Concerning the Nomination of Officer Candidates
This Sunday, June 5, commences the officer nomination period for 2016. All communing members of Grace Covenant Church are encouraged to participate by prayerfully proposing up to 3 men to be considered for the office of Ruling Elder and/or up to 3 men to be considered for the office of Deacon.
What exactly does it mean to “nominate” someone? What is the significance of a “nomination?” What happens after someone has been nominated? How do I know if someone is qualified so that I can know whether or not I should nominate that person?
I’ve been asked each of these questions. By way of explanation: When a man is nominated for office it does not mean that he is automatically on the ballot to be an officer. Nor does it mean that he is automatically in the office to which he has been nominated. In other words, nominating someone to be an elder or deacon doesn’t automatically make them an elder or a deacon nor does it mean that they are guaranteed to be on the ballot for election to those offices. Instead, when you nominate someone for office you are saying that based upon what you know of the man, you believe he might be a good fit for that office. As such, when you nominate someone you are signaling to the Session that you would like that person to be be given a close look by the Session to ascertain eligibility and suitability for office. Of those nominated, only those to whom the Session gives approval after interviews, successful completion of training, and successfully passing an examination, will be on the ballot as eligible for election by the congregation.
The Session takes seriously its responsibility to protect and lead the congregation and will therefore engage in much prayerful deliberation after receiving completed nomination forms. The subsequent process of interviews, training, and examination is intended to test the qualifications and commitment of the nominees so that when the Session puts forth the final ballot, the congregation can rest assured of the qualifications and suitability of each man on the ballot for election.
The primary purpose of this process is not to choose our leaders so much as it is to identify the men God has selected to be our leaders. At first glance the previous sentence may seem like mere semantics, but in actuality it conveys an attitude about who is in the driver’s seat and whose church this is.
It is with a mind towards facilitating your decision-making that I would like to submit a brief overview and summary of the biblical requirements for being an Elder and/or a Deacon. While the Bible in general, and the New Testament in particular, gives lots of guidance concerning the requirements and responsibilities of leaders, for my purposes here I am going to focus on four passages: 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-11, 1 Peter 5:1-4, and Acts 20:17-36. I encourage you to read them in their entirety.
Based upon my study of these passages I offer the following “grouped summaries” to aid you in ascertaining whether a given man is suitable for serving as an elder or deacon:
1. He must desire to serve. 1 Tim 3:1 speaks of one “aspiring” to the office and 1 Pet 5:2 encourages leaders to serve willingly and eagerly, not under compulsion. Being a leader is a serious and noble responsibility – Heb 13:17 gives the sobering reminder that leaders will give an account to God for the souls over which God set them as shepherds, and James 3:1 reminds us that those who teach (a core task of being an elder!) will be judged by God with more strictness. Thus given the seriousness of the office, they should enter into this task willingly with an eager desire to serve Christ in this capacity. Unwilling leaders will respond to the duties and demands of their office in one of two ways: they’ll become either lazy or harsh, both of which are dangerous to the peace and purity of the church.
2. He must be an established Christian. The thing about people who have recently embraced an idea is that while they are often very enthusiastic, they are also prone to fizzling out. It is good to have a mind that knows how to interact with new and differing ideas, but without being settled, this can lead to being easily swayed and led astray. 1 Tim 3:6 expresses that he must not be a recent convert, and Titus 1:9 stresses that he must “hold firm to the trustworthy word,” which underscores the importance of being rooted and established in one’s understanding of Christian truth.
3. He must model Christ-like character. The short-hand summary is that he must be “above reproach” in his character and conduct (1 Tim 3:2, Tit 1:6-7). By “above reproach” we don’t mean: “sinless.” There is only one man who is sinless, and his name is Jesus. When we say “above reproach” we mean that his life should be free of any glaring moral deficiencies so that if he were ever to be accused of wrongdoing the response would be one of shock and surprise. As an example: Imagine a man who gets drunk, drives around town like a crazy person, and then when he gets pulled over he fights with the police. You learn about all this the next day when you see his mugshot in the paper. If your response is “that seems like something he’d do,” then that person was NOT above reproach, even before the incident occurred. To be above reproach means that one is known for being characterized by behavior that strives to be in conformity to Christ’s example and standard. The overarching category of being “above reproach” has implications for a number of specific behaviors related to conduct and temperament due to the fact that these are windows into a man’s soul. In fact, the requirements listed in 1 Tim 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9 are not random or isolated, instead they flesh out what “above reproach” looks like.
