Skimming the biblical qualifications for church elders, one may wonder where such paragons of virtue can be found. Here’s a key description from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 :
… If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must 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.
Another from Titus 1:5-9 :
… appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. 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.
Verses like these offer themselves easily to misinterpretation and misapplication. If current or prospective elders take these descriptions as a laundry list of to-do items, they set themselves up to become Pharisaical hypocrites, displaying outward “respectability” while harboring corrupt motives.
The qualifications for elders in a biblical church should be aspired to by every believer. They are signs, not of an inherent human righteousness, but an indwelt divine sanctification. If you try to be this guy who is above reproach through his own effort, you will fail. The quest for biblical elders does not seek great doers of holy deeds, but men whose lives exhibit the continuing work of God within them. These are sinners made saints not through their own merit, but through grace, the same as any believer.
Like any believer, an elder who tries to remain above reproach through his own effort will inevitably be revealed as a hypocrite. That’s not to say biblical elders do not sin. They do. But biblical elders lay their sin at the feet of God rather than claim a self-righteousness. They are “above reproach” due to the work of God in their lives, not due to their own effort.