Given how quickly folks were made elders in the New Testament, why do we so often struggle to appoint them in our own churches? I suspect that many of us (rightly) have a high view of eldership. But that high view of eldership very often translates into a similarly high view of the eldership criteria. It tends to mean that rather than take the ‘godly bloke who can teach the Bible’ view of the eldership criteria, we find it very difficult to appoint people we deem adequate.
For some, the issue is that they insist the qualifications are a minimum criteria. By that, they mean – whilst we do need to appoint people who meet the scriptural qualifications – we ought to add our own criteria too. The biblical qualifications, they argue, are just a bottom line but we can rightly demand other things that aren’t stated.
Now, on one level, that isn’t unreasonable. If you live in an English village, full of English people who all speak English, it’s not unreasonable to say that your elder must meet the biblical criteria and speak English. But I wouldn’t consider that a character qualification but a practical consideration that would make it virtually impossible to do the job without it. There is an evident difference between expecting people to have practical criteria that would make it impossible to lead the church and insisting the job requires a level of character qualification that the Lord himself doesn’t demand. These are two different things.
Others are happy enough with the character criteria, but are very quick to run them through their own personal, cultural application thereof. What, exactly, does managing the household well look like in practice? This inevitably looks different depending on your particular class, culture and context. What does children who are not insubordinate look like in reality? Again, it depends where you’re from and what your context is like. What should hospitality look like? Again, it depends. The issue isn’t always that we struggle finding people who meet these things, it’s that we insist on a particular outworking of these things that very often happens to line up entirely with your culture.
But my point here isn’t to say what the answer is to these things. My purpose is simply to float the question. Why is it that these criteria could be met fairly quickly and readily in the early church but we seem to struggle meeting them, even in our churches full of settled, stable believers who have been churched their entire lives? If the early church could appoint elders relatively quickly, what about our setup means that we find it significantly harder?
Perhaps we just aren’t very good at training people? Maybe we simply refuse to accept that people are adequately trained when they really are? Could it be that we just don’t trust people enough? Or maybe we over-apply the biblical criteria? But why is it that the early church could find elders – that Timothy and Titus could appoint elders relatively quickly – that we find it that much harder?