The Biblical Requirements of Elders

The issue of the requirements for church leaders becomes a divisive issue in some churches. In this article, we will begin by looking at the most quoted verses on the subject and then examine what they reveal.

1 Timothy 3:1-7
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Titus 1:5-9
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.

Here is a list I made that combines the two lists in Timothy and Titus:
  • Be above reproach (Titus & Timothy)
  • Husband of one wife (Titus & Timothy)
  • Self-Controlled (Titus & Timothy)
  • Hospitable (Titus & Timothy)
  • Not a drunkard (Titus & Timothy)
  • Not violent (Titus)
  • Not violent but gentle (Timothy)
  • Sober-minded (Timothy)
  • Upright (Titus)
  • Respectable (Timothy)
  • Able to teach (Timothy)
  • Not quarrelsome (Timothy)
  • Not greedy for gain (Titus)
  • Not a lover of money (Timothy)
  • His children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (Titus)
  • Manages his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive (Timothy)
  • Not a recent convert (Timothy)
  • Must be well thought of by outsiders (Timothy)
  • Not arrogant (Titus)
  • Not quick tempered (Titus)
  • A lover of good (Titus)
  • Holy (Titus)
  • Disciplined (Titus)
  • Holds firm to the trustworthy word (Titus)
Making a list like this is dangerous because we have a tendency to use lists and become very legalistic about them. That is not the purpose of this list.

The requirements that Paul expressed to Timothy were somewhat different than the list that he sent to Titus. If you look at any modern denomination, you would see written lists (or paragraphs) that express the specific requirements for elders in the local church. These lists do not waver from church to church; they are set in stone for a church in Topeka, Kansas, USA, to a church in Baghdad, Iraq to a church in the middle of Siberia. We do not see such set in stone requirements in Scripture for elders.

Through the lists in the Titus and Timothy we can get a glimpse at the fact that God works locally. What was needed to insure good elders in Ephesus appears to have been different than what was emphasized to insure good elders in Crete. Certain things were the same. Others were different. All depended upon the church and culture at hand.

The lists are good at showing us what is expected in an elder; however, we go too far if we make them a legal list that has to be completely fulfilled in order to allow someone to be an elder. The heart of the matter is that God desires local churches to have godly men to insure proper teaching and proper direction of His body.