1 Timothy 3:14-15
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.
Today’s theme is servant leadership. Let’s get to work.
Question: Just who is called to be a servant leader?
Answer: We all are!
Every one of us is a leader to someone. Let’s never forget that.
Someone’s eyes are watching every one of us.
Some of the people most formulative in my life development were men and women who society did not view as leaders. These were people a bit older than me, for whom I had respect, whose every action and attitude I watched. I got my signals from them as to how to live life because there was something about them that I admired.
Today’s text sets the standard high for all of us who do not see ourselves as leaders.
This week I received an e-mail from a man who referred to himself as “confused” on the contrast between these teachings of Paul in First Timothy and our recent series on Galatians and the Apostles’ Creed. He mused that the other two series seemed to emphasize God’s grace, His unmerited favor, not based on what we do. In contrast, Paul’s letter to Timothy seems to stress works, calling us to a high standard of personal conduct. What goes here?
The two are not mutually exclusive. Paul’s emphasis on grace makes clear that we cannot save ourselves. We are justified by God’s grace. Then, as we grow in the Christian life, the Holy Spirit motivates us by the process of sanctification to a lifestyle in which our attitudes and behavior become more and more Christ-like. Become a disciple of Jesus and you will find your life gradually transformed to become more like Him.
Although every one of us is a leader to someone, not every one of us is called to be officially a church leader.
Today’s passage deals specifically with standards for two particular leadership offices in the church. Some of us are singled out with particular gifts of leadership which are to be applied at a particular moment in the church’s life.
The first of these leaders we will call the elder.
There are two words in the New Testament that describe the principal office bearers of the church. These persons are found in every congregation. They are the ones on whose conduct and administration the welfare of that congregation depends. They are the overseers of congregational life.
One word in the Greek is the word presbuteros, which literally means elder. It is the most ancient of the offices within the church. It even goes back to the Old Testament times of Moses, when he appointed 70 men to help him care for the people. Every synagogue had its elders who were entrusted with the responsibility to oversee the life of the community of faith. This office had its leadership parallels even in the gentile Egyptian, Greek and Roman societies.
The New Testament also uses a second Greek word. It is episkopos, which often is translated bishop and which literally means overseer or superintendent. This word also has a rich tradition in Hebrew culture. It refers to taskmasters who were over public works and buildings. Greeks used it to describe persons who were planning to go from one mother city to regulate the affairs of newly-founded colonies in different places. The Romans had magistrates. Today we would most likely call them city council persons who regulate the affairs of a community. This word episkopos always implied two things. It implied oversight of some area or sphere of work, and it implied responsibility to some higher power and authority.
What is the relationship of these two positions, elder and bishop, to today’s biblical text? Frankly, they are one and the same. One word, elder, describes the person. The other word, episkopos, describes the function of the person. Later in history, as the church became more ecclesiastically sophisticated, the word bishop took on additional connotations that we think of today, but they were not present at the time that Paul was writing.
The first office Paul addresses here in his text would be viewed as those here at St. Andrew’s who are ordained and installed elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament, the ones to whom the organizational and spiritual governance of the church is entrusted.
The second office is that of deacon. The Greek word for this is diakonos, which means “servant.” Read
My heart warms as I look back over 26 years plus as your pastor. With rare exceptions, St. Andrew’s does not just keep rotating the same leadership in the position of elder. Therefore, of the 210 plus elders with whom I have worked, approximately 180 of these are different persons. A few have been brought back on to serve a second three-year term some years later. Only one has served two back-to-back terms.
How enriched has my life been by these many different persons, each with their own individual spiritual gifts, who have been chosen to give leadership in the governance of this church as elders. In addition to these are the many persons with whom I have been privileged to serve as colleagues together in pastoral ministry. They, too, are fellow elders in the organizational and spiritual governance of the church.
Individual elders come to mind who have served this church in so many different capacities – some who are now in heaven, some who live in other parts of the world, and some who are still active in the life of this local congregation. How I thank God for such elders!
