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Monday, August 19, 2013 | Comments (14)

by John MacArthur

Leaders gain credibility through consistent victory. We naturally gravitate to people with the longest track records of success and expertise in the areas we need it most.

That said, if you’re looking for advice on marriage and parenting, you wouldn’t turn to the person whose home life is perpetually in shambles. Nor would you seek help in controlling your words and cultivating holiness from someone known for foul language and crude humor. When it comes to godliness, spiritual growth, and life in the body of Christ, a man must practice before he can lead.

First Timothy 3:4–5 says that an overseer must be “one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?).” An elder’s home life is an essential consideration. Before he can lead in the church, he must demonstrate his spiritual leadership within the context of his family.

Many men lead their homes but don’t lead them very well. By implication, a man’s home includes his resources. A man may be spiritually and morally qualified to be an elder, be skilled in teaching, and have a believing wife and children who follow his leadership in the home, but if he doesn’t rule his household well in the financial realm, he is disqualified from spiritual leadership. Stewardship of possessions is a critical test of a man’s leadership. His home is the proving ground where his leadership capabilities can be clearly demonstrated.

Furthermore, a leader in the church must keep “his children under control with all dignity” (1 Timothy 3:4). That qualification is not meant to exclude men without children, but merely assumes children will be present. The Greek word translated “under control” is a military term that refers to lining up in rank under those in authority. “Dignity” includes courtesy, humility, and competence. It could be translated “respect” or “stateliness.” An elder’s children are to be respectful and well disciplined, bringing honor to their parents.

In Titus 1:6, Paul adds that an elder must have “children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.” The Greek word translated “believe” refers in that context to believing the gospel. An elder’s children must believe the message he’s preaching and teaching. If they are unbelievers, they rob his ministry of credibility.

In addition to being experienced in leading his home, an overseer must be experienced in living the Christian life. He must not be “a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).

The Greek word translated “new convert” means “newly planted.” An elder should not be a new convert or newly baptized. Instead, he must be mature in the faith. Since maturity is relative, the standard of maturity will vary from congregation to congregation. But the point is that an elder must be more spiritually mature than the people he leads.

The word for “conceited” means “to wrap in smoke” or “to puff up.” In its figurative sense it refers to being clouded with pride. New Christians must guard against pride that is concealed by a false sense of spirituality. Elevating spiritually immature believers to leadership alongside mature godly men will cause them to battle with pride.

An elder must also “have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). A man chosen to lead the church must have a reputation in the community for righteousness, love, kindness, generosity, and goodness. All people won’t agree with his theology, and he will no doubt face antagonism when he takes a stand for God’s truth. Nevertheless, those outside the church must recognize him as a man of impeccable reputation. How can any man have an impact on his community if that community does not respect him? Such an individual can do nothing but bring “reproach” or disgrace on the cause of Christ.

I can’t count how many men have disgraced the Lord and His church because of their sins. That’s why an elder must be blameless in his reputation. Incidentally, this qualification isn’t limited to sins committed as an elder; it also takes into account any sins in the past that result in a bad reputation. A man’s ongoing reputation in the community must be considered before he is placed into spiritual leadership.

Elders need a good reputation with those outside the church so they don’t fall into “the snare of the devil.” Satan tries hard to entrap spiritual leaders to destroy their credibility and integrity. Like all Christians, elders have areas of weakness and vulnerability, and they will sometimes fall into one of his traps. Elders must be particularly discerning and cautious to avoid the snares of the enemy so they can be effective in leading others away from his traps.

Let me remind you that elder qualifications don’t just apply only to elders. As we saw in the last post, church leaders are examples for other believers. Except for those qualities specific to church leadership, the character traits of elders are required of all Christians. And as ordinary Christians work out holiness in their private and public lives, God will call some to lead in the church. But only those who already practice good character are useful to Him in a leadership role.

Now let’s hear from you. From the congregation’s point of view, what are the most important character qualities a church leader should have? Why are those qualities particularly important to members of the church? Does the lack of them always have a negative impact?

John MacArthur

(Adapted from Divine Design. All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.)


