Is there a difference between how the contemporary evangelical church commends its leaders and how the Apostle Paul did?

There is no comparison. Let me begin with a true story, although the names have been changed, as noted by an asterisk.

Dave Hutchinson*, pastor of a new church plant in the urban core of our city, called and invited me to have a cup of coffee at a downtown Starbucks recently. I admired Dave. He was attempting a very demanding task. As we discussed his struggles, he told me about the difficulty of living in the shadow of the mega-church from which his little work was birthed.

“I spoke at their men’s breakfast a couple of months ago, and although I know it’s dumb, I really, really wanted one of the men’s group leaders to tell Chris (the pastor of the mega-church) what a great job I’d done. I know it’s not right. But I really, really wanted that to happen.”

As we continued our conversation, Dave related the pressure he felt due to the lack of successful results in his ministry. Yes, he and his people were reaching out to the community, but they weren’t growing. “A healthy church is a growing church,” he told me. He wondered if that was why he felt that Chris treated him like a youngster, a newbie, and not like an equal, although Dave was forty-five years old. I told him I understood how he felt, and that it takes us awhile to know who we are in the ministry, regardless of what or how anyone else is doing. He agreed that needed to happen.

We talked on the phone a couple of months later. Nothing he was doing seemed to be working. “Regardless of the results,” he said, “I just wish they would tell me they were proud of me.”

“I’m proud of you, Dave,” I responded.

He wept.

These conversations brought up a question that for months began turning over in my mind: What do we value in the Church? What is commendable? What kind of people are we looking for in our pastors and leaders? Are the criteria we use for making these value judgments biblical?

The answer to this last question is yes—and no.

Yes, certainly, we follow the guidelines that Paul wrote in his letters to Timothy and Titus. Here are the qualifications he listed for elders or overseers in his letter to Titus:

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 (Titus 1:7-9). 13

To Timothy, Paul said:

“Therefore an overseer 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. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well” (1 Timothy 3:2-12).

Generally speaking, Paul is talking about character and moral issues in these passages. However, the only two things that separate the qualifications required here from those of an “ordinary” believer are maturity and experience—“let them also be tested first”—and an ability to teach. Everything else listed is what we in the Church expect from anyone who would want to follow Jesus Christ. However, there are additional qualifications if we truly want to be a leader like Paul, although we have to search just a little harder to find them.