Elders and Deacons

When considering men for the office of elder or deacon in a church, there are two main passages in the New Testament which speak specifically to the required qualifications (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1)

In our denomination, we emphasize a potential elder’s doctrinal fitness, his knowledge of Scripture and theology. And, rightly so. At the same time, Paul’s exhortation to Titus instructs us to consider the sum of a man’s life. Paul left Titus on the island of Crete for a reason: to set in order what remains by appointing elders in every city (Titus 1:5). So, Paul goes on to give Titus direction as to what to look for in an overseer or elder. These qualifications may be grouped into three categories.

 

Qualifications for Office

Those who are leaders in the church are given the charge to keep watch over the souls in their care. And, the people of God should be willing to submit joyfully to them. This will benefit both the leader and those who are led, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

When considering men for the office of elder or deacon in a church, there are two main passages in the New Testament which speak specifically to the required qualifications (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).

1 Timothy 3:1-13

The office of ‘overseer’ or ‘elder’ is a fine work (literally, a good work), which requires certain qualifications:

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, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

 

Similarly, the office of deacon, though one of service and not rule, requires certain qualifications, as well:

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

 

Officers’ Wives

In the midst of these instructions about deacons, in verse 11, Paul inserts a comment about how “women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” This verse has been variously interpreted as referring to: deaconesses (female deacons), women in the church who assist the deacons or serve in a similar non-ordained role, the wives of deacons, or the wives of both elders and deacons.

Based on the context, the overall teaching of Scripture, and the fact that the Greek word for “women” may also be translated as “wife” (as it is in verses 2 and 12 of this same chapter, I believe it is best to understand 1 Timothy 3:11 as referring to the wives of both elders and deacons. This is John Calvin’s interpretation: “He means the wives both of deacons and of bishops [overseers], for they must be aids to their husbands in their office; which cannot be, unless their behaviour excel that of others.” (John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:11) What this means, then, is that in considering men for office – if they are married, the church should also consider the character of their wives.

Titus 1:5-9

In our denomination, we emphasize a potential elder’s doctrinal fitness, his knowledge of Scripture and theology. And, rightly so. At the same time, Paul’s exhortation to Titus instructs us to consider the sum of a man’s life. Paul left Titus on the island of Crete for a reason: to set in order what remains by appointing elders in every city (Titus 1:5). So, Paul goes on to give Titus direction as to what to look for in an overseer or elder. These qualifications may be grouped into three categories.

[1] Family – The elder must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.” (Titus 1:6)

[2] Life – He “must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled.” (Titus 1:7-8)

[3] Doctrine – He must be a man who is “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9)

Of course, these are all things to which every believer ought to aspire, but elders are specially called to be examples to the flock in these areas.

Conclusion

When asked about how one ought to go about discerning a call to church office, I usually give three criteria:

[1] Personal Desire – The Holy Spirit must be giving a man the desire to serve as an officer in Christ’s church for it is a fine work (1 Timothy 3:1).

[2] Qualification – A man must be qualified according to the standards which are laid out in Scripture (Titus 1:6-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-13).

[3] Approved by the Church – Others in the church have encouraged a man in this decision, as well as officially endorsed and ordained him to the office (Acts 6:1-6; 14:23).

Peter M. Dietsch is pastor of Providence PCA in Midland, Texas. This article first appeared on his church website and is used with permission.