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Spiritual Leadership

Text: 1 Timothy 3:1-13

Dr. Alex Tang



Spiritual leadership is about character, more than skills. It is costly and needs to be supported by prayers.


Text: 1 Timothy 3:1-13

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.  In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.


1.                  Introduction

Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery is in my opinion the greatest military leader during World War II. The other guy is the American General George Patten. Montgomery, known to his men as Monty defeated Rommel in North Africa winning one of the first victories for the Allied Forces and was the mastermind behind D-Day. He definitely qualifies to be a leader of men and women. According to Montgomery, a leader should see

q       the big picture and not be bogged down by detail,

q       must not be petty,

q       must choose men well,

q       trust those under him and let them get on with their jobs without interference (no micromanagement),

q       have the power of clear decision,

q       inspire confidence and

q       interestingly have a proper sense of religious truth and acknowledge it to their troops.

The other great leader, General Paten is also a committed Christian.

The church in Ephesus had great leaders. Founded by Paul who administered there for three years. During that time, he trained a core of godly leaders to lead the church after he left. As he foresaw, false leaders arise after he left. After his first Roman imprisonment, Paul returned to Ephesus straight away and dealt with two false leaders (Hymenaeus and Alexander). Leaving Timothy to deal with the rest, he left for Macedonia. Still worried about the influence of false leaders, Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. False leaders can destroy a church. It may cause a church split, which in a way is good, because some of those who got away can seek God again. The danger of false leaders is to lead a church into complacency, which Jesus called lukewarm in Revelation. The members are contented because they think they are doing well while Satan is laughing at them behind the scene. Hence the importance Paul places great emphasis on good leaders with spiritual leadership.

Continuing his instructions on how the church should conduct itself, Paul turned to the crucial matter of leadership qualifications. He wanted to encourage respect for the congregation’s leaders, so he cited what was apparently a familiar maxim and commended it as a sound one. Two implications emerge:

(1)   It is valid to aspire to church leadership, and

(2)   church leadership is a noble task.

The term overseer (episkopos), sometimes translated “bishop,” is only one of several words used in the New Testament to describe church leaders.

“Elders” (presbyteroi) is by far the most common. Other terms such as “rulers” (proistamenoi, Rom. 12:8; 1 Thes. 5:12),

“leaders” (heµgoumenois, Heb. 13:17)

“pastors” (poimenas, Eph. 4:11; cf. also Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2)

 Though each of these terms may describe a different facet of leadership, they all seem to be used interchangeably in the New Testament to designate the same office. This office is different from that of deacons.

Deacons must also be men of quality, even though their function in the congregation is significantly different. The word translated “deacon” (diakonos) means literally a “humble servant.” The role of the deacons is to carry out, under the elders’ oversight, some of the more menial tasks of the church so that the elders can give their attention to more important things. (See Acts 6:1-6 for the prototype of what later became the “office” of deacon in the church.) The qualifications for the office of deacon are almost as stringent as for elder because of their public profile in the church and because the servant nature of their work requires strong qualities of maturity and piety.

So Paul's teaching about church leadership is that the elders deal more with the spiritual aspect of the church while include teaching and spiritual formation while the deacons deal more with the running of the church. Our church, a Presbyterian Church is formatted in a similar manner. We have the elders and the deacons and then the many other leaders of the various ministries, fellowships, CELLS etc. We have two types of elders. The teaching elders who are the pastors and the ruling elders. This is the Presbyterian or Reformed way.


2.                  Qualifications for Elders/Overseers and Deacons

2.1              Self-controlled (Elder) 1 Tim.3:2; Titus 1:8

(soµphrona, also used in Titus 1:8; 2:5)


2.2              Hospitable (Elder) 1 Tim.3:2; Titus 1:8

Philoxenos, which is, translated 'love of strangers'. Hospitality is important in that time. Travelers have to stay in inn, which is also the local tavern and brothel. Often they were robbed and murdered. So offering hospitality is also offering protection.


2.3              Able to teach (Elder) 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:3

Didaktikos (able to teach) appears in and in 2 Tim.2:24 in the New Testament. Speaks of a leader’s ability to handle the Scriptures. He must be able both to understand and to communicate the truth to others, as well as to refute those who mishandle it. Not all must necessarily do this publicly, of course; some may conduct this aspect of their ministries more informally in private settings. Yet all leaders must possess an aptitude for handling the Word with skill.


2.4              Not violent but gentle (Elder) 1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7

Mē plēktē (pugnacious) means ' not a giver of blows' or a 'striker'. A leader in church must not be one, which reacts to difficulty with physical violence. He must be able to react to situations calmly, coolly and gently.


