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There is so much more that could be said, and I would refer you to my commentary for more details, but I would like to conclude with several observations.
We have already seen that an elder must be mature in the faith and that the deacons must first be tested (a requirement I would also apply to elders). But in 1 Tim 5 we have more explicit instructions.The first concerns charges brought against an elder. “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (5:19-20, ESV). Paul invokes the familiar requirement from Deuteronomy that all charges must come with multiple witnesses. For the elder who does not repent (assuming the charges are corroborated and found to be true), he is to be publicly rebuked before the church (or the elders) so that the rest (of the elders) may be fearful in reference to their own sin.
The second set of instructions talk about the solemnity of the process. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure…. The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (vv 22, 24-25, ESV). The process of identifying, vetting, and training future elders is a time intensive, exhausting process. It is easy to see why Paul was concerned that someone too quickly be appointed to leadership. Some sins take time to surface, as do some good works; Timothy must be patient in the process. If he is not patient and does not wait for hidden sins to be revealed, Timothy himself will share in the culpability of the future sins of the elders. Rather, he must respect the process and appoint only the right people to leadership, and in so doing he will not “take part in the sins of others” but will keep himself “pure.”
This is a serious if not frightening charge. When church leaders appoint future leaders in a hasty manner, and if those future leaders have sin in their closet, then the appointing leaders are to some degree responsible for the sins that will come crawling out of the closet over time. If nothing else, this should greatly encourage us to adopt a biblical and systematic leadership training program in our churches.
Every church leader must be involved in leadership training, raising up the next generation of leaders. The task is too important to ignore, and too difficult for any one person. I believe the church must once again accept the responsibility of training its own leaders and not assume seminaries will do the work.
Elder Position Paper
I encourage every church to write their own “Elder Position” paper. An example that I wrote is available online for those who are interested. Most of Paul’s teaching is clear and requires little commentary, but some of his instructions are open to interpretation. Do an elder’s children have to be believers? All of them? Most of them? What if the elder became a Christians after his children left the home? There are many practical questions each church needs to answer for itself. But once done, the Elder Position paper becomes the guide by which new elders are elected.
"It is necessary"
I want pastors to imagine how glorious it would be to have a board of elders who actually did meet Paul’s qualifications! I suspect it would be heaven. Remember the injunction with which I began. The church is God’s house, bought with the precious blood of his son. Therefore, it is necessary that its leaders be of a certain caliber — above reproach, qualified teachers, with their managerial skills proven in how they love and care for their families. To do otherwise is to run contrary to the clear, unambiguous teaching of the apostle Paul, and that would not be wise.
Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.
________. “The Spiritual Call of Eldership.” Pastor’s Position Paper. Last modified March 5, 2011. Accessed December 21, 2015. http://doxa.billmounce.com/Eldership.pdf.
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