The Real Difference Between God's Expectations for Church Leaders and Government Leaders

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In our desire to elect qualified officials, Christians have differed on what qualifies a candidate to be elected to office. In Scripture, there is a clear difference between the job description of a civil servant and a church leader.

The qualifications for church leaders (deacons, overseers, elders) are stated in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Peter 5:1-3:

  • Above reproach.
  • Husband of one wife/faithful to his wife.
  • Temperate, self-controlled, not arrogant.
  • Respectable and hospitable.
  • Able to teach.
  • Lover of good.
  • Upright, holy and disciplined.
  • Not given to drunkenness.
  • Not violent but gentle.
  • Not quarrelsome.
  • Not a lover of money.
  • Manages household well.
  • Not a recent convert.
  • Good reputation with outsiders.
  • Not indulging in much wine.
  • Not pursuing dishonest gain.
  • Must keep hold of deep truths with a clear conscience.
  • Spouses must be worthy of respect and not malicious talkers.
  • Able to give instruction in sound doctrine.
  • Able to rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine.

It is evident that those whom the Lord calls to lead the church are held to a high standard. They, and their families, must demonstrate godly character and a life of integrity that upholds biblical values. Their role is to bring the lost into the kingdom (Mat 18:16-20), disciple believers into holiness and godliness (1 Tim. 4:6-11), and to mature the bride of Christ (Eph. 4:12-16). In all the descriptors, it is clear that God expects high moral character and purity of heart in those who lead His church.

However, the Bible refers to civil servants differently. Rather than a list of qualifications, the Lord details how He will use governmental leaders to accomplish His purposes. In Romans 13:1-6 and 1 Peter 2:13-14, the role of governing authorities within human institutions describes a different kind of leader. They are:

  • God's servant for the good of the people
  • A terror to bad conduct, bearing the sword
  • Avengers who carry out God's wrath on the wrongdoer
  • Ministers of God, attending to taxation of the people
  • Sent by God to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good

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These descriptions of how God will use civil leaders include no indications of personal morality or godliness being necessary. They are used by God, and in that sense are authorized by Him, yet their personal conduct and behavior are not mentioned. Their primary roles are to keep the people safe from harm, punish those who break the law and reward those who do good. The authority granted to them is so strong that it should even bring "terror" (fear of the Lord) to those who break the laws of the land.

In Exodus 18:21-22, judges were appointed to govern the people. Their list of qualifications called for men who feared God, were trustworthy and hated bribes. Again, their personal morality was not a factor as much as their track record of being truthful, honest and God-fearing. King Cyrus (Isa. 45) and the pharaoh (Gen. 41) were both heathen rulers who recognized God at work and empowered the people of God to flourish and succeed. In both testaments, God's purposes for governing rulers was to discern rightly, judge fairly and follow the laws of the land so that all would thrive.

What does this mean in today's political process? As believers, we can certainly pray that all our elected officials would fear the Lord and love God. At the same time, there will be those who do not follow Christ, yet have made the personal choice to honor those who do. Where their persona or public image seems less favorable to believers, we can look to the primary qualifications in Scripture to determine their ability to govern well. Unlike church leaders who must model Christ to the flock, civil government leaders are called to rule over those who are not yet saved and have no godly standard. This is what creates a society where believers can be free to exercise their faith and share the Gospel without hindrance.

Believers live from another kingdom and another government (Isa. 9:7-9). Yet, we live as stewards on the earth who can influence and impact the governing institutions for good. Let's not disqualify those whom the Lord chooses simply because they may not pass the litmus test for church leaders. Their roles are different as are their job descriptions. Even as we pray for our governing officials to have a life-changing encounter with Christ, let us also pray that they would meet the qualifications for governing well.

Prayer Points:

  • Pray that all elected officials and those running for office would have a life-changing encounter with Christ (Prov. 2:1-8).
  • Pray for our civil government authorities to rule with impartiality, fairness and integrity while honoring people of faith and biblical values (Ps. 2:10-11).
  • Pray for our church leaders to embrace their call with the fear of the Lord, demonstrating godly character and strong leadership for the sake of the kingdom (Ps. 78:72).

Wanda Alger is a field correspondent with Intercessors for America. She ministers with her husband in Winchester, Virginia. Follow her blog at wandaalger.me.

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