On Sunday, May 30, 2021, we appointed Steve Faccio to the office of Elder at The Church at Sunsites. Ordination is an odd term that is not used in Scripture to refer to the appointment of elders (pastors) in a local church. Scripture does speak of appointing to office (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Elders who were already in office always did the appointing. I am glad to serve an elder-led church, led by a plurality of elders. I have a few reflections on the Scriptures.
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1) In 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul instructed Timothy, who was to appoint elders in Ephesus, not to lay hands on anyone too hastily. One cannot be known in a short amount of time. The church does not affirm elders simply because a position needs to be filled or because of some tradition. Our biblical instruction is to not act with haste but to practice patience when considering elders so that their sin or false may be revealed. Only after sufficient time to see if those who desire to be elders meet the character qualification in the New Testament should they be appointed and affirmed. The office that carries such weight in the church as the office of elder is serious enough that those who currently fill the office admonish those being considered as elders so they may come to meet the character qualifications or else be revealed as unqualified.
2) Scripture gives no minimum or maximum number of elders for each local church. We simply know that there is to be more than one elder so that there is not one man in charge but Christ is the head. A plurality of elders works such that each elder is held accountable by the others and is a pastor to the others—so no one, not even the “lead pastor” is left without an under-shepherd in the context of the local church. Everyone in the local church must be pastored, including the pastor. We cannot be pastored if we are not a committed, covenanted part of the local church body.
3) In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, we see the qualifications of those to be appointed to the office of elder:
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 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.
The desire to be a pastor is a desire to do a good work. Because of the nature of the work, an overseer—the same office as elder and pastor—must be… Must indicates that these qualification are not optional. They are the prerequisites for pastoral ministry. If anyone’s character does not line up with these qualifications, he cannot serve in a pastoral role for anyone—he will hurt rather than help and will lead many from Christ and sanctification rather than to Him no matter how religious his intent. The qualifications for elders in Christ’s local churches reflect the character goals of sanctification. Every genuine Christian strives for these. Each character qualification, except for one’s ability to teach, is a measure of anyone’s maturity in Christ. If we are not chastened by the Holy Spirit to have these virtues, we are not likely children of God.
- Above reproach—For an elder to be irreproachable is for his character to align with these qualifications. These are not mere outward qualification but are inward such that no accusation can be genuinely levied against the one in office.
- Husband of one wife—to be the husband of one wife is to be a one-woman type of man. If any man is given over to a lifestyle of porneia, personal sexuality, adultery, or lust is a disqualification from any type of pastoral ministry. Sexual sin leads people astray and hurts others even if we think it is secret. This qualification limits the office of elder to men unlike the office for deacon, which does assign qualifications for women pursuing the office (1 Timothy 3:11).
- Temperate, prudent, and respectable—To be temperate is to have your temper rather than lose it. Prudence is doing more than is required because we consider others to be more important than ourselves. We don’t do stuff just because we can get away with it or do the minimum in order to accomplish our agendas. The ministry of a pastor is not his ministry at all. So, he acts with prudence because he is a servant. Prudence is wisdom in action. Temperance and prudence constitute a respectable demeanor.
- Hospitable—To be hospitable is to be interruptible and inviting.
- Able to teach—To be able to teach does not mean that one must be the most eloquent. It means he understands the mysteries of God more and more and is able to explain those mysteries to others in service for the good of the local church. This qualification distinguishes the office of elder from that of deacon. It does not necessitate perfect knowledge, but requires the heart of a student and the gifting of the Holy Spirit to teach. It does not restrict anyone else in the church from teaching.
- Not addicted to wine—Alcohol is not his master. While having a drink is not sin, to be a voluntary slave to any substance other than Christ is.
- Not pugnacious—An elder must have such a character that he is not always ready for a fight or easily offended by others. Even when attacked, he is able to maintain his composure, love, and forgive others because he is a slave to the local church for her good. Because of the nature of his office, he may say something that offends someone, or the Holy Spirit may use his words to chastise His people. People react, but the elder of God’s local church does not. Instead, he responds with reason and love.
- Gentle and peaceable—Instead of being pugnacious, the character of the elder is gentle toward others. He tries to understand what is being said rather than reacting against it like a pugnacious hellian. Because of his gentle character, the elder of the local church is peaceable. Rather than facilitating conflict, he denies himself and lives at peace with others as far as it depends on him—even apologizing and asking forgiveness when he feels he has done no wrong. He endures tribulation and attacks from others rather than reacting against them because he is called to fight a higher war by means of the gospel of peace. He does not feel a need to justify himself.
- Free from the love of money—Since his eyes are on Christ, he does not live to earn money. There are many people who prioritize their own jobs and ministries over the calling of Christ, even using Christ as an excuse to live in such sin. Christians are called to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus. Mammon is a good slave but a terrible master.
- One who manages his own household well—He must prove to be a good pastor to his own household before he can be considered a pastor of the local church. Many men expend themselves serving every other thing but neglect their wives and children. Many men neglect pastoring their households for the sake of their own ministries—thus sinning in God’s name. Such is not the case with a qualified elder of God’s local church. This is why we encourage our elders to prioritize their families over their service to the local church. Priorities matter. Pastor first your household. Then, pastor the local church. Then, everything else. The priorities of every Christian are like these.
- Not a new convert—Baby Christians are prone to develop messiah complexes in ministry. We are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. God doesn’t need us. Our service to Him and the local church is by grace alone.
- Has a good reputation with those outside the church—The Christian lives in the world not of it. The elder lives in the world, but maintains the example he sets for Christ without being pugnacious toward those who are of the world. He lives such that those who are not in Christ and don’t pretend to be in Christ speak well of him and his moral example.
Every Christian and every pastor will fail to keep these character qualifications perfectly unless he has been fully sanctified. When we fail, we repent and move on. These are character qualifications, not works-based qualifications. If our character is consistent with these, even though we are imperfect, we are model Christians. It is my pleasure to present Steve Faccio as an elder of the local church at Sunsites. He is a pastor to me and the example of Christian character I believe we should all emulate—following him as he follows Christ. Here is Steve’s Affirmation Sunday sermon, whereby he addresses Christian love and humility: