1 Timothy 3
How to pick a church leader
Checklist for a church boss1Trust me when I tell you this. If anyone really wants to become a top church leader, great. It’s good work to do.
2Here’s the catch. A church leader has to live a life that’s squeaky clean and above suspicion. He needs to be a one-woman man, good-mannered, even-tempered, respectable, approachable, and a gifted teacher. 3We don’t want church leaders who get drunk all the time. We’re looking for leaders who are kind, not violent or always getting into arguments. And we sure don’t want church leaders who have fallen in love with money.
4A church leader needs to do a good job of running his own household. And his kids need to act respectfully and do what he says. 5I mean, come on, if a man can’t manage his own family how can he manage God’s church, full of families?
6Also, recent converts are not candidates for the job of a top church leader. That could make them conceited, and an easy target for the devil. 7One more thing. Folks outside the church should think highly of a top church leader. We don’t need leaders with high disapproval ratings. That would be an invitation for the devil to start setting traps.
Checklist for associate ministers8Associate church leaders, like their supervisors, need to be respectable. Here’s what they don’t need to be: gossips, drunks, and moneygrabbers. 9They need to hold onto the faith even though part of what we believe is a mystery to us. They need to live life with a clean conscience.
10Carefully vet the candidates. Give them the job only if they meet the highest standards of respectability. 11Wives of associate church leaders should earn the respect of others. The ladies shouldn’t go around badmouthing people. Instead, they should be good-mannered and dependable.
12Associate church leaders each need to be a one-woman man who does a good job of managing his household and his kids. 13Folks who end up doing a good job as associate church leaders will earn themselves a fine reputation. And as their confidence grows, their faith in Jesus the Messiah will get stronger.
A song about Jesus14I decided to write this letter even though I’m hoping to come and see you soon. 15In case I’m delayed, I wanted you to know how God’s people should behave. They are the church of the God who is very much alive. And this church holds up the truth, like pillars and support beams raise a roof. 16No doubt about it, our faith is one big mystery:
Jesus was 
Sent in the flesh.
Approved by the Spirit.
Seen by angels.
Presented to the nations.
Believed by the world.
Lifted to glory.
The Greek word for the leader is episkopon, from which we get the word “episcopal,” which means a church led by bishops. Bible versions translate the word as “overseer” (New American Standard Bible), “church leader” (New Living Translation), and “supervisor” (Common English Bible).
The Greek word for associate leaders is diakonos. That’s “deacons” in English. It’s sometimes translated as “servants” (Common English Bible), “special servants,” (Easy Reading Version), and “church officers” (Contemporary English Version).
“Good-mannered and dependable” is also translated “self-control and…faithful” (New Living Translation), “sober and faithful” (Common English Bible), “temperate, faithful” (New American Standard Bible).
The Greek literally says “who,” without identifying who the person is. Context clues suggest it’s Jesus. Some early copies of the letter insert “God,” emphasizing the deity of Jesus. The poetry here reads like the lyrics of an early Christian song that Paul may have been quoting, to illustrate his point. The meaning of the lyrics is up for grabs. For example, “Approved in the spirit,” might mean (1) he was proven right in the spirit world, or (2) he was approved by the Holy Spirit when John baptized him. Scholars offer theories about each line in the song. But the point Paul seemed to be making is that there’s a lot he doesn’t understand about the Christian faith, but he believes in Jesus anyhow.
This vague phrase leaves scholars puzzled. A few translations: “declared righteous by the Spirit” (Common English Bible), “vindicated by the Spirit” (English Standard Version), “the spirit proved that he was God” (Contemporary English Version). Some scholars speculate that we can find a clue to what Paul meant by reading another apostle: “Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 Common English Bible).
Paul creates a thoughtful and sometimes entertaining list of traits he wants to see in church leaders (3:2-4). Just for fun, how about trying to put them in order of importance—as you would rate them?
- Squeaky clean
- One-woman man
- Good mannered
- Gifted teacher
- Not drunk all the time
- Kind instead of violent
- Not argumentative
- Not in love with money
- His kids are respectable
- His kids do what he says
Paul advises against giving church leadership jobs to new converts. He says “That could make them conceited, and an easy target for the devil” (3:6). How so?
Paul suggests that associate ministers “hold onto the faith even though part of what we believe is a mystery to us” (3:9). That sounds a little like, “Keep believing what you don’t understand.” That’s not going to sound reasonable to many people outside the faith—folks who trust what they can see and understand. How would you justify doing what Paul suggests?
Paul apparently quotes the lyrics of an early church song about Jesus. The songwriter says Jesus came in the flesh and was “approved by the Spirit” (3:16). Many Bible experts say they aren’t sure what the songwriter meant by that. Take a look at the associated footnote, and see what you think the writer might have meant.
LIFE APPLICATION. What do you think churches today should do about Paul’s suggestion that candidates for church leadership should have all the ducks of their household lined up in a row? “I mean, come on,” Paul wrote, “If a man can’t manage his own family how can he manage God’s church, full of families?” (3:5).
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says “We don’t need leaders with high disapproval ratings. That would be an invitation for the devil to start setting traps” (3:7). What would it take for a church leader to develop a bad reputation? What examples could you imagine, whether or not the criticisms are legit?