The Qualifications & Calling of An Elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9)



Over thirty years ago I heard Pastor Bill Hybels make a statement that helped me to reaffirm and double-down on my calling as a pastor. Hybels said: “The local church is the hope of the world.”

  • A short time afterwards I added another thought to Hybels’ declaration: “Not only is the local church the hope of the world, but effective, reproducing servant leadership is the hope of the church.”
  • After about 35 years of serving the Church in various ways, here’s what I have found:

A church is only as healthy as its eldership.

With those thoughts in our minds I’d like for us to consider The Qualifications and Calling of Elders today. We will primarily be in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 but we will also address the qualifications in Titus 1 as well.

As we prepare to learn I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that the list we’re about to look at is not exhaustive. Paul gives an overlapping but different list of qualifications to Timothy and Titus. (The same is true when Paul writes about spiritual gifts…)

I will read the text, then pray, and we will see what we can learn about the qualifications and calling of an elder:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires [inward call] 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, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” –1 Timothy 3:1-7


We will be asking and responding to four questions today…

  1. What makes a church a church?
  2. Who takes responsibility for the proper functioning of the church?
  3. What are the qualifications for a person to hold the office of an elder?
  4. What is the means by which these people are chosen?

We will now look at them one at a time…

  1. What makes a church a church?
    • One of the earliest Protestant Confessions[1] (even before the Westminster Confession) is the Belgic Confession (1561), which offered a definition of the defining marks of a true church that has remained the go-to definition for centuries. Article 29 (paragraph three) states:

“The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments [or ordinances] as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.” –The Belgic Confession, Article 29 – Paragraph 3

    • In short, a true church engages in three practices:
      1. Pure preaching of the gospel
      2. The pure administration of the sacraments / ordinances [baptism & The Lord’s Supper – communion]
      3. Church discipline. Seeking to restore a sinning believer [“…restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” –Galatians 6:1]
    • If these three things are not happening, we don’t have a church.
    • One might ask, “What about prayer, singing in worship, fellowship, love, giving, acts of service and mercy and the many other attributes and activities that should be found in the gathering of the saints?”
    • Prayer, singing, fellowship, etc. are not restricted to that organism called the church. Believers can, and are encouraged to, pursue those attributes and activities both publicly and privately.
    • We can think of prayer, singing, love, service, mercy and so forth) are the Spirit generated fruit of a church that remains committed to its prime directive of word, sacrament, and discipline.
    • Everything that is authentic, truly profound, and worthwhile proceeds from Jesus Christ who is presented by word and sacrament—and it is church discipline that protects the purity of the gospel and sacraments.
    • And it is from that fountain that fervent prayer, dynamic worship, brotherly/sisterly love, heartfelt service, and mercy begins to weave brothers and sisters to Christ and together to form a vital church.
  1. Who takes responsibility for the proper functioning of the church?
    • To whom is given the responsibility of gospel preaching, administration of the sacraments, and church discipline given?
      • The responsibility in a very broad sense is given to the entire church…
      • “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood…” 1 Peter 2:5.
    • One of the primary responsibilities of this priesthood is to choose elders. It is the elders who are most directly responsible to ensure that Jesus Christ remains the only head of the church through gospel preaching, administration of sacraments, and discipline.
    • Elder is a specific office in the church. In the NT it is always a plurality of elders. In the 60+ times elder is mentioned it is always in the plural form except when John and Peter identify themselves as elders.
      • An individual elder does not have any authority as an individual, but only as he contributes to the corporate conscience of the board.
      • A plurality of elders MUST move toward consensus and unity – “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us –Acts 15:28.
    • The board of elders has the daunting, yet glorious task of shepherding and governing in the church. Pastor Matt will address this in two weeks from 1 Peter 5.
  2. What are the qualifications for a person to hold the office of an elder?
    • I probably don’t have to tell you that God is quite particular about the qualities necessary to this task. (All of us should be aspiring to these overlapping qualities…)
      • “Above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6,7) This doesn’t mean he is without sin. It means there no legitimate or severe accusations can be made.
      • “One wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6) This may mean (especially based upon the time it was written) the man was not a polygamist. Others would add that he should not be one who has had an illegitimate divorce. Single men can function as elders – Paul was single.
      • “Sober-minded” (1 Timothy 3:2) This is a person who is level-headed. This is closely related to the next attribute…
      • “Self-controlled” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8) An elder must be prudent, thoughtful, and able to manage his emotions well.
      • “Respectable” (1 Timothy 3:2) This word carries the idea of being appropriate. An elder should be circumspect and behave and speak in a manner that fits the occasion.
      • “Hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8) Literally, this word means a lover of strangers. An elder should be willing to greet new people and invite people into their home.
      • “Able to Teach” (1 Timothy 3:2) An elder should be able to articulate what his church believes—what Christians believe.
      • “Not a Drunkard” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7) Just what it says…not someone who can’t hold their liquor.
      • “Not Violent” (1 Timothy 3:3) The word describes a bully—someone seeking to win an argument by intimidation.
      • “Gentle” (1 Timothy 3:3) The elder should be able to teach and hold their ground and not compromise–but they must, at the same time exude a yielding, gentle, kind and courteous way.
      • “Not Quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:3) Arguing for the sake of arguing and failing to realize the importance of peace and unity among the brethren. (Robust dialogue is perfectly acceptable.)
      • “Not a Lover of Money” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7) Remember, money is not the root of all-evil, the LOVE of money is.
      • “Manage His Own Household” (1 Timothy 3:4) He has to lead, serve, and love his own house well–and continue to make his home a priority even as he serves as an elder.
      • “Not a Recent Convert” (1 Timothy 3:6) An elder should be a seasoned Christian. (Timothy was a younger elder.)
      • “Well Thought Of” (1 Timothy 3:7) In other words, of good reputation in the larger secular community – known for being integrous, respectful, and diligent (to name a few qualities).
      • “Not Arrogant” (Titus 1:7) Not self-focused, self-pleasing, or self-centered.
      • Not Quick Tempered” (Titus 1:7) The Greek word means, “inclined to anger, irritable, sharp-tongued, short fuse.” Again, an elder must manage his emotions well.
      • A Lover of Good” (Titus 1:8) This describes a man who loves what God loves.
      • Upright” (Titus 1:8) This describes the man who deals fairly and wisely with all others.
      • Devout” (Titus 1:8) A man wholeheartedly seeking to be pleasing to God in his growing godliness.
      • “Disciplined” (Titus 1:8) This describes the man who is capable of and willing to study and lead himself into areas of needed growth.
      • “Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching [sound doctrine]” (Titus 1:9) This description applies directly to how a man handles the Word of God for teaching and correcting error.
    • A quick review:
      1. A true church exercises word, sacrament, and discipline
      2. The primary earthly responsible party for the proper administration of these things is the elders
      3. The character traits for an elder are spelled out in Scripture. The questions remains, how are elders chosen?
  3. What is the means by which these people are chosen?
    • In the Scriptures we see Jesus picking apostles and then those apostles appointing elders. Jesus remains the Head of the church, but He has ascended and the apostles are now in glory. What is the means by which this continues?
    • Time doesn’t allow a completed description of the study of church governance (ecclesiology), but this has been a matter of fairly significant controversy over the ages—especially with the challenging of apostolic succession presented in Roman Catholicism.
    • And I must say that in my 37 years of ministry, that primary reason people leave a church hurt or disgruntled relates in some way to church government—how decisions in the church are made (or NOT made)..
    • In short, there are three basic forms of church government that have emerged over church history: Episcopal, Congregational, and Presbyterian.
      • Episcopal is a top-down model, where he lead pastor functions as a bishop. Catholicism is an example of this – it’s a “top-down” hierarchical structure. Lots of Protestant churches function this way as well. Where one person is making all the significant decisions. “One man rule” is extremely unhealthy.
      • Congregational (or independency) is just the opposite of Episcopalianism. It is a bottom-up form of government where (technically) all members of the church have the same authority. This form of governance tends to ignore the biblical authority given to the elders.
      • Presbyterian is the rule of the church by a plurality of elders (not one man and not the whole congregation). These elders are chosen (or more accurately, nominated) by the people from among themselves but examined and confirmed by council of elders. Those chosen are then presented back to the congregation for affirmation then installed as elders. In the history of Christianity, Presbyterianism is the most dominant form of government agreed upon by the Protestant scholars.
        • Please don’t leave today thinking that Gregg said CCC should become a Presbyterian church! A Presbyterian form of governance is NOT limited to the Presbyterian denominations.
        • Here we see, as indicated earlier, the priesthood of all believers. The whole church takes responsibility for the whole church.


