“Let’s not be hasty.”
I was early in my college years when these words were spoken by my senior pastor to another elder about me. Having only been with the congregation six months and being so young in ministry (and life!), he hesitated to ordain me.
When explaining it to me, it was our passage today he taught: 1 Timothy 5:22.
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.
1 Timothy 5:22, New International Version
Although I’m covering this verse by itself, it’s tightly connected to where the seasoned Apostle Paul has been in his instructions to young Timothy on the handling of Elders in the congregations. And the simplicity of these instructions hides their significance.
On the surface, it’s easy enough: don’t be too hasty to appoint people to offices for the congregation.
But let’s dig a little bit. Why would saying this be necessary? Why would a congregation (or Timothy, for that matter) be overly eager to appoint someone?
To answer that question, let me tell you a story I witnessed with my own eyes in a congregation I was connected with. A man was short-tempered, rude, and indicated if you were not involved with ministries like his, there was something wrong with your Christianity.
He was ordained.
He got full of himself and left to go start—what would become—another church. The church he started was a disaster.
So, let’s ask again: why would it be necessary for the Apostle Paul to write this?
Because of experiences like mine. I’ve witnessed congregations (and I bet you have too if you’ve been in church life for a while) put people in leadership positions because they simply run out of reasons to tell them “no”. I wish I were exaggerating.
Yet, the Apostle Paul wasn’t done in his warning: when we are too hasty with putting people in leadership positions in congregations, we’re sharing in their sins (second part of verse 22). We gave them the platform to cause harm. Now we’re liable for their actions.
Let that sink in.
Church leaders are to keep themselves pure (last part of verse 22). The calling we bear is massive. So is the responsibility. Those in church leadership know it and above all people, we should be slow about putting people in high levels of church leadership.
This certainly isn’t to say we don’t give people a chance, but we certainly don’t put people we don’t know or would be unqualified in positions where they could wreck a congregation.
While praying and supporting our leaders in our congregations, we must also uphold the standard of leadership in the Lord’s church. The calling of God is given by God, confirmed by the elders, and witnessed in sight of the congregation themselves.
Indeed, it should take some time and honest evaluation to see if someone is truly able to lead other disciples of Jesus in the Way of the Master. It’s a matter of qualification, not actually one of time, but it will take time to discern those qualifications.
I was (and remain) impressed by my senior pastor all those years ago who slowed the process down in order for the congregation to assess my spiritual giftedness and abilities to lead the Lord’s church. It was a high service he performed to the congregation, the elders, and me.
Let’s courageously take our time before putting people in high levels of church leadership.
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Interested in more like this? Consider Joel’s 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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