The apostle James gave the following caution to leaders in the church:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1).
The calling to church leadership, in whatever role, is a call requiring much study, prayer, and meditation. James is clear that an instructor and overseer must be certain of his calling and diligent in his manner of life. The standards are higher than for others within the church and the leader becomes accountable for not only his walk with Christ and the management of his own household; he now is accountable for the household of God!
Because of this, pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, and others in authority, must avail themselves to years of preparation followed by a rigorous vetting process to determine their spiritual readiness for leadership. This examination however, will rely upon the maturity and knowledge base of existing church leaders, if proper discernment and placement within the Body is to occur.
The specific standards for pastors and elders are well-established in the Bible and demanding in their scope. Paul wrote:
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He 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?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Tim 3:2-7).
This is a daunting list and should be taken with much reverence when considering a call to leadership. To be above reproach is to be beyond accusation. Often used as a legal term, it means that one is not convictable in a court of law. This requirement is to protect the church and to guard the great name of Jesus Christ. A leader, more than anyone else in the church, must recognize that he is a representative of Christ both within the church and throughout the community. As a designated overseer, he will be extremely visible and must show evidence of Christ’s transformative touch. These features of leadership are repeated almost verbatim in the Book of Titus (Titus 1:5-9).
Beyond this overarching call to purity and innocence, Scripture goes on to speak of the specific character one should see in an overseer along with specific abilities. The requirements of deacons are similar and call for great attention to one’s spiritual, family, church, and community life (1 Tim 3:8-13). And while the Bible does not specifically address ministries outside the traditional church, these standards of oversight could well be applied to para-church ministry leaders also. Any ministry that operates under the banner of Jesus Christ must ordain leaders who are devoted to kingdom truth and biblical principles of oversight.
Central to all of these standards is the call for maturity, testing, proven character, stability, knowledge, and godly conduct; demonstrating leadership at home before assuming leadership at church. The Lord has been gracious in defining these requirements and challenging the church to thoroughly examine each candidate. And yet with so many guidelines and instructions in place, spiritual failure within leadership is more common than ever before and its effect is devastating to the church and other ministries.