In the first week of September, I engaged in a weeklong intensive course titled “Church Planting in a Multi-Cultural Context” with Bishop Matthew Thomas from the Free Methodist Church. During this week, one theme that stuck with me was the importance of finding church-planting co-leaders with spotless character.
Pauline Qualifications for Bishops
It is a fact that out of the 14 qualifications for bishops in 1 Timothy 3, 13 of them have to do with character, while only one (be “an apt teacher”) deals with competence. Culturally, the west tends to favor competencies that are flashy and measurable by the number of bodies their talent puts in the pews (or fold-up chairs) on Sunday morning.
Photo by Tim Samoff
Yet, if Paul in 1 Timothy 3 heavily favors character over competence, then we must go about the task of reassessing what lenses we put on when choosing core leadership. I think we do this by assessing the strengths of the leaders in four categories, in order of importance, and character comes first.
The Case for Character
Character is the most important test of a leader’s overall ability to lead, not only because Paul leans that way, but because character shapes the quality and genuineness of one’s work in ministry.
Without true depth of character, without genuineness of one’s work with parishioners and those who are potential disciples of Christ a leader will likely turn to treating people as commodities; those inside being positioned to meet the personal goals of that leader and those outside simply becoming a number as they come into the ministry.
Genuineness can be faked, fooling many. Sooner or later, though, conflicting attitudes and interests will bring that person (and possibly the ministry) down in flames. As for the quality of work, people of shallow character will cut as many corners as they can to get a job done so as to look close to the desired results. But they are really just getting it out of the way in order to get to things they want to do. A person of shallow character will always miss the spirit in the work, which allows for opportunities of mercy and grace to the ends of releasing the power of God on and in others.
A person with great character will go heavy on acts of mercy and grace, and still have the wherewithal to complete the task they have been assigned. Competence can be taught; character cannot. When hiring co-leaders, therefore, be sure they are of great character, to ensure (as much as it is up to you) that your ministry prospers.
– Raoul Perez
 Class notes from Bishop Matthew Thomas’ class, “Church-Planting in a Multi-Cultural Context,” Sept. 7-9, 2010.
Interpretation and Teaching of Christian Scripture is a class that focused primarily on the theological interpretation of Scripture. The capstone of the class was an exegetical paper on an assigned passage from either First or Second Timothy. Under the tutelage of Dr. Rob Wall, I began a journey through 2 Timothy 2:20-26. The main obstacle of my text (as well as anyone else’s text for that matter) was to keep the interpretation within the boundary of what the text actually says. Too often, bad Theology flows from reading too much into a text or refusing to look at the context for and by which a text is produced.
In my particular text, Paul encourages Timothy through the use of a house analogy which states, ‘Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.’ It is interesting to note that Paul’s language of honorable objects mirrors Romans 9:21 which says, ‘Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?’ In Greek, this passage mimics 2 Timothy 2:20. Both passages use τιμή for ‘honor’ and ατιμία for ‘ordinary, common, or less honorable’. The context of each passage clearly indicate that ατιμία ought not be translated as ‘dishonorable’ which is the usual translation of antiquity because in Romans a potter would not desire to make a dishonorable object and in 2 Timothy, a great household would not wish to make use of a dishonorable object. Therefore, it makes sense to translate ατιμία as ‘ordinary, common or less honorable’ because it fits the context in which the word is used. Paul also likely has the Wisdom of Solomon in the back of his mind when he is composing the letter. The passage states, ‘For the potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yeas, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise also all such as serve to the contrary: but what is the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge.’ It is interesting to note that the Septuagint Greek for ‘clean uses’ and ‘contrary uses’ is different than the New Testament honor/dishonor words. Why would Paul decide to change the words for ‘clean’ and ‘contrary uses’ to ‘honorable’ and ‘ordinary uses’? The answer may possibly be in the meaning of Timothy’s name. In Greek, the name ‘Timothy’ means ‘God’s honor.’ It is entirely possible that Paul is using τιμή and ατιμία as word play with Timothy’s name. Since Timothy has been called to a special role in the succession of Pauline doctrine, Paul could be using this word play to say that Timothy ought to act in special ways which guard the honor of maintaining the gospel of Christ as presented by Paul.