Takeaway: The role of an elder can be summed-up in three overlapping functions: Doctrine, Direction (i.e., vision), and Discipline.

In addition we will want our elders to have some significant leadership skills. Think “Rancher” instead of “Shepherd.”

We are in the process of forming a Pastoral Advisory Committee who will come alongside CCC to vet our elder nominees.  (Names and bios will be presented when the committee has been formed.)

  • This is in keeping with Acts 15:6-31 where the Jerusalem Council was formed to aid individual churches through times of transition, difficulty, or controversy.
  • Normally this would be within a denomination but members of the church from all sides of this difficulty demonstrated (almost) unanimous consent to heed the advice of the council.

Please pull out the insert in your bulletin, which is the Elder Nomination Form…

  • Do you have to be a member to nominate an elder? No, but we want you to consider CCC your home church.
  • Please notice that we are asking you to speak with the person you would like to nominate to see if they would accept the nomination.
  • Please notice that, in addition to nominating, we would like you to write a sentence telling us why you are nominating the person.
  • No anonymous nominations will be accepted. We would also like the best way to contact you in case we want to follow-up.
  • Nominations will be accepted for three weekends – this weekend, next weekend, and the following weekend.
  • All nominations must be made before, during, or after one of our three weekend services. We will not accept emailed or snail mailed nominations.
  • At this time no spouses of staff will be considered for nomination. What about parents or grandparents? As long as they don’t live under the same roof… (CCC has a high degree of interrelatedness. We must protect the church from one or two, or three having too much influence in decision making in the church.)

I would encourage you, before you rush to nominate, review Exodus 18, Acts 20:17-28, I Tim 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5.

If you have any questions you can email them to


[1] The word confession means “to agree upon.” We can think of a Confession is a doctrinal statement on steroids. The Belgic Confession contains 37 articles. It’s a robust, in-depth explanation of the essentials of the faith.


One thought on “The Qualifications & Calling of An Elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9)

  1. I enjoy your Sunday service I brought up Catholic but I was not feeling Jesus Christ and any thing there been going to CCC I love it I am beginning understand more about Jesus Christ. Thank you for how you teach the Bible to some one like me Angelina


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s