In 1 Timothy 3:3, Paul writes that the elder must be “gentle.” Paul isn’t looking for men who act gentle in one or two arenas of life, or who do something gentle several times a month to save face. The roots of gentleness grow deep in his soul. To exhibit this quality, a man must have the channels of his character carved over time to reflect our Lord.
These words are regularly used to describe our current cultural moment. Sadly, they are often accurate descriptions of our cultural climate, which has been made increasingly evident in recent months. American culture is like two boats heading in opposite directions, with the members of each boat yelling at those of the other boat. If you aren’t an angry voyager on one of the boats, you are hopelessly drowning somewhere in between.
Unfortunately, many believers exemplify this worldly tendency toward polarization and outrage. We shout. We gossip. We quickly label those we disagree with, and then we divide from them in anger, annoyance, and plain disinterest. A quick jaunt through almost any neighborhood of Christian social media will look sadly similar to that of the surrounding culture.
But why should this cultural descent into outrage matter so much for the church and church leaders? This polarizing tendency shapes our character more than we realize. It pushes us to extremes in the qualities we exemplify. We become experts in wielding a hammer. So, of course, everything looks like a nail.
My humble suggestion is that at least part of the solution to polarization among believers doesn’t lie in directly addressing our tribalism. We can endlessly bemoan outrage culture with little-to-no effect. We need leaders of character in the church to show us how to thrive in between the boats.
Character and Church Leadership
It is well-known that the New Testament requirements for elders (found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) have more to do with character than skills. We need to spend more time thinking about what it looks like to display these character qualities. To do that, we need to grasp what we mean by “character.”
Think of character as the sum of your tendencies, dispositions, inclinations, and affections. It’s all the virtues and vices that determine who you are and what you will do. Character is an established reality, not a passing choice.