In the business world, there's regular talk of building the right team and how to woo the right people in order to steer the ship when current commitments seem to be hindering production. With the right relationships and the right amount of money, business gurus tell us that it's possible to put together a team of leaders that is equivalent to the five starters for the Golden State Warriors and their entire bench! Sadly, the same logic is applied by many local churches. Though it may not be evident at first, the fall out of such an approach is detrimental to the life of the church. People will overlook a man's angry rants in the boardroom or vitriolic attacks on co-workers because of what he offers in a fortune 500 company (after all, isn't that what makes him successful?); however, God will not allow the church to thrive in a spiritually healthy way if its members overlook a lack of biblical qualifications because a man possesses some other seemingly valuable gift set.
The Bible gives exceptionally clear guidelines as to what qualifies a man to hold the office of elder or deacon in a local church. In his letters to both Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-13) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9), the Apostle Paul set out very clear character and leadership qualities that mark a man off as being fit to be set apart to fill the office of elder (pastor) or deacon.
Although the biblical qualifications are quite straightforward, there are two ways that many churches have abandoned what God has said about biblical order and leadership and have inserted worldly qualifications into the equation.
Show Me the Money
There is a pastor of a very large church that has a monthly meeting with the church's top 50 financial contributors. In those meetings, the pastor asks them to comment on the current trajectory of the church, solicits their opinions on future plans, and reminds them how important their continued financial commitment is to building their brand. Regardless of who the church has put into formal leadership, this group of men and women are ipso facto elders. Their qualification is that they have money and they have been faithful to give it. While generosity is always commendable, holding places of influence and privilege in the church on account of wealth cuts across the clear teaching of James 2.
Money buys access; and, access often provides far more influence than holding the office itself. We see this in politics in a fallen world. We assume that those with a financial platform will use it in the shrewdest way in order to meet their own wants and needs. The entire Political Action Committee (PAC) system is built on this premise. The church, however, must not be concerned with what people want. It has been tasked by God to identify the needs of God's people--spiritual needs that can't be remedied by worldly or financial means.
If You Like It, It's Yours
About ten years ago, I sat in on a church growth seminar. Everyone in attendance was enamored with the main presenter. In the course of his presentation, this man recounted a story about how he had wanted a certain man on his ministry team, but the man was serving at another church on the other side of the country. He continued conversations with the man, gathering information about his family and hobbies, and eventually boarded a plane for a visit. Learning that the man he was pursuing loved baseball, this church growth expert brought that man a ball signed by his favorite player, along with gifts for the wife and kids. "This," said the presenter, "was the thing that sealed the deal." The take away? You can purchase church leaders if you are willing to fly across the country and deliver a well-researched gift.
Most local churches aren't flying their pastor(s) around the country to build a dream-team; but, the principle is no less applicable in less extravagant contexts. Pastors often "sheep steal" from other local churches by telling the potential new member, "You know, we really need some deacons right now. Is that something you have any interest in..." or, "I really can't understand why your church hasn't made you an elder or deacon yet. We would love to have someone like you with us." Proverbs 17:8 says, "A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers." For some, buying church officers is as easy as offering the office to someone who has been deemed to be unqualified by another congregation. The subtlety of this approach can also occur after a man joins a local church. In order to keep him, his family and his financial commitments in the church, the current leadership places him in office. Such an approach appeals to the flesh by telling a biblically unqualified individual that he is important and capable. Stroked egos are easily purchased.
Bribery is a wicked and deceptive tactic. The Preacher tells us, "A bribe corrupts the heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:7). The pastors/elders who will essentially bribe men with an office in the church are the same men who will operate on worldly principles in other aspects of ministry. The church that approaches God's offices in a worldly fashion will functionally operate by asking, "How can we get what we want" rather than "How can we do what God wants?" Every church is working to build one of two kingdoms. The important question is, "Which kingdom are we building?" The way in which the local church identifies, calls, and installs officers goes a long way in answering this extremely important question.