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#1  Posted by Michael Kennedy  |  Monday, August 19, 2013 at 5:46 AM

Hello;Yes, I agree totally with the above credentials....but I am just asking myself, since you asked, what's the most important characteristics we can have or know about? Let me just say, speaking from a physical point of view and emotional, I say that we must also get enough rest (not just sleeP) so we can be the spiritual heads we need to be for our churches and families. One thing I have learned is to SLOOOOWDOWWWWWWWN. People are in such a hurry within our culture. We need to slow down, focus more and make sure we have the right info to give others, then we can approach many problems more clearly and distinctly....with God's Word which is given to us by the Holy Spirit...who knows all and I believe is never in a hurry, especially where we are concerned. Thanks.....M.Kennedy

#2  Posted by Rexx Morrison  |  Monday, August 19, 2013 at 7:33 AM

How long must a man wait before his reputation as a sinner is no longer considered before serving as an elder? Also if someone who is a believer is striving to mature and deal with issues in their life how long must they wait before serving as an elder?

#3  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Monday, August 19, 2013 at 1:51 PM

I don’t necessarily disagree with any of this however, some of this feels like MacArthur’s opinion. Has he taken the liberty of expanding God’s expectations of a man in a church leadership position?

John says, “if he doesn’t rule his household well in the financial realm, he is disqualified from spiritual leadership”. That seems like a stretch depending on the situation.

Are the children to display dignity or is the father to display dignity while controlling his children? I personally believe that God has given to certain parents, children, who will facilitate their sanctification process.

John says concerning reputation, “it also takes into account any sins in the past that result in a bad reputation”. I have a problem with this on two points.

1.God forgets and forgives but, the church doesn’t?

2.I have a friend who in his pre-Christ life was bank robber. The change in his life (through Christ) is amazing and the reputation he has now is one of a transformed life. If this is to be a disqualification of leadership then the church is losing out.

I would rather have a leader who has genuine love for his ”sheep”, than one who is not in debt, without challenging children and has seemly lived the perfect life.

#4  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Monday, August 19, 2013 at 2:32 PM


I think you may be reading more into the examples John gives than is actually there. Being financially responsible isn't necessarily the same thing as being debt-free. And certainly not every challenging child is a cause for disqualification from ministry.

As for the point about reputation, obviously it's hard to speak in general terms when the specifics make so much of a difference. But in the case of your friend, what kind of successful ministry leadership might he be able to have with the people he previously robbed? You're right, we all need to strive to forgive just as the Lord forgives. But the fact is our past sins color us throughout the rest of this life--especially in the eyes of the ones we sinned against.

You wrote: "I would rather have a leader who has genuine love for his ”sheep”, than one who is not in debt, without challenging children and has seemly lived the perfect life." My question is, why should we have to make a choice?

#5  Posted by Astrea Jones  |  Monday, August 19, 2013 at 3:29 PM

We are such a touchy feely society that we quickly elevate our personal feelings above scripture. I know elders that I love very much but they are not qualified ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE to be elders. It shows in the church. It is to the detriment of God's glory, the honor due Him and growth in His people. If we could stop and really look at what God's Word says about all issues we could save ourselves a lot of trouble.

#6  Posted by Daniel Wilson  |  Monday, August 19, 2013 at 6:21 PM


Should a pastor apologize for not understanding God's Word. He mention that he doesn't want to offend unbelievers as well... what response must I say in the right way. Just wondering...

#7  Posted by Ben Enders  |  Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 4:31 AM


Do you remember in Acts 9:21, 22 where the people flipped out over Paul? The disciples were afraid of him and yet what was his eventual impact on them.

I’ll say it again, I don’t necessarily disagree with MacArthur but, it feels a bit legalistic to me. You made my point that there are circumstances to consider.

We may have to make a choice because not all of us go to a church where John MacArthur is the senior pastor and there are thousands of members to choose from. I understand that church leadership has to have a plan which includes qualifications when selecting their leaders. My (large) church has you fill out a lengthy form and then you are interviewed and vetted. Even with all this there are some who have been given the title of pastor or elder who (in my opinion) shouldn’t be. I know it isn’t easy, I own and run a business so I really do know.

Even though I love MacArthur’s no holds barred style, I feel he is gifted enough to communicate this teaching without sounding like a Pharisee.

#8  Posted by Jean Selden  |  Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 8:52 AM

How thankful I am that John teaches the whole truth. The church society that my family has experienced in the last 30 years has been a model of disintegration of the practice of the standards God has set forth for us.

