Quarrelsome, Argumentative, and Angry Church Leaders

“Which qualifications for leadership have you observed are the least-emphasized when church leaders are appointed to their offices?” This is a question I sometimes ask my students when I teach a class called Life & Letters of Paul. As my students read through the qualifications for overseers/elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, they almost always respond to my question by mentioning five of the qualifications. They think that the following are the least-emphasized in their churches: 1) hospitable, 2) able to teach (though my students normally misunderstand this qualification), 3) not a lover of money, 4) managing one’s household well, 5) well-thought-of by outsiders. And perhaps they are right.

But I almost never hear students include separation from quarrelsomeness, argumentativeness, and anger on their list of underemphasized character qualities for church leaders. This always catches me by surprise, since I have encountered in all ten churches with which I have been closely associated in my life the occasional church leader or aspiring church leader who has been prone to argue, quarrel, or inappropriately express anger.

Might it be that we Christians have been unduly influenced by cultural assumptions about what makes a good leader, and thus tend to tolerate attitudes and actions in church leaders that are sub-biblical? Is it possible that in our desire to be led by strong and capable leaders, we have learned to overlook virtues that are not only desirable in Christian leaders, but biblically required?

Many years ago, during a church leadership crisis with which I was involved, I spent time reading through the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) and drawing out verses that addressed quarrelsomeness, argumentativeness, and anger. The three “pastoral” letters I spent time in are of particular importance because they were originally addressed by the Apostle Paul to two younger pastors, Timothy and Titus, at least in part to offer advice about church leadership, including whom should be appointed to church offices—and on what basis.

I offer these verses to you, both because they helped guide me during a church-leadership crisis in my past, but also because I think they might function as a reminder to all of us that we should require church leaders to avoid unnecessary quarreling, arguing, and anger. (And to those of us who are church leaders, to remind ourselves!) Here are the verses that helped me during one leadership crisis many years ago. (Italics in these verses are mine.)

  • I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling (1 Timothy 2:8).
  • Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money (1 Timothy 3:2-3).
  • Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11b).
  • And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
  • For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered (Titus 1:7).
  • Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness (Titus 2:2).
  • Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:1-2).

Consequently, in our desire to appoint strong and capable leaders, let us remember to pair our desire for strength and competence with the softer virtues emphasized in these verses: gentleness, self-control, kindness, sober-mindedness, and love.

Is it acceptable for us to appoint someone to a church office who is characteristically quarrelsome, argumentative, and angry? The verses quoted above from the Pastoral Epistles would seem to suggest that such appointments are not acceptable.

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