The Truth about Church Officers
by Joseph Franks
Servant-leaders are not demigods.
In all churches, there are pastors, ministers, bishops, priests, elders, deacons, and deaconesses. These individuals are to be obeyed, honored, and/or respected. It is a good and godly task they perform as they care for and serve those in the flock of Christ.
Sadly, some of these servants let their job-titles go to their heads. They conclude they have climbed the ladder of spirituality. In theological conversation, they enjoy making much of some supposed difference between the clergy and laity or between the teaching elder and the ruling elder. Sadly, they consider themselves much more highly than the common laymen. Sinfully, they think of themselves much more highly than they ought. Then weirdly, in some circles they are assisted in having too high a view of themselves by many in the pews. It is not uncommon for laypeople to look up to those with ecclesiastical title and view them as religious demigods — half-human and half-divine. They are viewed as spiritual supermen with special gifts and powers. Then they are lauded before youngsters as goals for which to shoot; perhaps one day they too could obtain so high a spirituality.
However, most who hold such offices, positions, titles, or platforms for service know the truth about themselves. They may be filled called “Sons of God.” They may be filled with the Spirit of God. They may be called “Men of God.” They may be extraordinarily gifted by God. But they know they are not that special. They know they are not gods in any way whatsoever. Shoot, they even know they are not that godly.
Servant-leaders are not godly.
These biblically trained churchmen know they standards found in Acts 6, Titus 1, and 1 Timothy 3. They know the proof texts very well and understand how serious God is about internal, external, personal, familial, and public holiness:
Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:3-6)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 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? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:1-13)
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:5-16)
However, though knowing God’s Law very well and even teaching it to others, every time the intelligent, honest, and humble church officer hears these texts, they realize afresh how horribly deficient in righteousness they are. It is almost like a mother hearing Proverbs 31 one more time. Intelligent, honest, and humble churchmen know:
- They are often reproachable, disrespectful, and not well thought of.
- They are often resisting the spirit, foolish, and not sober-minded.
- They are often neglecting God’s Word, prayer, and their people.
- They are often unfaithful to their spouse with either hands, head, or heart.
- They are often lacking in self-control.
- They are often closed, uninviting, selfish, and lacking in hospitality.
- They are often errant in their teaching.
- They are often harsh and not gentle.
- They are often cantankerous and not kind.
- They are often greedy and in love with money and material things.
- They are often failing as leaders, managers, and servants of their family.
- They are often prideful, arrogant, and too puffed up with conceit.
- They are often undignified.
- They are often dishonest.
- They are often undignified.
Church officers know they have some external success. They are aware of how they look somewhat pretty and holy on the outside; after all this has been one of their goals. They have been very diligent to keep up their Christian testimony.
However, despite their successes, they know their failures. The honest, humble, and tender ones, will tell of their own persistent struggle that rages within, and they are very, very, very aware of how often they transgress God’s holy will.
Yes, intellectually honest and somewhat humble pastors, ministers, bishops, priests, elders, deacons, and deaconesses know they are not gods. They know they are not even godly. And the ones who state they are, they are either delusional or devilish.
So, what about these “characteristics” for officers?
Servant-leaders are Law-understanding, Gospel-clutching, Goal-driven worshipers recognized by others.
The Law of God is still the standard of holiness. It remains the measure all individuals must meet in order to be considered blameless and righteous. All of these characteristics, and many others, must be kept all the time in order for one to be saintly. This is the only standard, and there are no degrees or intermediate grades. When God evaluates, there is no curve, and there is no extra-credit. One either gets a 100% or a 0%. He either perfectly passes or miserably fails, and God states there has not been one passing grade yet. No one is worthy of service in the household of Christ, not even your favorite minister.
The Law of God is still the fantastic spotlight which illuminates the Gospel. It reminds the humble person of the only means by which he can be reconciled with God. It shows the lawless churchman the Law-keeping Christ. Yes, the Law is the tool used by the Holy Spirit to incite regret, remorse, and finally repentance. Then it causes the weary sinner to rejoice in the action and affection of the Trinity. The Law presents Christ and his righteousness in renewed beauty.
The Law of God is still the New Covenant description of Christ’s work. Men, women, boys, and girls are all being conformed to the image of Christ as put forth in these texts. Therefore, such characteristics become the God-prescribed goal of Christ’s worshipers. Christ, through his Holy Spirit, is doing a good work in his children, and as a result those who are his children find themselves interested in doing good works. Therefore, after their regret, remorse, repentance, and rejoicing, pastors, ministers, bishops, priests, elders, deacons, deaconesses, ordained, unordained, clergy, laity, adults, children, old saints, and new believers are all interested in responding to God’s grace. Therefore, the texts and the lists above become matters for which we pray. They are those which we practice. Such characteristics are good living; they are good loving; they are characteristics of good worship that pleases our Heavenly Father. Therefore, these characteristics are less what one must possess and more what one must pursue and perform.
Finally then, the Law of God is still that which others use to select their leaders. It is not that which leaders use to stroke their own egos, but that which congregants use to choose their next God-given leaders. It is for this reason that “called individuals” ought to be encouraged and humbly thankful when someone sees the evidence of Christ in their life and asks them to serve. Such righteousness is not of their own doing; it is the gift of God, and it comes with great responsibility. They are becoming “gifted gifts of God” called to wash the feet of those in their midst.
Therefore friends, let’s not lower the standard. God’s Law is always God’s Law.
Let’s also not think we or anyone else has ever met the standard. There is none righteous, no not one.
However, after clutching Christ and his Gospel, let us repent and run with endurance the race set before us. Let us labor to be good examples to the watching flock. Let us worship God according to his great precepts.
Then, let us all pray for one another and all the various servant-leaders we have selected and called. We are all targeted. We are all sinful. We all have fallen. We all are falling. We all will fall again. And our church leaders are not demigods filled with special power that keeps them more holy than others. They need your friendship and support more than your worship.