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 3:6-7)
One of the difficult topics relating to elder selection has always been age and experience. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old a shepherd in a church needs to be. However, since one of the words for elder (“presbuteros”) means older man, it is assumed he should have some age on him. How much age is the question, and the answer might change depending on the average age of those in a particular church body.
However, “how long” one has been a follower of the Lord is addressed specifically. The elder must not be a “recent convert.” Granted, this is still not absolutely definitive, but it is probably safe to say he must have had time to be grounded in some of the theological and practical issues of following Christ he is certain to face as a leader.
But mostly, as suggested in our passage today, he needs to be seasoned with all of the trials and challenges that lead to humility. He needs to see his role of leadership as an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing, instead of what he can personally accomplish for his own purposes.
Over the years I have seen a lot of motivating forces in a man’s life that lead him to desire the role of elder. I have met those who want to be put in a position of leadership so they can change things in the church they don’t like. A few have seen it as an accolade, and once they attainted their position they were unreliable and disconnected. And one or two have felt they could lead better than those who were leading.
I am not saying it is always wrong to want to lead so one can move the Lord’s church in a positive direction, but unless a man mostly just wants to be used by God, he is prone to Satan’s trap of conceit. And I will add that any leader in the Lord’s church, including my kind (the Preacher), can fall to the same temptation.
Of course this subject of seasoning relates to the one of age because it takes time to become seasoned. Our reputation to outsiders and our character are formed through many experiences, good and bad.
In baseball, some people talk about the “sweet spot” on a bat where contact with a baseball is most likely to produce maximum results. Perhaps there is something similar in relation to the eldership. There is a point in a man’s life where his age, time as a believer, passion for Christ and love for people come together to make him the shepherd God can use. And in this mix, he must also be at a place with his career and family that makes it possible to serve effectively.
As I read our passage for today I thought about all of the vulnerabilities the devil tries to exploit in our lives. He is crafty and cruel. And if, with his craft, he can find a way to draw leaders into conceit and lead them to disgrace themselves publicly, he has scored a major victory.
For this reason, as we evaluate our walk with the Lord, we must realize it is better to wait for the right timing to be used by God than to become a trophy on Satan’s wall.
Dear God, help me know how to lead and when. In Jesus’ name, Amen.