Next up on our study of 1 Timothy is the qualifications of overseers and deacons in chapter 3. Before anyone wants to look at this passage as a manual on church leadership, I think it is best to examine, once again, why the letter was written. I saw this from Gordon Fee on church leadership and the Pastoral Epistles (PE) and I think it serves as a good reminder to our study.
Church order is a crucial matter. For many people this is the chief reason for turning to these letters. The idea that the purpose of the PE is to offer “a handbook for church leaders” seems to miss their occasion rather widely and simply cannot account for a large amount of the material. These letters have quite another purpose: they reflect church structures in the fourth decade of the church as Paul is correcting some theological and behavioral abuses. But church structures as such are not his concern.
It is a mistaken notion to view Timothy and Titus as model pastors for a local church. The letters simply have no such intent. These two men carry full apostolic authority, but in both cases they are itinerants on special assignment, there as Paul’s apostolic delegates, not as permanent resident pastors.
Responsibility for leadership in the local churches was from the beginning in the hands of several people, who apparently had been appointed by the apostle and his co-workers (cf. Acts 14.23). In the earliest letters these people are styled hoi proistamenoi (“those over you” 1 Thes. 5.12; “the one who leads” Rom. 12.8), language still being used at the time of the PE (1 Tim. 3.5; 5.17).
Fee puts both overseers and deacons into the category of “elders”. What, then, were the duties of these leaders? At this point our information is limited, precisely because this was not Paul’s concern. Two things seem certain: that the elders called overseers were responsible for teaching (1 Tim. 3.3, 5.17; Titus 1.9), and that the elders together (overseers and deacons) were responsible for “managing” or “caring for” the local church (1 Tim. 3.4-5; 5.17), whatever that might have involved at that time in its history. Beyond that, everything is speculative.
(This has been adapted from his commentary 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus in the New International Biblical Commentary series).
Look for more on church leadership in Paul's letters to come.