In this post I want to address the qualifications for being a pastor or an elder in the church and their responsibilities. I’ve been seeing some concerning posts in social media lately that seem to insinuate that if you are not a “professional”, meaning you have some type of religious degree, are being paid, and in the case of an elder, being selected by someone with a religious degree who is paid, then you are not qualified to be either a pastor or an elder.
Several of these comments involve criticism of home churches, even accusing them of being part of an “anti-authority movement”. Because of the ministry work I do in my community I am very familiar with home churches and I have never heard of this movement or any expression of resisting biblical authority. In fact, many home churches are often started when Christians feel the institutional church they have been attending, a building that includes professional clergy and is usually part of a denomination, does not meet the biblical qualifications for leadership. They don’t feel the pastor nor the elders, if any, were chosen according to the standards given in the New Testament and do not practice proper ecclesiology as also understood from scripture. Home churches are not perfect and I’m sure there are a few shepherded by individuals that should not be leading anybody, but isn’t that the case in many institutional churches too? I believe so.
But this debate is not really about who meets in homes versus who meets in buildings as much as it’s a debate about the credentials of leaders in the church and who decides on those? I think we should all be able to agree that both good and bad pastors/elders can hold those positions in both home churches and institutional churches. That is, unless, you think a religious degree is an automatic qualifier or disqualifier depending on your outlook. If that is the case you are already on unbiblical grounds which is what I intend to show through scripture in this post.
A good hermeneutic will always start with the most clear passages of scripture first that bring clarity to a subject. The most clear passages on qualifications for church leadership are 1 Ti 3:1-13 and Tit 1:4-9. Both of these passages are authored by the Apostle Paul.
1Ti 3:1-13 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (2) Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (3) not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (4) He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, (5) for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (6) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (7) Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (8) Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. (9) They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (10) And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. (11) Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (12) Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. (13) For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Tit 1:4-9 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (5) This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— (6) if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. (7) For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, (8) but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (9) He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
These passages make it very clear the very most important thing in considering leadership within the church has nothing to do with education, but everything to do with character that is forged from experience in walking with our Lord. These qualifications are not easy – one might even say they are almost impossible! They are meant to be because the only men that could meet these qualifications have an exceptional commitment to Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. You could have every degree possible from a seminary and still not meet these standards.
Next, let’s answer the objections people might have to what I just said.
First, some might object by making the claim that the Apostle Paul, the very one who wrote these passages, was a very educated man by the best rabbi of his day, Gamaliel. Not to mention, Paul cites his extensive training in some of his New Testament writing. This is all very true, but let’s look at the context. In Galatians chapter 1, Paul provides his pedigree but does so in a negative light referring to it as his time before knowing Christ. Paul also boasts in 2 Cor. chapters 11 and 12, but you will notice what he boasts in is not educational training, but rather the hardships and dangers he encountered on his missionary journeys preaching the gospel.
Second, some claim that Jesus used some of the same teaching tools the rabbis of His day used, and these are just an extension of the academic training of the day. Therefore, academic training is preferred for leadership positions in the church. I don’t find this a particularly compelling argument, but it is one that a person on Twitter threw at me recently. My response is that Jesus treated the religious leaders of His day with a high degree of contempt. Did he use the same tools of teaching that were popular in His time? I’m sure he did, but I think it’s a real stretch to make the analogy that this training is in any way comparable to our modern education system found in seminaries. But the biggest argument against this line of argument is the scripture it self.
Mat 7:28-29 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, (29) for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
You can’t read this verse and think Jesus taught in the same way the teachers of His day did.
Mar 7:8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
When Jesus used the phrase “the tradition of men” he was referring to the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. I will let scripture speak for itself – Jesus was not a fan of the teachings or the knowledge held by what the Jews would have considered the “academics” of their day. He criticized them for it.
I’ll close out this post with a final thought. Career pastors have had a negative impact on the church in our country. The money and the benefits drive a lot of bad behavior and we are seeing the fruit of that in our culture right now. Not all pastors are bad, but we have to start admitting a great deal of them are horrible, and much of the reason is because of the “professional” training they are receiving at liberal religious institutions. Of course paid professionals making a career out of religion are going to claim that leaders must be educated in order to be qualified. It’s how they keep the business of church perpetuating.
Pastors and elders should be selected from among the local congregants of their church, not strangers from some school or organization. The local disciples are the only ones that know if a person meets the qualifications we saw in 1st Tim and Titus. It would also encourage the entire local Body of Christ to use their gifts in the church. This is the design Christ intends for His church, so isn’t it time we repent of ignoring Him and let Him lead us?