Christ and the gospel to all. And yet, apart from being able to teach, the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 are characteristics that every Christian should increasingly possess by God's grace and the work of His Spirit. May the Lord be pleased to grant us both the blessing of faithful, reliable men to lead our churches and the fruit of His Spirit.
Other posts in this series
Introduction: Finding Reliable Men
Temperate, Self-Controlled, Respectable
Able to Teach
Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking
Not Lovers of Money
Leaders at Home
Mature and Humble