And then there are the deacons, several hundred! At any given time, we have over 75 to provide loving and caring service to us. Back in 1981, my own deacon, the late Ann Ward, stopped by our home after church to give me a cassette of Lydia’s sermon of that morning. I was recovering from a serious ski accident. She asked how I was doing. I told her of some pain I was feeling in my shoulder. She would not leave until I promised to call a doctor. I followed through on my promise. Dr. John Skinner immediately identified that I had a massive pulmonary embolism. I was rushed to Hoag. His concerns were validated. My whole right lung and a third of my left lung were completely cut off by a massive blood clot. One more would have killed me. Without an attentive deacon, a doctor who also happened to be an elder, a hospital organized by Presbyterian elders, I might not have had that fourteen-day hospital stay. My earthly life might have ended 23 years ago. I will always be so grateful for the caring, compassionate ministry of the deacons who reach out and touch, each week, hundreds of us in the name of Jesus Christ.
This text calls elders and deacons to a high standard of living. I must emphasize it is not a call to a double standard. All of us who are followers of Jesus Christ are called to the same high standard of life. Not every one of us will be called to be an elder and/or a deacon. Not every one of us will have such official roles of leadership in the church. But every one of us is a leader to someone, and every one of us is to take seriously the lifestyle standards mentioned here in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
Perhaps the best way I can emphasize this is to read the final sentence from our Presbyterian Book of Order in its description of the office of elder. It states succinctly the high standard of life to which all followers of Jesus are called, a standard that must explicitly be held firm for elders and deacons. It reads: “Those duties which all Christians are bound to perform by the law of love are especially incumbent upon elders because of their calling to office and are to be fulfilled by them as official responsibilities.”
Elders and deacons in particular must take seriously these teachings. Remember, once an elder, always an elder. Once a deacon, always a deacon. Please raise your hand to identify yourself if you have ever been ordained and installed as an elder or deacon in any church. These words are for you. If you didn’t raise your hand and you have repented of sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, these words are also for you. So often you have heard me say, “Either you are a minister or you need one. Either you are a missionary or you need one.”
The purpose of this pastoral letter of Paul is to tell people how to behave within the church. Our mentor, Paul, is discipling us!
He is telling us that church leadership is a “noble task.”
Frankly, my biggest concern for the future of St. Andrew’s is that there be a next generation of leadership. The “Builder” generation has entered the sunset years of life, many now already with the Lord. My generation, the “Silent” generation, of which I have represented the last couple of years, has now pretty much moved into the retirement years. The “Boomer” generation has matured. We must be able to hand the baton off to you with the assurance that you will take full responsibility, along with the “Generation X” that follows so closely on your heels. There may have to be some retuning of the administrative structures to blend themselves better to the younger generation’s way of doing business. But the same standards of life apply to all. The church of all generations needs vital, strong leaders who are willing to step up to the noble task of being elders and deacons.
There is one word that capsules the quality of servant leadership for all disciples, especially elders and deacons. We see it so clearly in this text. The word is integrity.
Instead of working my way through this passage word by word, I urge you to read it and let each of the phrases fit in under these various types of integrity.
All of us are called to servant leadership. Some of us are called to servant leadership as elders and deacons. This servant leadership involves integrity in several areas.
First, servant leadership involves intellectual integrity.
We have already seen the importance of sound doctrine, holding to the truths of the faith. It is important that you and I grow in our knowledge of these truths, taking seriously the study of Scripture and holding these truths humbly.
I would be the first to admit that no human being has a full grasp on all truth. The only one that understands all truth is God. At the same time, God has revealed much truth to us – through His natural revelation in all that we see around us; in His special revelations of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ; in the written Word, Scripture; and in the preached Word as inspired by His Holy Spirit. We are all called to be on the cutting edge of growth, handling carefully the truths of God’s Word. Paul warns us in
Second, servant leadership involves spiritual integrity.
What is your track record with God?
This passage shows us that the elder/deacon is not to be a recent convert. We need seasoning in the faith.
