This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
— 1 Timothy 3:1

When Denise and I were young in the ministry, we had a young man on our staff who was gifted in music and communication. This man had previously worked in the field of business, where he had done well until he was accused of taking funds from the cash register. A question had been raised about his integrity, and he was released from his job. However, I ignored every report about his lack of integrity because I was so impressed with his gifts and abilities.

I was most impressed by this man’s ability to sing and write music, as well as his natural abilities to influence others. Soon I asked him to join our team. This turned out to be one of the most painful mistakes I had made in my life up to that time. Inviting this young man to come into our inner circle was like personally inviting Judas Iscariot to betray me! It didn’t take too long until I began to see what kind of person he really was. The truth was far different from what I had first thought.

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bookmark2This young man talked only about himself. He looked for opportunities to put me down when others were present. He constantly exaggerated his importance in the eyes of others. I tried to overlook these faults, attributing them to his youthfulness. I hoped he would grow out of them. But as time passed, he didn’t grow out of those troublesome traits; in fact, he became worse.

I met with the young man every morning and tried to teach him principles from God’s Word. But he was a classic know-it-all! He acted as though he already knew everything, and it didn’t take too long for me to realize that I had no real spiritual authority in his life. There was no foundation between us on which to build. Furthermore, he didn’t seem to want a relationship; he was simply looking for a way to promote himself.

In terms of gifts and talents, this young man was everything a pastor could desire to have in an upcoming leader. But after a period of time, I found myself praying for a peaceable solution to our problem. I asked God to remove him and thus deliver us from a very uncomfortable situation, and eventually God did just that. Our dreadful experience with this young man was an important lesson in my early ministry of what not to do — a lesson I have not forgotten and have sought to never repeat!

As I have worked with pastors throughout the years, I have heard similar stories countless times — stories of pastors who were unwise in the way they chose leaders and eventually had to pray for a way to get a wrong person out of an important position. Just as I did when I was young in the ministry, these pastors also selected leaders according to the gifts and talents they saw rather than on the basis of the principles Paul so clearly laid out in First Timothy 3:1-7.

When Timothy’s church was growing and he needed leaders to help him with his growing congregation, he asked Paul for advice about how to select leaders. Oddly enough, when the apostle Paul wrote Timothy back, he mentioned nothing about looking for people who were gifted or talented. Instead, Paul gave Timothy a list of what I call “character requirements” for those filling leadership positions in a local church. These “character requirements” were intended to be Timothy’s guidelines for choosing the members of his leadership team.

However, don’t think that these principles apply only to the church. When applied to the sphere of business, these principles will also safeguard any businessperson from making the critical mistake of choosing a wrong person for an important position.

Paul began this text on leadership selection by saying, “This is a true saying, If any man desire the office of a bishop.…” Before we go any further, I want us to stop and look at the word “bishop” in this verse, for it is a word that has taken on an incorrect religious connotation that brings confusion to readers of the New Testament.

The word “bishop” is the Greek word episkopos. It is a compound of the words epi and skopos. The word epi means over, and the word skopos means to look. The word skopos by itself means to watch, to look, to observe, or to survey. But when the word skopos has the prefix epi added to the front of it, it becomes the word episkopos, which presents the idea of a person who has oversight. In other words, because this person has been placed in charge of a particular job or responsibility, it is his duty to supervise, manage, and provide oversight of it.

In secular Greek society, this word episkopos was used to picture a ruler who was entrusted with the care of a city or country. The task of that political leader was to provide oversight of an entire geographical area. That means he assumed management of the region and all the citizens who lived there and was personally held responsible for everything that happened under his care.

But the word episkopos was also used in the world of construction to depict supervisors who had oversight of construction sites. As the supervisor at such a site, an episkopos was required to ensure that funds were spent properly, that expenditures didn’t exceed the budget, that people did their jobs correctly, and that the construction of a building was done according to code and in compliance with the desires of the architect. In other words, he was responsible for the entire project from beginning to end.

The word episkopos could be used to express the functions of:

  • an overseer
  • a manager
  • a director
  • a supervisor
  • a superintendent
  • an administrator

The reason it is so important to understand this is that when most people hear the word “bishop” (the Greek word episkopos), they think of a religious individual dressed in a long black gown, wearing a huge, heavy gold chain around his neck with a gold cross dangling at the end of it. This image is emphatically not what Paul had in mind when he used the word episkopos (“bishop”). Timothy didn’t need religious leaders clad in black clothing and decorated with religious emblems; he needed godly leaders who could help him lead the flock!

You see, Timothy was building a huge congregation in Ephesus. In a sense, you could say he was in the “spiritual construction business.” Because he was overseeing the massive, influential church of Ephesus, Timothy needed people he knew he could lean on to help him manage, direct, and supervise his growing congregation. He was looking for people who would take on the responsibility of entire areas of ministry, fulfilling their duties faithfully as they helped him supervise both people and projects within the church. These leaders had to be trustworthy individuals who would stick to the vision he gave them while making sure the people under their supervision properly performed their jobs and worked within the time frame and budget assigned to their project.

This is precisely what every pastor and business owner needs. As a church or business grows and expands, a pastor or business leader must have people he can rely on to do a good job and fulfill his desires. If he lacks such leaders, he will be limited in his ability to lead a large, growing organization. His arms only reach so far, and if he doesn’t have good helpers to stand at his side and assist him, he’ll never be able to oversee an organization that grows beyond his reach. He must have people who can help provide oversight, management, and supervision for the many tasks that must be performed within his church or business.

So I want to ask you today: Are you the kind of person that your pastor or employer can trust with bigger responsibilities? If he was looking for someone to step into a leadership position with greater responsibility, do you think he would think of you as a candidate for the job? What have you done to show yourself to be reliable? Why would your superior want to trust you to oversee a group of people, to manage a particular project, or to direct an entire department within the church or business?

It is just a fact that there are many gifted and talented people whom God will not use because they are not dependable. Gifts and talents are great, but they aren’t everything. Throughout history, God has bypassed many people who were mightily gifted because He knew they couldn’t be trusted with assignments given to them. Instead, He has chosen less gifted people He could count on to be faithful!

Are you a person God must bypass because you’ve been unfaithful, or does your record show that God can trust you to take on the responsibility of a leader?

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, I ask You to help me become faithful and dependable. I want to be the kind of person others can rely on. I ask You to forgive me for those times when I got so lazy and complacent that I didn’t follow through on commitments and, in the end, let other people down. I thank You for the gifts and talents You have placed in my life, but please help me bring my character to such a high level that You and others will know I can be trusted.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that God’s Word and God’s Spirit are turning me into a tower of strength! When people think of me, they think of reliability. I do what I’m asked to do, and I do it with excellence. People find me faithful and trustworthy, and they want me to be a part of their team. I am exactly the kind of person who helps bring success — and as a result, both God and man are excited to have me on their team!

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Questions to Answer

1. Can you think of a person who is so reliable that everyone relies on him or her when there is a job that needs to be done? What can you learn from the way that person works and lives?

2. Can you think of a person who has failed people so many times that now no one wants to work with him or her any longer?

3. What part of you is the strongest — your gifts and talents, or your character?