One of the biggest handicaps facing churches across the world is a lack of leadership.
God designed congregations to be led by elders, also called overseers, pastors, or shepherds. This is vital because:
A church without overseers will never live up to the scriptural standard. Sure, there are cases when men aren’t ready (such as Iconium between Acts 14:1 and 14:23). But a church without elders has fallen short of God’s plan. That’s why Paul left Titus in Crete, “that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city” (1:5).
A church without overseers will struggle. Members, from the newly-converted to the spiritually-mature, will wander like sheep without a shepherd. While people will never lack prayer or a Bible, they will lack nuts-and-bolts direction in marriage, parenting, temptation, and life. People will lag in attendance and slip away unnoticed. Real growth will prove elusive.
A church without overseers will always be in danger of falsehood. Shepherds, fiercely loyal to and protective of the flock, bravely chase away wolves (Acts 20:28-30). A church without overseers is vulnerable to takeover by false teachers.
A church without overseers will find it difficult to move forward decisively. Elders have the authority to spend money and make decisions, freeing members to work for the Lord without the distraction of debate. Members can have confidence in the elders’ decisions even when they don’t always agree with them, knowing that the elders know they shall answer to the Lord for their decisions (Heb. 13:17). An eldership is comforting and liberating.
For these and other reasons, God has a high standard for those who take the office of leadership.
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the Devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church… (1 Tim. 3:1-7).
We notice two things. First, each qualification is expected of every Christian (don’t believe me? See, in order, Eph. 1:4, Matt. 19:6, Gal. 5:23, Eph. 5:15, Acts 2:47, Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet. 3:15, Eph. 5:18, Jam. 1:19, Gal. 5:23, Tit. 3:2, Matt. 6:19, Eph. 6:4, Heb. 5:12, Matt. 5:14). An overseer is not perfect. He is simply a man who has succeeded in attaining the stature of a mature Christian, and who is able to help others attain it as well.
Also, we notice that each qualification is something that cannot be attained overnight, but rather through years of conscientious faith. This means, young men, that it would be a virtuous thing for you to start now aspiring to the most vital role in the world. Here are seven things you should do to prepare yourself:
Marry well. Attract and keep a godly woman who shares your goals and puts the kingdom first in her life. You are hamstrung without her help.
Make worship a non-negotiable priority. Be there when the doors are open. Keep activities and hobbies from cutting into worship time, and pick a career that interferes as infrequently as possible. Gain proficiency in the various duties of leading worship.
Become a Bible expert. A doctor can’t cram Gray’s Anatomy the night before taking the boards, and an elder can’t cram doctrine the week people nominate him. Carry your Bible. Take notes in it, underline passages, memorize verses, seek answers to the hard parts. Learn to “exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Tit. 1:9).
Pray regularly. Spend quality time talking to God. Leadership can feel lonely.
Learn to love people. The good shepherd “calls his own sheep by name, and leads them” (John 10:4, 1 Pet. 5:2). Fix their plumbing, babysit their kids, visit them in the hospital, invite them for dinner. Teach strangers the gospel. Reach out to struggling brothers. Become the sort of person people turn to instinctively when they have a crisis. The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, so you can at least lay down the remote (Ezek. 34:4-5). Learn to love even the jerks, especially their souls (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Develop the skill of influence. Being a good leader is knowing the way to go, and convincing others to follow. It’s understanding when to speak and when to hush. Parenting is the training ground for influence, where one learns the combination of proactive teaching and reproof, so that people gain a sturdy faith of their own.
Plan a busy retirement. It saddens me to see a man finally retire from secular work and, just when the church can most benefit from his skills and free time, watch him disappear into the mountains to relax. Selfish disobedience takes subtle forms (Luke 18:22). Vacations are great, but the fields are white for harvest, so save real retirement for Heaven! The work of a shepherd is “diligently laboring” (1 Thess. 5:2) and “working hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Plan for this season of life. Eliminate debt, pay off the mortgage, save up a nest egg, and take care of your health. Make it so that, if God allows, you will have money and energy to shepherd for decades.