An Elder Must Not Be A New Convert
We have here, one of the most obvious qualifications for one who aspires to the work of elder. When people read this they immediately respond with phrases like, “A new Christian might not handle the authority well,” or, “He will not have had the experience that he needs in order to be a good leader.” Other comments might include, “If he is a new Christian, how will we even know if he is qualified in these other areas?” and “How will he have built the respectable reputation that he needs to be able to serve effectively?”
All of these are indeed correct when we talk of this warning in 1 Timothy 3:6. And we could spend a great deal of time and space dealing with the various problems that would likely arise as the result of a “new convert” being placed in the role of elder, but I would like to look at this specific warning that Paul gives, “not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.”
Many a Christian has dealt with the problem of his (or her) pride. After all, doesn't John say in 1 John 2:16-17, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (NAS)? Yes, sin is often the result of worldly pride. It seems that even the devil also was perhaps led into sin by his pride (“lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil”).
So the warning given to Timothy in regard to the eldership deals with the temptation of pride. A new Christian often holds on to his pride. A more mature Christian has often found reason not to be so proud.
As we live and grow in Christ, we often find that we give in to temptation and do not always do the things that our heavenly Father instructs us to do. As we are led to repentance in fervent prayer, we see that we are like Paul, who said, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom 7:18, NAS). A new Christian has much to learn in this area. This is very true concerning the trials and hardships that we face in our Christian lives. They teach us that it is the Lord upon whom we rely!
I can remember as a somewhat new Christian being given the opportunity to teach a Bible Study class. Now I was certainly knowledgeable enough to teach the class, but what was lacking was the understanding and wisdom that comes with maturity. I am sure that most of the students in the classes felt that I was doing a 'good enough' job, but in retrospect, I can see that although most (I say 'most' because we all find that we may have been in error at some time. I am included in that group.) of my teaching was quite scriptural, I often lacked understanding and compassion in answering biblical questions or expounding upon scriptural matters. What I mean is simply this, “My understanding of the scriptures is not equivalent with the scriptures themselves.” But I was sure that I was always right!
With time, experience, and maturity, I know most certainly that I was not always right then and I'm not always right now. In fact, others who I once thought were always right have shown that they are fallible as well. Maturity brings humility, and any good servant of the Lord is humble. An overseer must be humble. He must not be a new convert!
As previously mentioned, there are numerous problems with an overseer being a new convert, but Paul apparently thought that his pride would be the biggest problem; “lest he become conceited.”
I have met many a “church leader” who has become conceited. There are many elders and evangelists, and teachers that have become conceited because of pride. Many of these were not new converts when they were set apart for their work. Many of these were not so vain when they first began their ministries. Often, as a result of the nature of leadership, a man is placed in a position that might lead to pride if he has not produced the strength to overcome this temptation. A leader is called upon to make important decisions, give of himself, and his work will (and should) lead others to have respect for him.
Unfortunately, this often results in some seeing himself as some sort of 'clergy' of an 'exalted' Christian, while this is far from the truth. Christ Himself said that the greatest among us is one who serves (Mark 10:43). Perhaps Paul said it best concerning leadership when he said, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm” (2 Cor 1:24, NAS).
An elder must not be a new convet . . . . . lest he be overcome with pride.