About three and a half years ago, I wrote a post called “Qualifications and Examples.” The post was triggered by a passage from John Hammett’s book Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches. As I say in the post, I don’t like the phrase “qualifications” for the lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Perhaps, as I ask at the end of the post, you have a better term.
I have mentioned John Hammett’s book Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches several times on this blog. I do not agree with everything that he says about pastors, elders, and overseers (or other aspects of the church). However, he has a great section on the “qualifications” from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:
The first notable aspect of these lists is their ordinariness. As D.A. Carson notes, “almost every entry is mandated elsewhere of all believers.” Whatever is involved in being an elder, it is not a calling to a higher standard of Christian living. How could it, when every Christian is commanded by Christ to “be perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and when the goal and destiny of every Christian is Christlikeness (Rom. 8:29)?
But if these character traits are commanded of all Christians, what is their significance here? The key to understanding the meaning of these lists of character traits is remembering that one of the responsibilities of leaders is to set the example for the flock (1 Peter 5:3). The character required to be an elder is the character necessary to be an example to the flock. Such a person would not need to be perfect (such persons are in very short supply among fallen humanity) but would need a degree of maturity and proven character that would enable him to serve as an effective example, including an example of how to confess and repent when he does stumble.
Second, it is also striking how different these qualifications are from modern lists of qualifications for a position. There is no mention of the need for training or educational requirements, little in the way of skills or experience or certification. Character is the central issue. 
So, according to Hammett, elders are not perfect. I agree with this. In fact, I would suggest that no one can live up to the list of “qualifications” given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Perhaps that is why Paul does not call the lists “qualifications”.
What are the purpose of the lists then? Well, I think the lists are not given for the benefit of the elders, but for the benefit of all the people. If leaders are to be examples as Hammett says – and I agree with this – then which examples do we follow? I mean, everyone is an example of something. Which examples are we supposed to follow? Who should we look to as examples?
We should look to people who most closely live according to the lists given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (among other lists). We do not look for perfect people to follow – there are none, other than Jesus Christ. We look for people who would be godly examples, people who are mature followers of Jesus Christ. They will fail to meet some of the “qualifications” – all of them will – but they will also be known for repenting and confessing when they do fail, to paraphrase Hammett’s description.
But, these people are not living a certain way in order to be leaders. They are living an exemplary life in response to God’s work in their own life – in obedience to the presence, conviction, and leading of the Holy Spirit. These people do not become elders and then begin living an exemplary life; they are recognized as elders because of the life they are already living.
So, perhaps “qualifications” is not the best term for these lists. Any suggestions for another name for the lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1?