2.5              Not quarrelsome (Elder) 1 Tim.3:3

amachos means 'peaceful' or 'reluctant to fight'. It refers to the character  of the elder. An elder with a quarrelsome personality will lead to chaos.


2.6              Not a lover of money (Elder) 1 Tim. 3:3

It is interesting that Paul list not a 'lover of money' as a qualification for elders because we know pastors are one of the poorest paid professionals in the country and elders work for free. And one cannot get much money from church. Poor as a church mouse. What Paul is getting at is that a lover of money (avarice) is also a lover of other things like power, pride, adoration and sex. These can be obtained from the church.


2.7              Not a recent convert (Elder) 1 Tim. 3:6

It takes time for a new convert to mature into Christlikeness. Spiritual formation takes time. One of the dangers of modern day churches is that they put someone into leadership position too fast. The moment someone shows commitment and promise, he or she is promoted immediately. I know of a church that promotes a lady to be a pastor in 3 years. Before that she teaches in a kindergarden!


2.8              Has a good reputation with outsiders (Elder) 1 Tim. 3:7

One of the greatest affirmations for a disciple is for someone, who is not a Christian to ask he or she whether he or she is a Christian because of the way, he or she, acts. If one acts like in angel in church and like a devil outside, there is something wrong somewhere. People are always watching us.

Below are some additional qualifications for an elder from Paul letters to Titus. Timothy and Titus is Paul 'true sons in the faith'. He left both behind to manage different churches.

2.9              Not overbearing (Elder) Titus 1:7

2.10          Not quick tempered (Elder) Titus 1:7

2.11          Loves what is good (Elder) Titus 1:8

2.12          Upright, holy (Elder) Titus 1:8

2.13          Disciplined (Elder) Titus 1:8


Now we come to the qualifications of both elder and deacons.

2.14          Above reproach (blameless) (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim. 3:2;3:9; Titus 1:6

He must be blameless in his behavior. This Greek word anepileµmpton, “above reproach,” is used in the New Testament only in this epistle (v. 2; 5:7; 6:14). It means to have nothing in one’s conduct on which someone could ground a charge or accusation.


2.15          Husband of one wife (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim.3:2;3:12; Titus 1:6

Literally, a “one-woman man.” This ambiguous but important phrase is subject to several interpretations. The question is how stringent a standard was Paul erecting for overseers?

(1)     Virtually all commentators agree that this phrase prohibits both polygamy and promiscuity, which are unthinkable for spiritual leaders in the church. Many Bible students say the words a "one-woman man" is saying that the affections of an elder must be centered exclusively on his wife.

(2)     Many others hold, however, that the phrase further prohibits any that have been divorced and remarried from becoming overseers. The reasoning behind this view is usually that divorce represents a failure in the home, so that even though a man may be forgiven for any sin involved, he remains permanently disqualified for leadership in the congregation (cf. vv. 4-5; 1 Cor. 9:24-27).

(3)     The most strict interpretation and the one common among the earliest commentators (second and third centuries) includes each of the above but extends the prohibition to any second marriage, even by widowers. According to this strict view Paul considered a widower’s second marriage, though by no means improper, to be evidence of a lack of the kind of self-control required of an overseer, in much the same way that a similar lack disqualified a widow from eligibility for the list of widows (5:9).


2.16          Temperate (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim.3:2; 3:8; Titus 1:7

neµphalion, “well-balanced”

2.17          Respectable (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim.3;2; 3:8

2.18          Not given to drunkenness (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim. 3:3; 3:8; Titus 1:7

They must be able to master their bodily desires. Resist too much wine.


2.19          Manages his own family well (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim. 3:4; 3:12

In my opinion, one of the most important qualifications of elder/deacon is that they must be able to manage their own family well. This means the husband and wife must be developing and maintaining a loving relationship, that the family is a Christian family and the children is saturated with Christian values and teachings. Often we hear of Christians who are in ministry that they are so busy that their family life suffered. The family breakup. They justify it by saying it is a sacrifice for the Lord. Looking at this basic qualification of  a Christian leader, I often wonder whether the Lord has asked them to sacrifice their family for Him! It does not make sense to me.  Paul adds 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)


2.20          Sees that his own children obey him (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim.3:4-5; 3:12; Titus 1:6

May refer, however, not to the children’s submission, but to the manner in which the father exercises his authority, that is, without due fuss or clamor. It also follows from managing his household well. If a father is so busy in ministry that he is neglecting his children, something is definitely wrong. They even have a name for them. MK (missionary's kids) and PK (pastor's kids) who have problems because their parents are too busy do ministry work that they have no time left over for them.

