And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding — Jeremiah 3:15
It is that time of every year when you as a congregation have the privilege and responsibility to nominate and elect (if there are any God has gifted) men for the offices of elder and deacon. I want to help direct us as a congregation identify and select men who have a heart after God’s own heart, whom He raised to shepherd (elders) and serve (deacons) His flock. First, we’ll consider the office of elder/shepherd/overseer according to the instructions Timothy receives from the apostle Paul (1 Timothy 3:1-7; cf. Titus 1). Before we look at the text, consider how our forefathers describe the duties of an elder:
“It belongs to the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called thereunto…All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.” (PCA Book of Church Order 8-3).
The office of elder is not forced upon a man (“If anyone desires…” – v.1), but if a man should desire the office then Paul wants to make sure it is filled with the right men. This is a “noble task” and should not be taken lightly by those who desire it or by those who select those who desire it. “Therefore”, Paul concludes, it requires a certain level of maturity in Christ to carry out its duties. This measure of maturity is a list of qualities that must be present on some level in that man who is to serve the Church as an overseer. Paul doesn’t say that an elder can posses only three of these qualities and then work on the rest. An under-shepherd of Christ over the flock of Christ must be mature in Christ. Here are Paul’s 15 Biblical measures of maturity in Christ which we must use when selecting elders. When nominating elders, ask yourself these questions:
- Does he strive to live a blameless life (above reproach)?
- If married, is he loyal to one woman (husband of one wife)?
- Is he clear-headed, serious, rational, and solemn (sober-minded)?
- Is he composed and disciplined (self-controlled)?
- Does he adorn the gospel with dignified or modest behavior (respectable)?
- Is he generous with his possessions and welcoming of others (hospitable)?
- Is he competent in the Scriptures and can he explain them to others (able to teach)?
- Does he have control over alcohol or does it have control over him (not a drunkard)?
- Does he have control over his anger (not violent)?
- 10. Is he known for being kind and patient with those who are weaker in their faith than he is (but gentle)?
- 11. Is he a peacemaker or is he always looking for a debate and ready for an argument (not quarrelsome)?
- Is he responsible but generous with God’s money or is he a “Scrooge” (not a lover of money)?
- Are his children, if he has them, wild or submissive (manage his own household well…)?
- Has he had time to adequately mature in Christ (not a recent convert)?
- What is his reputation in the community outside the church (well thought of by outsiders)?
Use these Biblical qualifications to do two things. First, use them to pray for the men who are currently serving as overseers of your soul. God has blessed you with shepherds who love you and who meet these qualifications. Paul is not expecting a man to be perfect before or during his serving as elder. The great apostle humbly acknowledged himself as not having attained that yet either (Philippians 3:12-14). Therefore, your session (of which I am joyfully a part) is not perfect. We desperately need your prayers! Second, become familiar with these measures of maturity and be on the lookout for men whom God has gifted to lovingly, faithfully, and boldly lead you and feed you “with knowledge and understanding” for the good of your souls, the building up the Church, and the glory of God. We’ll give more direction to come. For now, be in prayer and on the lookout for such men.
May God bless us with more and more shepherds after God’s own heart.