The next verses in 1 Timothy 3 continue Paul’s description of the qualities of an elder, which he began with the start of chapter three. While in the first three verses Paul listed several characteristics, this week’s passage is totally devoted to one characteristic.
See it for yourself in 1 Timothy 3:4-5:
In the previous three verses, Paul breezed through almost a dozen qualities. But in these two verses, he covers only one quality. This suggests the importance Paul placed on this particular item, although it doesn’t have any other indicators of primacy.
The passage here is simple to understand. Those who lead the church need to demonstrate that they can lead their families well. The way in which a man controls his home will reveal his leadership abilities for the church as well.
In the time when Paul wrote these verses, most churches met in houses, and the most likely leader for the church would have been the head of the household in which the church met, indicating a strong connection between a man’s home management and church management.
But in today’s society, this qualification is just as valid as ever. Any man who aspires to lead the church should demonstrate his ability to lead by the way he leads his family. Paul’s suggestion is that he lead with dignity. The NIV uses the phrase “with proper respect”, indicating the manner in which the children should obey. But the Greek connects the idea of respect or dignity to how the father should be leading instead, and without being overly stern in the process.
Paul’s statement here is clear: A lack of leadership in the home is a disqualification for leadership in the church.
In modern American society, this has huge implications. Too many families are missing a strong father role. The dad may be in the family and yet still not be present in the lives of his children, taking the responsibility as the spiritual leader in his home. This is all too common in our society. Paul’s admonition here is clear. If a man desires to be a leader in the church, his home and family life must display those same leadership qualities.
Does this indicate that he must have children? Not necessarily. But if he does, they must be managed well. That shows that he is able to manages the church well, also. The emphasis here is not on the elder’s ability to dominate as a leader, but on his willingness to take care of the needs of his flock, just as he takes care of the needs of his family.
This is a hard qualification to apply, especially when your children are of the age where they begin to test the boundaries their parents has established. But a father’s role in the family, and his role as a leader of the church, depend upon him displaying God-honoring characteristics, in leading his family, and in leading the church.
Paul’s description of a godly leader concludes in next week’s passage, before he starts describing the similar qualities of the deacon.
Looking at these lists, the possibility of meeting Paul’s expectations can seem overwhelming. But take heart. God will provide the resources and strength for those who are committed to following his guidance, and committed to following him.
If you are a leader in your church, how is your family leadership? What do you do to lead your family well? You can leave your thoughts in the comments section below.