Elders are men of influence in the family of God. It’s no surprise then, that the two passages which provide qualifications for church elders (I Tim. 3:4,5; Tit. 1:6,7) devote space to the way they oversee their own families. In the letter to Timothy, Paul writes that an elder should manage his household well, especially his children, and he makes a comparison between the family and the church. In the Titus passage, Paul refers to both the wife and children, and places special emphasis on the importance of a blameless testimony of the elder be- fore the world.
This idea of healthy household relationships of those in leadership is not new. The Old Testament records the family life of many of God’s servants. Compare the tragic end of Eli’s ministry “because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (I Sam. 3:13 KJV) with God’s gracious words about Abraham “For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do righteousness and justice … “(Gen. 18:19).
First let’s look at the primary passages in greater detail, and then consider some practical ways to encourage future leaders, and elders with younger families.
Two Primary Passages
Insights in these brief sections can be considered in four headings: the elder’s home, his family, his reputation in the world, and his relationship to the church. Since we’re only dealing with four verses, let’s consider them together, to avoid confusion.
First, an elder must rule or lead his household well. The Greek word used means to manage or superintend and refers primarily but not exclusively to the family members. His home and possessions are part of his household or private domain. Later, Paul will refer to the elder as the “steward of God.” Stewardship is a broad word denoting the need for skill in managing both persons and goods. It is no small assignment for a man to maintain a pleasing balance among his employment, his wife and children, his possessions, his free time and interests, and his work in the church.
As to his family, it is not required that he be married (Paul would have written ‘the husband of a wife”) but if he is, he must be the husband of one wife. Some have suggested this means he must be a “one – woman man.” His children should be under control and cared for with dignity. They must not be- come an embarrassment due to a prodigal or insubordinate lifestyle, but should be faithful (literally believing). Many of the words used to describe the qualifications of an elder are capable of varying degrees of understanding and it seems wise to discern the big picture of a man’s character and family, rather than stumble over small details.
An elder must be blameless in his reputation before the world, his neighbors and the wider Christian community. Of course this does not mean he is sinless, but he must be one against whom no public blot on his character can be leveled. Blameless conduct and testimony are always important, but in this context are tied directly to his domestic life.
Finally, Paul makes a clear statement that if a man does not know how to order his private life, he will probably not be able to govern wisely in God’s church. In other words, an elder ought to regard his home and family as a mini-congregation entrusted to him by God. Through his love, prayer, hard work and leadership, he shows to all who observe the kind of godly leadership and shepherding he would do in a larger congregation if he had the opportunity. A substantial part of the total credibility (believability) of any elder is his home and family life.
There is an abundance of advice available today and no shortage of people to give it. Young men and aspiring elders would do well to examine carefully the source! Not all that is written in Christian literature will bear up under the light of the Word of God. Consider the long term track record of the writer in his own home and family. Here are some ideas that this writer has found to be helpful in planting assemblies and training men for leadership over many years.
1) Your home: Hospitality and visitation, or “others in our home and we in theirs,” are important! There’s just no substitute for seeing where and how people live and relate. Hospitality is mentioned twice in the list of elder qualifications (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). The personal touches of warm fellowship, frank discussion and honest sharing from the Bible can be done in the home in a way that is impossible in public. The elder must realize that his guests can gain an education in how a godly man interacts with his family, how a meal is conducted, even how a home is ordered and decorated. It is all an open book, a teaching tool of great value in working with younger believers.
2) Your children: Enjoy the Proverbs together with them! Children ought to be exposed to the book of Proverbs as a steady diet, especially throughout their younger years. I had the privilege with each of our three children to read one proverb (a single verse) every morning and consider its meaning until we had completed the entire book. This took years, but has paid large dividends as they are now “believing children.”
3) Your private world: Take I Peter 3:7 seriously! Dwell- ing with one’s wife “according to knowledge” requires a lifetime of being sensitive, listening carefully, developing communication and support skills and much more. But being cheirs of the grace of life brings intimate fellowship into church leadership—a wonderful gift to any congregation.
4) Embrace Accountability. By nature, we are self-centered and self-willed. Scripture tells us that every one of us must give account to God (Rom. 14:12), a subject particularly applicable to church elders (Heb. 13:17). Elders can learn much about the needs of the people and how to lead them by listening to them, and by accepting counsel from fellow elders and other servants of the Lord.
5) An honest look at priorities. Children quickly perceive what is most important in our lives by seeing what we as parents sacrifice for. Do they see us spend quality time with the Lord, or is our prayer life only “while driving to work?” What message is sent when absolutely nothing gets in the way of a sporting event or vacation, but slight inconveniences will keep us from prayer meeting? Remember that we cannot lead where we haven’t gone ourselves.
Men, let’s not pattern our homes after the answer Aaron gave to Moses about the golden calf being worshipped by the people, “I cast it [the gold] into the fire, and there came out this calf.” (Ex. 32:24). Molds cause things that are pliable to take shape. So it is with families. Truly, oversight begins at home.