I have seen the tragedy of men and women being put up for leadership positions of the church who have just recently come to faith in Jesus Christ. This can be disastrous for them and for the church. It is important that they be mentored. Paul writes that the person “. . . must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (
I remember back when I was 18 years old and approaching my graduation from high school. A major youth organization invited me to join their staff and take two years to travel the world as a youth evangelist. They would pay my salary and expenses for those two years. Then I could pursue my college education after that period of time. Was that ever an attractive offer! Wouldn’t it be great to take a break from study? I consulted people I respected, seasoned veterans of the faith. They counseled me to say no, to take the time to get my education, to become seasoned in my own faith, and that there would be other opportunities later on. I followed that counsel, resisting the temptation to become what, in those days, was called a “boy preacher.” Eleven years later, I met a fellow who had taken up the offer. He had burned himself out and, at that time, was selling used cars. He later went back into the ministry. I could tell you many stories of people thrust into leadership positions who weren’t ready for them.
Spiritual integrity involves living one day at a time a life of humble confession of one’s sinfulness and humanity. It involves walking daily with the Lord, fellowship, Scripture reading and prayer. It involves authentic worship. It involves being subject to personal accountability in a covenant group in the larger community of the church. And then, when someone entrusted with the responsibility of tapping someone on the shoulder for church leadership, recognizes in us a person with leadership gifts and a track record of Christian maturity, we are encouraged to say “yes” to that call – not out of selfish ambition but out of a sense of a servant heart to serve the Lord.
Third, servant leadership involves emotional integrity.
This emotional integrity involves a life of balanced Christian living, a life that is stable, a life of self-control.
It doesn’t mean that any one of us is perfect. But if there are emotional issues in our life, at least we need to be aware of them so that we are not doing ministry out of pathology.
I will never forget what one of my associate pastors in Pittsburgh once observed. He said that the best way to ruin a top salesman was to get that person into therapy. A lot of success comes from an internal drivenness that is pathological. The more one becomes healthy, more at peace with oneself, the better husband, the better father, the more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, the less driven that person may tend to be. I am not saying you can’t be a successful salesperson. But it is important to be that for the right reasons, out of servanthood for others. Providing the product they need, the help you give them and the process of making it available to them should not be out of selfish ambition.
The same is true in the service of Jesus Christ. We pastors can be driven by our pathology to be successful, to show great church growth, to judge the success or failure of our ministries in regard to how large the church is, the statistical record of weekly attendances, or how large the budget has grown under our years of responsibility. Many laypersons encourage us in this pathology to shape our preaching to be popular, to go for the quick fix of being the entertainer instead of the proclaimer of the Word of God. We want people to tell us “how great we were” this morning instead of “how great God is. Thank you for leading me to Him.”
One of the advantages of 40 years of long-haul ministry is to observe that at any given moment, in any community, there is the “Church of What’s Happening Now.” At times, I have been the pastor of that church. At other times, I have been compared negatively to the pastor of that particular church, whether it was when I served in Miami, Pittsburgh, or here in Orange County. True emotional integrity is when you and I as pastors, elders and deacons are “. . . above reproach . . . temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome . . .” (
Ultimately, people know when we are out of control emotionally. How sad the flame-out of popular preachers, priests and televangelists who appear to be one thing and prove to be another. We need to be self-reflective, holding ourselves accountable. We must avoid those excesses of life that ultimately discredit ourselves and, in the process, to some discredit the Lord. Paul writes: “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil” (
Please know I am aware that none of us is fully healthy. All of us bear the scars of fallen men and women, even if we are redeemed by God’s grace. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take the time to stop and assess where we are and find that wholeness and integrity that is available intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.
Fourth, servant leadership involves financial integrity.
This doesn’t start the day you are chosen to be an elder or a deacon. This is part of the life of any disciple of Jesus Christ.
Remember, everything you have comes from God.
