The Church can get some weird ideas sometimes.
We don’t mean to. I honestly don’t believe we mean to get strange ideas and go to extremes. It just happens. Between sin itself and our desire to avoid it, we can jump to extremes and start pitching theological tents where there’s nothing to camp for.
“Aspiration” is one of those campgrounds. We tend to pitch our tents on the idea that any drive to succeed, stretching to accomplish goals, or desires to pursue excellence must be driven by pride, vanity, and sinful behaviors—certainly the last thing we’d want in church leaders.
Then in the Holy-Spirit-inspired leadership manual of the Apostle Paul to young Timothy, we find 1 Timothy 3:1.
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
1 Timothy 3:1
New International Version
Ephesus (where Timothy was the pastor) had its fair share of strong-willed, self-serving leaders (cf. 1 Timothy 1:19-20 and 2 Timothy 3:5-7). Yet for all the issues with leadership in the Ephesian church, their aspirations of church leaders were not condemned.
It’s okay to aspire to church leadership(!)?
Let’s look at it. The (Greek) word translated “aspire” means to “seek to accomplish a specific goal, aspire to, strive for, desire”. And Paul tells Timothy these words are “trustworthy”. Take it to the bank: this is how it is.
Consider the aspirations of the Apostles James and John from Mark 10:35-45. Jesus didn’t criticize their desire to be leaders or even the desire to be great. Instead, he reminds all of them that authority isn’t to be used to control others but to serve them. He corrected their motivation, but not their direction.
And to follow up with our thoughts over the past two weeks (here and here), “whoever” is a gender-neutral term and would in context at this point in the text include both women and men.
And Scripture tells us when the people of God stretch themselves to serve the church as leaders, the goal itself is noble. It’s a good thing to want to lead the Church. The Church needs these people. We need leaders.
I can’t speak for Paul in the first century, but in the 21st century world, we certainly need more leaders and we need to encourage people who express the desire to do such.
But this is where we get weird: we hear someone expressing a desire to lead and we can automatically assume it’s based on pride and vanity. Of course, it may very well be for some of the people saying it. We must be careful, however, to not attempt to quench what might be the Holy Spirit’s call in someone’s life merely because we have inherited this weird idea that “Church life” doesn’t have to be effective.
As we move through this passage, we’ll see it certainly doesn’t end with someone walking up and claiming aspirations of leadership. They are to be tested and we’ll get to that. But before we do, let’s ensure we’re not short-changing the mission of God by assuming drive equals pride in oneself.
I believe William Carey (missionary in the late 18th and early 19th century) excelled in encouraging the desire for this noble task of leading the Church when he said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God”.
If we’re pitching theological tents on issues, let’s make sure we set up camp in the right place. The Lord has given leaders to the Church to help us accomplish the goal of reaching people for Jesus. I can’t think of a more noble task than that.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 721.
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Interested in more like this? Consider his book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, Joel walks readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.
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