4. He must be in control of himself. Being an Elder or Deacon requires a man to interact with people and their issues. It also requires making decisions for the good of the church when faced with unexpected situations that arise. In both cases, it is imperative that he knows how to control his impulses and responses. Instead of making a rash decision or jumping to conclusions or having his thinking hampered by his anger, he needs to know how to sit with his emotions and thoughts, how to process and reflect, and to listen and engage in fact finding. To this end, we see that a leader needs to have the discipline and self-control to avoid being a drunkard, having a quick-temper, being arrogant or violent or greedy for gain (Tit 1:7-9). Additionally, a key area of self-control is in the area of one’s sexuality. A man who has a wandering eye, or who uses pornography is allowing his lust to control his actions. Having self-control helps assure that the name of Christ is not subjected to scorn, the church kept free from scandal, and the man progresses in his sanctification. For leaders, a level head and a steady hand are necessary.
5. He must lead his family well. This is a touchy subject because in our day it is almost assumed that a wise man shuts up and lets his wife call the shots. Unfortunately, this attitude is both unbiblical and harmful. A man is called to lead his family, and whatever else it means, leading cannot entail abdication. By its very nature it requires active and intentional involvement. The requirement to lead one’s family well does not mean that a single man is inherently excluded from eligibility. Instead, we should see that the way one leads his family provides a window into his temperament, manner, the strength of his convictions, and his leadership effectiveness. If he’s married, is he faithful to his wife? The requirement to be “the husband of one-wife” (1 Tim 3:2, Tit 1:6) have been interpreted by some – like Calvin – so narrowly that it only rules out practicing polygamists. Others interpret it so broadly that if one has ever had a divorce then one is permanently disqualified from office. I believe Paul’s intent is to say that a man must be a “one-woman man” and his commitment to fidelity – faithfulness – to his marital covenant should be borne out in how he relates to his wife… and other women. Regarding his children, obviously children are sentient beings with wills of their own, and one cannot control the actions of people who are not living under one’s authority. That said, in regards to the children living in his home, under his authority, does their behavior attest to their father taking an active role in their upbringing? Does their behavior indicate that the father has established his authority in their lives so that they heed him when he speaks? Our families see us when we are at our worst and they are shaped by a man’s leadership more behind closed doors than when he’s at church in public. His family gives evidence of his character and leadership.
6. He must be able to teach God’s Word. In 1 Tim 3:2 Paul writes “able to teach” without comment, and that has led a great many to believe that Paul is primarily making reference to pedagogical ability. However, Paul provides more elaboration in Titus 1:9 and it reveals the primary focus of what he means. He writes, “He [the candidate] 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.” In other words, “able to teach” signifies having a solid grasp of God’s Word and Christian doctrine so that they are to pass it on to others, and to correct and (if necessary) rebuke those who teach false doctrine. Paul’s entire line of thought is predicated on the notion that doctrine matters: good doctrine builds up and bad doctrine always destroys because it points us away from truth as it really is. Anticipating the disastrous effects of bad theology and biblical infidelity, Paul in Acts 20:28 calls for elders to pay “careful attention” to themselves and to the flock and in Acts 20:31 he stresses the need to “stay alert.” The New Testament is filled with warnings about false teachers and their dangers (see, especially 2 Peter and Jude) and the need to deal with them decisively. As you consider men for leadership, especially for the office of elder, ask yourself: does this man give evidence of a deep seated commitment to holding to the teaching of the Bible? Ability to teach as a pedagogical skill can be taught and learned. Bible verses and theological propositions can be memorized. But if there is not a fundamental commitment to holding fast to the Word of God, he is not in a position to refute error or instruct the sheep.
It is my hope and prayer that this summary will enable you to think more clearly about who you will nominate for office as an elder or deacon. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me!
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