“He must not be a recent convert…he must be well thought of by outsiders.” -1 Timothy 3:6-7
Imagine, a relatively young new preacher comes to town with no seminary or bible college degree and immediately begins to undermine the teachings of almost all of the religious leaders in our community through his sermons. He’s never been a pastor before, has no prior church staff experience, and one of his biggest fans appears to be a homeless man. Admittedly, he’s fairly sharp, but some of his closest family members think he might be going insane. Many that hear him like him or are at least intrigued by him. The most trusted leaders in town are more than a little concerned though. In the opinion of some, he seems to lack self control, drinks a little too much, doesn’t interpret the Scriptures very well, and keeps company with some shady characters. Finally, some have wondered if his success can be attributed to demonic activity. Would he be a candidate that would meet the above qualifications? And yet, could this not also be a description of the ministry of our Lord, Jesus (Luke 6:2,7; 7:34,39; Mark 3:21; Jn. 10:19-20)? Therefore, our understanding of the above passage is worth some consideration as to its application and meaning in the local church. So lets dig in.
“He must not be a recent convert.”
The reason given makes this quite easy to understand: “he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (vs. 6). New believers have much to learn in understanding the Scriptures, how they unfold, etc. before they could accurately teach them to others. Additionally, they have much to learn in regards to the subtle and deceitful nature of their own sin and it’s inner workings in their lives. Rapid appointment to oversee the affairs of the church in such cases is often a recipe for disaster.
Conversely, this may not take as much time as many think and certainly doesn't demand prior ministerial experience or a degree. The New testament scholar, D.A. Carson, records the following concerning this quality: “this is nevertheless a relative category. For example, in the book of Acts, Paul goes out through what is now Southern Turkey and plants various churches there, and then on the return swing he appoints elders in every place. There is no way that those Christians have been Christians for more than a few months; that is what the chronology demands…” That being said, as with all the other qualifications, this requires prayerful wisdom and will look different in a well established church whose members have a relatively commanding grasp of the Scriptures than it may in a church plant for example.
In any case, there should be an established pattern of Christ-like character and humility as demonstrated and tested in a variety of circumstances, conflict, and controversy.
“He must be well thought of by outsiders.”
As our brief sketch of the ministry of Jesus revealed, this cannot mean that everybody likes this man or that he is without enemies or accusations of any kind. So what does it mean then?
In short, these men must not act or be engaged in any immoral or improper pattern, behavior, or conduct that would tarnish or be inconsistent with the gospel message and corporate testimony of the church. You don’t want the response of non-believers to be, “What!? THAT guy is a pastor?! He’s one of the most crooked people I know,” etc. I have met people, gotten to know them first, and then later discovered they were pastors at a church and that was essentially my response. That’s the type of thing Paul has in mind here. As some have noted, these are the type of men who conduct themselves in such a way that when someone makes a negative or critical comment about them, you are more concerned for the person making the comment than you are for the one they're talking about.
This final quality circles back to “above reproach” where we began in verse 2 (I'd encourage you to read that post if you haven't already). All of these character traits together render a man blameless and above reproach. In the providence of God, the people best equipped to discern these character traits in the life of a man are his local church family with an eye to the Scriptures and in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. As you pray, examine, and cast a vote this Sunday, may God grant these type of men to serve as elders/pastors at KBC and may many more be cultivated in the coming years.
Examining With You,
Randy Pauley, Pastor