This generation has an extremely difficult time accepting consequences for actions, whether current or past. Many have been sitting in this charismatic churches where the finished work of God's Word is fluid. Always thinking they can stretch the boundaries.

My husband divorced prior to becoming a believer. He since has lived an impeccable life in every area. Today, he would be an excellent candidate for an elder position, but we accept that God knows best and also gives us logical reasons why he cannot nor should be an elder. I believe his integrity in this area is a great tool for witness. It doesn't mean God stops using him.

This generation is hungry for something solid to stand on. When Christians continue to try and push the envelope (the Word of God), it leads others to believe that our foundation is soft and moldable, but it is not.

Sincerely in Christ,

Jean Selden

#9  Posted by Jeremy K  |  Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:55 PM

Nor would you seek help in controlling your words and cultivating holiness from someone known for foul language and crude humor

I'm not defending the use of foul language here, but its worth noting that John even said himself about John Newton, noting before his conversion, that: "He was wild in those years and was known for being able to swear for two hours without repeating himself".


"Later, when he was again in England, he began to study theology, eventually became a preacher in a little town called Olney and later in London. His story is contained in these words: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Source - The Divine Summons John 3:1-10 February 03, 2013 43-14

#10  Posted by Tim Eriksen  |  Friday, August 23, 2013 at 9:45 AM

It is important to realize that this article is a summary and thus does not cover every example. Having read everything I could find on biblical eldership that John has written, it seems clear that John is not saying that sins before salvation are inherently disqualifying (including divorce or robbery). The Apostle Paul is a good example. He was essentially an accomplice to murder.

John noted that the passage was not referring only to sins committed while an elder. In other words, sins committed since salvation do matter. The key is that the man be above reproach, and well thought of by outsiders.

May all of our churches be led by strong qualified men who are good examples.

#11  Posted by Rose Michels  |  Friday, August 23, 2013 at 8:58 PM

I don't want to refute any of those you already mentioned because they're straight up truth, right from the Bible. I would like to add, as a member of a congregation, these viewpoints:

First, humility. So very important and often the first thing a discerning sheep will sense, or not sense, in their shepherd--in the church.

Second, the body of believers first, business comes later. Too many pastors are wrapped up in taking care of the 'business' of church while the spiritually hungry go unfed. Pastor, please stop looking at your watch when I'm seeking guidance--a very real spiritual need or event I'm going through.

Third, look at the world today, Pastor, and help us to see through God's word how we are to cope, to get through it, to find peace and joy in such unsettled times. Don't just say 'do' but say' how'.

Fourth, and lastly, milk to those that need milk ... meat to those that need meat. Please discern the needs that lay right before you.

Okay, probably too much said. I will add one last comment ... in this current day, it seems finding men/leaders with all the needed qualifications are getting fewer and fewer, and harder and harder to find. Sad.

#12  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Monday, August 26, 2013 at 7:44 AM

Thank you for your post, Tim (10).

#13  Posted by Ron Morales  |  Monday, August 26, 2013 at 7:34 PM

Bible clearly speaks of a man in a leader role must be above reproach. Why do we feel compelled to make exception for those who do not meet these requirements ? We can not let our emotions or feelings for a particular person because they have overcome obstacles in their life,while it is commendable it does NOT meet God's standards. I see people are offended and therefore criticize Pastor John. Amazing!

I find these blogs to be quite informative as well as thought provoking. I am of the belief that Pastor John is one of our greatest teachers of our lifetime, I see there are some out there who do not agree. I will say there a few who always seem to have a problem with John's teaching or thoughts,which begs the question: Why would one be reading this blog much less commenting on topics?!

I guess Charles Spurgeon had it correct: We need not teach men to complain; they complain fast enough without any education.

God bless you all


#14  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 9:05 AM


We don't shy away from disagreements. We understand that not every reader will always agree with everything written in this space. And far from painting the dissenters as uneducated or undiscerning, we welcome the discussions they prompt--provided they're respectful, productive, and God-honoring.

It would be foolish of us to assume every reader is a the same point in their spiritual growth and their biblical knowledge. Instead, we hope to encourage all our readers toward a greater love for God and His truth, and pray He will use what we've published here to sharpen and refine them for service in His kingdom.