Lesson for March 13, 2011: Leadership Qualities (1 Timothy 3)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for March 13) is written by Cheryl Frey, a freelance proofreader and editor from Rochester, New York.


Leadership Qualities (1 Timothy 3)

By Cheryl Frey

Because I make my living as a proofreader, I find it very hard to ever read a book for pleasure. But not wanting to miss out on all the wisdom to be found in good literature, I now check out books on tape or CD from the library. I especially love to listen to authors Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell, who specialize in teaching others how to be successful leaders.

What’s really strange about this, however, is that I have no natural ability as a leader. No matter how many books I read, I’ll never be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company—or even assistant manager at the local Taco Bell. Still, I get a vicarious thrill from reading about how others became leaders.

That’s why I find today’s text from 1 Timothy 3 especially fascinating. Instead of reading about man’s ideas about how to be a leader, we are given perfect advice on the subject from God himself as revealed through the apostle Paul. In this chapter, Paul advises his protégé Timothy on how to help the Ephesian church he serves to select excellent elders (overseers) and deacons (servants) to lead the congregation.

Wise Elders

Surprisingly, the first quality for elder that Paul mentions is the person must really want the job. Evidently, overseeing the church is such a heavy responsibility only those who have a heart to serve in this way are to be considered. No arm-twisting required.

Next Paul states what appears to be a checklist of qualifications for the job of elder that includes positive qualities they should display—respected citizen, faithful husband, kind father, gracious host, wise teacher, etc.—and negative characteristics they should avoid—drunkenness, violence, greediness, and pride. But more than a checklist, Paul is conveying the qualities that will be obvious in the life of a godly person. Those with real Christian maturity will lead more by the example of their lives than by any words they speak or power they wield.

Stephen Covey explains why this type of leadership works so well: “In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do. . . . There are people we trust absolutely because we know their character. Whether they’re eloquent or not, whether they have the human relations techniques or not, we trust them, and we work successfully with them.”

The best ones to help lead a congregation are those whose character makes it obvious they can be trusted to do what is best for those they shepherd.

Serving Deacons

A similar set of character traits for those who serve as deacons makes it obvious that they too are required to live up to high standards of conduct. Such qualities as being respectable, sincere, temperate, and honest will make them suitable to lead in specific areas of the church, such as church maintenance, hospital visitation, benevolence, or parking.

Sometimes people have the wrong idea of the job of deacon and will say things like, “Well, let’s make him a deacon to see what he can do.” But Paul warns against such thinking as he exhorts Timothy that deacons “must first be tested” to be sure “there is nothing against them” (v. 10) before they are given such an important job.

Godly Women

Much debate surrounds the identity of the “wives” (New International Version) or “women” (New American Standard Bible) referred to in verse 11. If these are wives of the deacons, it seems strange that instructions are given to the wives of the deacons but not to those of the elders. Other possibilities are that these instructions are directed to women helpers or deaconesses. Paul identifies one such person in Phoebe (Romans 16:1), whom he describes as “a servant of the church in Cenchrea.” In any case, all women—and especially those who serve in leadership roles—can benefit from the advice to be “worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.”

Followers of Jesus

What high standards Paul has set for those who lead the church of Jesus Christ! Why is it so important for elders and deacons, men and women, to live such exemplary lives? He answers that question in verse 15, as he reminds them that they are all part of “the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” and they are to conduct their lives accordingly. In this way the church will bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ.

If you are a person to whom God has given the gift of leadership, then use this passage to set high and holy goals for yourself as you seek to become worthy of the honor of leading and serving Christ’s church. But even if you are like me, one with no natural leadership abilities, you can pray for those chosen to lead, support them in all they do, and follow their example of learning to be like Jesus.


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.

March 7: 1 Peter 5:1-5
March 8: Isaiah 9:13-17
March 9: Titus 1:5-9
March 10: Hebrews 13:1-7
March 11: Hebrews 13:17-25
March 12: 1 Timothy 3:14-16
March 13: 1 Timothy 3:1-13

ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Cheryl Frey is owner of Premier Editorial Services, a proofreader, and editor living in Rochester, New York.

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  1. vernon
    March 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

    We must all be honest about our strengths and weakness to our self and although we may not be of leadership skills, it is a positive thing when we support those of leadership skills, yet we still can be supportive with what skills we are blessed with.

    The lesson breakdown touches so many areas in being a Christian and in our daily life. The author of this week’s lesson in reflecting to Paul and his under study show the importance of testing the qualification for leadership and preparing one that may show leadership skill. The author prepared a wonderful lesson, we cant all be leaders but we can strive to live the way the Lord would have us to live each day.

    May the Lord Bless all that read this lesson and that we all take some part of this lesson to enhance our lives.

  2. mrlandman
    March 11, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    In some way, all of us are “leaders” . . . it may be to lead our families . . . or our future generations . . . perhaps neighbors . . . or our workplace “congregation” . . . all the folks who would gather at your funeral if you died now . . . it is what we “are,” more than what we do or say . . . I pray I may be a good “leader” . . . whatever that may include . . .

  3. March 12, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Wonderful lesson for Sunday and for the whole month of March!! I really enjoy Sunday school and Bible study these are two of the most important things we need as believer’s. It helps in so many areas of your life. What better way than to attend Sunday school by the time morning service starts you are all set for worship and praise. The Word is Powerful!!!!!!

  4. Roena Callicutt-MacKey
    March 13, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Everything rises or falls with leadership, whether it be a family or a local church. The Holy Spirit imparts gifts to belivers for ministry in the local church, and among those gifts are “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11) bishops, deacons and deaconettes, and “helps” and “governments” (“administration,” 1Cor. 12:28). As we ‘ve learned, even though the church is an organism, it must be organized or it will die. With “Leadership” being a part of spiritual organization. By understanding and respecting position that contributes to the ministry of the church then and only then will we be able to render better leadership. In conclusion note 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (Pastors); 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (Deacons); and1 Timothy3:14-16 (Believers).

    The writer Cheryl Frey has done an excellent job in explaining what matters in order to have quality “Leadership” in our church home as well as our family home.

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