Church Leadership Qualifications: Biblical or Pragmatic?


When it comes to leadership positions in the church we often get ourselves into unnecessarily sticky situations because we put practical considerations – who is available, who is most talented, who is willing, etc. – above biblical qualifications.
When we fill a position of leadership or responsibility at church we first go to Scripture to find out if the person we’re considering for the position is biblically qualified to hold it. Practical considerations come second. A few examples:


An elder or deacon just died and the church needs someone to replace him. The first place you go is 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and you start by weeding out the men who don’t fit those qualifications. It doesn’t matter how willing they are or how great of a job they would do or what kind of connections they have or how much money they could bring into the church, they have to meet the biblical qualifications first.


Your church is located near a neighborhood full of Chinese immigrants, most of whom don’t speak English. Someone comes up with the commendable, Great Commission-honoring idea to start a Bible study to reach out to the men and women of this community. The only person in your church who speaks Chinese is a woman, so she’s the natural choice to teach the class, right?

Wrong. We start with the biblical qualifications for teachers, and one of them (1 Timothy 2:12) is that women are not to teach men. She could certainly teach (assuming she is able to teach – language alone doesn’t make someone a good teacher) a women’s class, or a male could teach the class in English and she could translate, or a man could take the time to learn Chinese before the church begins offering the class, or if there is a Chinese man in the class who is able to teach, he could teach the men and she could teach the women. But the woman doesn’t teach a co-ed class herself because Scripture forbids this.


A young couple starts attending your church. After a few months, they step up and say they’d like to sing on the worship team. They’ve both got great voices and would radically improve the quality of the music on Sunday mornings. As you chat with them about joining the team, you find out they’re living together (unmarried). They’re both well aware that this is sin, but disagree with what the Bible says about adultery and fornication and have no intention of repenting, marrying, or moving out. Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 are quite clear that people who continue in rebellion after being called to repent are not even to be members of the church, let alone lead in worship.

Remember that the practical way is not always God’s way. Remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Remember that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12). Remember when Saul did what was good in his own eyes instead of obeying God’s word (1 Samuel 15). Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu when they conducted worship their own way instead of God’s way (Leviticus 10:1-6).

Obeying God’s word is not always easy, practical, or convenient, but it is always best, biblical, and blessed.


The Mailbag: Can a divorced man be a pastor?



Is it OK for pastors to be divorced?

Not just any man is qualified to be a pastor. The Bible sets forth a specific list of requirements for pastors and elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. One of these requirements is that he must be “the husband of one wife.” Unfortunately, this phrase has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that pastors and elders must be married (which would exclude never married, divorced, and widowed men) or that pastors and elders must never have been divorced for any reason.

I pretty much agree with John MacArthur’s position in this article, which helpfully explains that the phrase “husband of one wife” actually means “a one-woman man,” not “never divorced,” or “wife required.” Unlike MacArthur, I might not say it’s “extremely rare” that it would be OK for a pastor to have a divorce in his past, maybe just “rare.”

I really think we need to look at it on a case by case basis, especially if the man was divorced for one of the two biblical exceptions: the wife’s infidelity (Matthew 5:32) or an unbelieving wife divorcing him (1 Corinthians 7:15). Although I respect an autonomous church’s right to set whatever policies it deems appropriate (as long as those policies don’t violate Scripture), I, personally, don’t think it’s right to deny a man the office due to his wife’s sin that he had no control over and may have done everything in his power to prevent.

I also think we need to look at how long ago the divorce took place and whether it happened before or after the man was saved. What about a man who was divorced 30 years ago due to one of the bibilical exceptions, but has been a godly husband to his second wife for the past 25 years? What about a man who was divorced 30 years ago, subsequently got saved, tried to reunite with his ex-wife but was rejected, married a godly woman, and has been a godly husband to her for the past 25 years? There are prohibitions against being a drunkard in the biblical qualifications, too. Would we deny a man the office, if, prior to salvation, he was a drunkard, but got saved and has been sober for 25 years? These are issues churches should work through prayerfully when considering a candidate.

A man already in the office of pastor/elder who goes through a divorce should step down for a significant period of time. If the divorce was for unbiblical reasons, he has probably disqualified himself. But even if it was for biblical reasons, he needs time to heal and to focus on helping his children. For the same reasons, I don’t think a man who has been recently divorced should be considered for the office.

If you have a question about: a well known Christian author/leader, a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.