In my opinion, sometimes it is good to wait until the children grow up. It's not as if we are indispensable and the Lord cannot do without us.


2.21          Does not pursue dishonest gain (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim.3:8; Titus 1:7

2.22          Holds to the truth (Elder/Deacon) 1 Tim. 3:9; Titus 1:9

2.23          Sincere (Deacon) 1 Tim.3:8

2.24          Tested (Deacon) 1 Tim.3:10


3.                  Deaconess (3:11)

Similarly the gynaikas (“women” or wives) are to be worthy of respect, that is, dignified (the same word, semnas, is used of deacons in v. 8), not slanderers (diabolous, from diaballoµ “to slander”; from this verb comes the noun “devil,” the chief slanderer) of others, but temperate (neµphalious, “well-balanced;"), and trustworthy (lit. “faithful”) in everything. Who are these gynaikas Paul addressed? They were almost certainly not the women of the congregation generally. They were most likely either the wives of the deacons or a group of female deacons. A case can be made for either of these two options, with a slim advantage falling to the first. But being dogmatic about either view is unwarranted by the exegetical data.


4.                  Lessons for us

4.1              Spiritual leadership is about character, not skills.

If we look closely at the 24 qualifications of an elder/deacon, it is all about character and none about skills. To Paul, the character of the leader is more important than skills. Whether we like it or not, a ministry tends to reflect the characteristics of its leaders. If flawed leaders lead the ministry, it bears within it, the seeds of its own destruction.

The Greek word for character is dokimos, meaning  tested, approved, genuine, esteemed.  In Roman times, they love to decorate their homes and gardens with statues of men and women. The problem with these statutes is that the nose is easily broken. So the sculptor cheated by sticking the nose back. There is no superglue at that time. So after a while the noses drop off. Those who are honest are called dokimos, have character. Those without characters are called adokimos.


4.2              Spiritual leadership is costly.

Giving spiritual leadership is costly. It is costly to the leader and costly to his spouse and his family. It is costly in terms of

(1)   Time

It takes time to be an elder or deacon. Much of the work is done behind the scene so it not noticeable. Balancing a full time job, church work and family is not easy. As each of us is given 24 hours every day, it means that we give up some things.


(2)   Effort

Ministry work is also tiring, especially after a full day at the office or wherever the leader works. Yet, no matter how tired, the ministry work must go on because the church programs run whether you are tired or not. Meetings have to be organised and the Sunday services comes every week. No holidays.

Another problem is that it goes on year after year after year. There do no seem to be a sabbatical for elders and deacons. Once you are in the post, you either die, burn out or thrown out of the church. If you decide not to continue, everyone looks at you with suspicion. What sins have you committed?


(3)   Emotions

Spiritual leadership is also costly in terms of emotions. Church members are generally affirming. But things do go wrong. When things go wrong, it can get very ugly. When interpersonal conflicts arise, when expectations are not met or when disagreement occurs, it can be very emotionally draining. When such things occurs at work, we can handle it better. In church, it is more emotionally draining because we expect better of Christians.

It may sound frightening to be an elder or a deacon. That is why Paul ends this section with an encouragement. Those who fulfill their servant roles faithfully gain two things: an excellent standing before fellow Christians who understand and appreciate the beauty of humble, selfless, Christlike service; great assurance (parreµsian, “confidence, boldness”) in their faith in Christ Jesus. Humble service, which lacks all the rewards the world deems important, becomes a true test of one’s motives. Here one discovers for himself whether or not his efforts are truly prompted by a Christlike spirit of selfless service. When an elder or deacon has indeed “served well” his ministry builds confidence in the sincerity of his own faith in Christ and of his unhypocritical approach to God


(4)   Target

Christian leaders like elders and deacons are prime targets for Satan and his minions. Satan loves to see a Christian leader falls. If they cannot get the leader, they will target his spouse or his family. This is spiritual warfare.


4.3              Spiritual leadership needs prayer support of the congregation.

All spiritual leaders need the prayers of the church. As Peter Wagner, an expert in spiritual warfare puts it, the congregation needs to put up a 'prayer shield' around their leaders to protect them from the attacks of the evil ones.

I would suggest that we devote a day of the month to praying for a particular elder or deacon. Maybe for elder devote two days. First day of every month, pray for Pastor Nicholas Yeo, 2nd day of the month, Mrs. Yeo, pastor's wife etc. Remember them in your prayer lists.


5.                  Concluding Remarks

Paul, in writing to Timothy and Titus gave us 24 qualifications of an elder or deacon. These are the essence of spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership is character, not skills. Spiritual leadership is costly but the rewards are great. Spiritual leadership needs a 'prayer shield' from the congregation.


        Soli Deo Gloria


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