James put it in these words, “Every generous act of giving, with every gift, is from above, coming from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (
Though I have done over 100 memorial services, I have never yet seen a Lear jet, a yacht, a Palm Desert or Sun Valley home, or even a pair of skis or a set of golf clubs put into a casket with the deceased. We come into this world empty handed and we go out empty handed. Those most poverty stricken, the wealthiest and all the rest of us in between can’t take it with us. It is only temporarily entrusted to us.
The question is, are we handling wisely what God has given to us?
God planned an economy for our lives better than any you or I could draw up.
God’s economy is this. Take it at face value that everything you have is on loan to you from God. The very fact that you are alive is God’s gift to steward. One of my friends in the last few days has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has already gone into the liver and to other parts of his body. He is a bit younger than me. My wife, Anne, and he have known each other since junior high. We have taken vacations together. Suddenly, out of the blue, he and his wife and the rest of his family and friends are facing this diagnosis, one of the deadliest of all cancers. Our life is here to steward. None of us knows how long we will live. The capacities you and I have to earn, save and invest money is a gift from God. The fact that we live in a society that encourages entrepreneurism is a privilege to be stewarded. The fact that our homes have appreciated in value and perhaps we will have some inheritance, or be able to hand on some inheritance, again is a privilege, a gift from God. Our intelligence is a gift from God. The spiritual gifts you have been given certainly come from Him. The economy of His kingdom is that you reinvest all you are as His disciple with the stewardship of time, talent and money.
God’s Word alerts us to the fact that His economic standard to run His work on earth is that of the tithe.
The tithe is not four percent, it is not eighteen percent. The tithe is ten percent, before taxes, to carry out the work of the Lord. Some of us are blessed to be able to go beyond the tithe and support various kinds of ministries and health-giving organizations with gifts that go beyond the ten percent. The ten percent, though, is the starting point. It’s not the last check to be written, but the first. It tells God, it tells yourself, it tells your children that you mean business as a follower of Jesus Christ. Remember, everything you have comes from Him. The slightest change in life circumstances can wipe out everything you have. God’s instruction to tithe invigorates you in knowing that you have put first things first. The Bible says it clearly:
Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me – the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. (
Tithing is to be done not legalistically but joyfully.
Jesus took it for granted that all followers of His would at least tithe, obeying the Old Testament command to give minimally ten percent. In fact, He was critical of people who meticulously tithed but had a sour attitude on life. They did it legalistically, not joyfully. And He sort of measured the degree of their faith on the basis that they tithed and neglected matters even more significant, matters of attitude. He said, “‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others'” (
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth these words:
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (
Paul, in his letter to Timothy, mentors us to not be “lovers of money” or people who are “greedy for money.” It is greed that keeps us from tithing.
The fact is, you can live a much higher quality of life on 90 percent than on 100 percent of your income.
Some of us try to live at 110 or 115 percent of our income. We have a Crown Ministry course here at the church that helps us understand how to live in the most creative way. There is nothing more painful and debilitating than the bondage to a consumer society that produces within us desires that become necessities, causing us to overextend ourselves into the bondage of irresponsible debt. The happiest people I know understand that everything they have comes from God. They put first things first with God, and everything else fits into place.
I started tithing as a nine-year-old and have continued to the present day. Most of Anne’s and my pledge to Building the Future and all of our support of other Christian causes is over and above our tithe. What a joy!
I dare you. If you are not already a tither, try it out for one year! Test God! Discover the joy of first things first in your life.
I received an e-mail this week from a young man who is a pastor. He grew up at St. Andrew’s. He writes: “I often tell the story about you and why I have been tithing since high school. I clearly remember you saying in a sermon how you tithe and give to other Christian organizations over and above the tithe. As a high school person who trusted your leadership and your walk with Christ, I said, ‘OK, me too.’ I’ve been tithing since that day. Your honesty and openness about tithing has been my model through life and ministry. Thanks.”
