Thursday, August 4, 2011

Respectable Volunteer Leaders

Recently as we continued on Wednesdays to work our way through the biblical letter 1 Timothy, one of the deacons at our church decided to be a little funny. He said that in the qualifications for deacons, they have a little bit of leeway with drinking wine. He was referring to the fact that in 1 Timothy 3.8-13, as contrasted with the section that immediately precedes it concerning overseers/pastors, it says that deacons should not be addicted to, or given over to, “much” wine, rather than outright prohibiting being a drunkard.

Of course, he is joking, and he knows that the Apostle’s main point is that the deacon, and any volunteer leader in the church, must live a life above reproach, as outlined in these sections. Last time we looked at proven character for leadership, but with specific regard to the pastors and elders that God has placed in leadership roles within their churches. In this section, Paul for a brief moment takes a gracious aim at volunteer ministry leaders.

In fact, the clear similarities between the section for pastors and the section for deacons are striking. It is immediately noticeable. The general approach is the same: they are to lead lives of godly character. These leaders described in 1 Timothy 3.8-13 must be respectable people of integrity.

Without superimposing a 20th or 21st century ministry model on Paul, I believe he is speaking with regard to all the volunteer ministry leaders of his day. A very interesting interpretational clarification is necessary regarding verse 11. Paul addresses the “women” by using the Greek general word for women. Many translations have chosen to interpret that Greek word in this context as wives, often without footnoting that the word is actually women. Several Bible commentators note this distinction as well.

It seems odd that Paul would be putting forward a brief set of qualifications for deacons’ wives since he did not do the same for the wives of pastors in the preceding verses. Also, the English possessive word Their (as in, “Their wives”) is not in the Greek manuscript, which further seems to indicate that he is not necessarily referring to deacons’ wives. Finally, the list of qualified widows (to receive support), which he talks about in chapter 5, includes a similar list of character qualities (see 1 Timothy 5.9-10). For these and other reasons, no one can be dogmatic about it referring to deacons’ wives, and therefore it seems best to translate the word as women, instead of interpreting it as wives. (Indeed, Paul does say in verse 12 that deacons should be one-woman men, but the fact that he again uses the word Deacons appears as though he has returned again to the group he addressed in verse 8, thus potentially addressing a different group in verse 11).

So what’s the point? Perhaps Paul realizes that he has already addressed specific male servant-leader roles, and wants to speak to those female servant-leaders in the church also, so that everyone in leadership—paid or volunteer, male or female—needs to understand the weighty responsibility of living a life that models integrity to the rest of the flock.

In any case, the overall admonition for these men and women is to live lives that are worthy of respect (vv. 8 and 11). Every other qualification falls under this general banner. Just as there are tests for pastors (see vv. 4-7), these volunteer leaders are to be tested first, and then they can serve as deacons and leaders. Finally, he refers to the lasting legacy that deacons and volunteer leaders acquire when they pursue godliness and serve with humility as His leaders in His church.

On every level, in every way, integrity matters.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]