3 Reasons Biblical Elder Qualifications Matter in Missions
One way to judge the vitality of a culture is by the state of its men.
Where its men are weak, sin-addicted, and passive, the society will decline. Why? Because as men lead households, households form communities, and communities shape cultures.
Likewise, the health of the church depends upon its leaders—the qualified men God has called to preach to and oversee it.
The Apostle Paul knew this. So, he instructed Timothy to appoint elders in the church who met high standards of character. After leaving Timothy in Macedonia to guard the church and its elders (1 Timothy 1:3), Paul explains who is qualified to shepherd the church:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Paul gives substantially identical instructions to Titus:
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— 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. 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, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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. (Titus 1:5-9)
This isn’t just a lesson for local churches but for the missionary enterprise. Why?
First, it tells us something about who sends. Is your church shepherded by godly, competent men who can teach sound doctrine and hold others accountable? Without such leaders, a church cannot send missionaries.
To modify a phrase used by others, a church’s sending capacity can’t exceed its shepherding capacity. The spiritual needs of the congregation—for God’s word, for loving guidance, for discipleship—must be met before pastors can aspire to send out others.
Second, our passage says something about who goes. Men and women are both critical to the task of missions. The New Testament is replete with examples of women who served sacrificially in the early church. But only men may pastor and lead God’s people (see 1 Timothy 2:12, 3:2-5). Since our aim is to plant churches, we cannot obey the Great Commission without sending out qualified, called men as pastor-elders.
Across the evangelical world, the number of women in missions far surpasses the number of men. Many of the workers we train and send are single women. Let’s praise God for the many mighty ways he uses these faithful saints. Because we value teamwork, we confess there is a place for men and women on the field, married and single, parent and childless. And yet, without discounting women’s important work, we can also ask: where are the men? Have our churches failed to proactively train and send the kind of men described by Paul?
In our zeal to reach the nations, we are prone to act as though the only qualification for missionary service is a willing heart. This is not what the New Testament teaches. If nothing else, Paul’s statements about who is qualified for ministry exhort us to raise the bar with regard to our standard for whom we send out to the world.
In our zeal to reach the nations, we are prone to act as though the only qualification for missionary service is a willing heart. This is not what the New Testament teaches.
Finally, our text speaks to who benefitsfrom gospel ministry. When men, as household heads, come to faith in Christ, so can the whole family. Studies show that when father go to church with the family, the children are far more likely to continue in the faith.
As families are transformed, so are communities—and cultures. When this happens, everyone in a nation benefits—especially women, children, and the marginalized in society. That is not to say that missions results in sinless utopias. But historically, where the Christian faith has prevailed, unjust laws have been repealed, hospitals erected, the uneducated taught, the poor lifted up.
So, where are the men?
Too many men compete for platforms and fame here at home while countless churches worldwide desperately have no pastors. Too few men are willing to count the cost of missionary life, leaving single women to shoulder the load alone.
Pray for godly elders in our churches to send qualified men to the field where few are willing to go. And pray for those men to lead other men to Christ, such that the landscapes of those mission fields change. Perhaps we have not because we ask not.