Lydia Sarandan sent me an e-mail and told me of a woman in our church who lost her mother, and she, herself, has lupus. Her deacon informed Lydia of her financial hardship, so Lydia put a deacon check in the mail. The woman called and said she had just given her last five dollars to St. Andrew’s and then opened the mail and found our gift to her to help her through. She was stunned. Lydia writes, “This stuff makes my day!”
The fact is, together we can do what we couldn’t possibly do separately.
Also, all the money is here to do whatever God dreams of doing if we all are faithful.
Look at this remodeled sanctuary. It is paid for in cash. We have done it together. It is the widow’s mite all the way through those who have been blessed with substantial financial resources. Look at the rest of the facilities. Together we were able to build in the early eighties and burn the mortgage in the early nineties. Look at the local and world mission budget that in these last 26 years has grown from $500,000 to $7,000,000. We trust God for this and it comes from people who are tithers, who realize that together we can do what we couldn’t possibly do separately. Again, I challenge you. If you are a tither, celebrate, enjoy what you and I share. If you are not, test God on for size. Take the pledge card. Bring it next week. Reorder your financial life to put God first. I dare you to! And I ask you to write me a letter a year from now and tell me what has happened in your life. You will be amazed!
Fifth, servant ministry involves moral integrity.
We have already seen that there is no place for greed, as much as that is a natural human instinct.
It also involves faithfulness in marriage, “persons who are faithful in all things” (
Remember, every disciple of Jesus Christ is to take their marriage vows seriously. This particular text says that those who are leaders in the church must have that integrity of faithfulness to their marriage partner. A casual attitude toward marriage is not God’s design. You don’t just fall in and out of love. These are commitments ’til death parts. For failure in this area, there needs to be repentance, forgiveness and the claiming of God’s help for the future to maintain fidelity in relationship.
There is a place for church discipline, whether it be for greed, quarrelsomeness, failure to uphold sound doctrine or marital unfaithfulness.
Some years ago, a woman came to me and said that her husband, then serving as an elder, was involved in an adulterous relationship. I was shocked. The man was a good friend of mine. I took him out to lunch and told him I had heard this rumor. If it was true, he needed to repent, break off the relationship and be restored with the Lord and with his wife. He assured me it was not true. I told him that, since I had startled him, I would not take his denial as his final answer. I asked him to think and pray about it for the next month and then we would have lunch again. If it was true and he was unwilling to repent, then I would ask for his letter of resignation as an elder, as he would no longer be qualified. A month later we met again for lunch. He handed me a letter. I opened and read it. He admitted his affair and said he was not prepared to break it off. It was his letter of resignation as an elder. My heart broke. That’s not the end of the story. Several months later, that man, my friend, dropped dead of a heart attack. There at the memorial service, at which I presided, were two women dressed in black – one his wife and one his mistress. What a tragic ending!
All followers of Jesus are to be held to a standard of moral integrity, but especially those of us who are in visible positions of leadership in the church. This is not a double standard. We are not to live at a higher standard, but we are to be the first to be disciplined so as not to discredit our witness for Jesus Christ. And when we are disciplined, it reminds others of us the seriousness of discipleship.
Sixth, servant ministry involves domestic integrity.
Family life is not easy. Servant leadership involves managing our own household, tending to our marriages and our relationships with our children. Our mentor, Paul, makes it very clear that we are to take seriously our family relationships. You will see more of this as we continue in this study.
Let me conclude.
If you read this passage, hear this sermon and feel fully qualified for leadership, I suggest you rethink things. Most likely, you are not qualified because you are lacking in humility. I am humbled every time I read this passage, see my own shortcomings and am reminded of God’s dreams for my life.
On the other hand, if you read this passage, hear this sermon and find God’s Holy Spirit urging you to a higher level of Christian discipleship, you are on the right track to servant leadership. And if the church taps you on the shoulder to be an elder or a deacon, or if you feel that warm nudging inside by the Holy Spirit to full time ministry of the Word and Sacrament, be ready to say “Yes!” whatever the cost.
The ultimate statement of servant leadership is the Person of Jesus Christ, of whom Paul writes:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. (
John A Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.