What Are the Biblical Standards for Spiritual Leaders?

The Bible explicitly and implicitly delineates certain standards that must be met before one can assume leadership roles over the people of YHVH. Israelites should know what the Word of Elohim demands of leaders, and should expect leaders to meet those biblical standards. If they don’t, Israel should reject such individuals.

These standards must apply to leaders over and within congregations. Many individuals who are in ministry are not associated with a congregation, so it may be questioned whether these standards should apply to them as well. It seems self-evident that the same biblical standards that apply to leaders within a congregational context should also apply to itinerate minsters, while not connected to or holding leadership in a local congregation, yet they minister to local congregations, and therefore, are perceived to be leaders and elders within greater Israel by those they teach. Therefore, we take the approach that these ministry standards apply to all leaders within the spiritual body of Yeshua whether they are connected to a local body or not. The body of Yeshua is a interconnected, and all must be playing by the same rules, and be held to the same standards. 

We draw, furthermore, from the whole counsel of YHVH’s Word (i.e., Genesis to Revelation) guidelines for leadership qualifications. YHVH’s standards of righteousness for his leaders has not changed over the ages, for he has not changed. His character is inviolate and immutable, and what he requires of those whom he has appointed as servants over his people has not changed and is based on his character, which defines his standards of righteousness.

Prevalent Non-biblical Standards for Leadership

Within the Christian church and, as an offshoot of that, within the Messianic Israel, Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots movements, there are many non-biblical standards that, in the eyes of many people, qualifies a person for leadership roles within the body of Yeshua. These “qualification,” in fact, may or may not meet YHVH’s standards of leadership. Some of these “qualification” include:

  • Self-appointment resulting in the formation of a “successful” ministry. 
  • The use of ecclesiastical titles, the earning of academic degrees.  
  • Popularity among men. 
  • Oratory and public presentation skills.
  • Professional-looking packaging of persons, ministries, websites and materials to merchandized. 
  • The size of one’s following, mailing list, ministry, or all the material trappings associated with the ministry.
  • Length of time in the ministry.
  • Acceptance among peers and within the church.
  • Financial success.
  • The number of books published, the number electronic media one has been on. 

The Bible nowhere indicates that any of these criteria necessarily qualify one to be in a leadership role. In fact, the biblical record clearly shows that usually the more popular (among men) and successful (by  worldly standards) religious leaders were, in fact, more unpopular with YHVH. Yeshua, for example, when addressing the religious leaders of his day, emphatically stated that that which is highly esteemed (uplifted, eminent, exalted, influential or honorable) of men is an abomination (a foul thing, detestable or idolatrous) in the sight of Elohim (Luke 16:15). Why is this? Because YHVH looks at the heart of man, not on the outward appearance of things (1 Sam 16:7; Isa 29:13; Matt 15:8). YHVH sees the true content of a man’s character, which is often hidden under the false facade of appearance.

Biblical Standards of Leadership

What are some of the more obvious biblical standards that must be applied to all spiritual leaders in our day? Those leaders who reject any of these criteria we reject them as not meeting the biblical standards of leadership. The following is a list of criteria that one must meet in order to meet the qualifications of biblical leadership.  

He must be saved (must have been converted from the kingdom of darkness to that of light and be born from above of the Spirit of Elohim) and be in a vital one-on-one relationship with Yeshua, and have a public testimony and the spiritual fruits in his life to verify his right standing before YHVH Elohim in this regard.

He must have been called into the ministry by YHVH Elohim. This calling will be recognized by other spiritual leaders who know the individual and who can confirm the reality of the divine calling upon his life. This call will be substantiated by spiritual fruits resulting in the expansion of YHVH’s kingdom on this earth (Matt 7:15–20).

Leaders must adhere to several main tenets of the biblical faith, which are salvational issues. If one cannot, before his Creator, attest to these basics tenets of biblical faith, then we must reject him as being a YHVH-ordained leader. For one to teach against these tenets of biblical truth, we believe, makes one a false teacher and places one in jeopardy of either losing one’s salvation, or having never been the recipient of salvation in the first place. These tenets of our faith are: 

  • That the Scriptures (from Genesis to Revelation) is the inspired Word of Elohim.
  • That the Torah is for all redeemed Israelites (that includes all Jews and non-Jews) — past, present and future.
  • Yeshua is YHVH Elohim incarnate
  • Yeshua is the Son of YHVH Elohim the Father
  • Yeshua was born of a virgin, he lived
  • Yeshua died and was resurrected
  • Yeshua died on the cross for our sins
  • That we are saved by the grace of Elohim through faith in Yeshua, as evidenced by the fruits of Torah-obedience, and the fruit of the Spirit of Elohim. 

Leaders must meet all the qualifications of elders as outlined in 1 Timothy 3:2–7 and Titus 1:5–9. These include:

  • They must be married.
  • They must be a father.
  • They must be shepherding their family righteously and in righteousness.
  • They mustn’t be making their full or primary living/income from the ministry, nor should their wives be supporting them financially. (This follows the example of Moses, Joshua, the Levites and Paul.)
  • They must have an excellent reputation in the secular community.
  • They mustn’t be a novice in the Word of Elohim and in the Torah. They should have gone through at least five Torah cycles (following the example of the Levites who trained for five years) before becoming a teacher of others. If this is not possible, then they need to be being mentored and trained by someone meets the qualifications of eldership.

Leaders must have gone through a period of preparation and training for ministry. This is the biblical model, and it cannot be circumvented. Following the Torah’s criteria for Levitical apprenticeship, a leader-in-training must spend at least five years under the tutelage of another biblically Torah-obedeint leader (or leaders) and must be at least 30 years of age before becoming a leader (Num 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47; 8:24). After having passed this probationary period, leaders are still to remain accountable to other leaders, especially those how are older and have become like spiritual fathers and elder-counselors in Israel (over the age of 50).

Leaders must have a mature understanding of Torah, and be able to teach and expound it. It was the duty of the Levites to teach the Torah and the kings of Israel to know Torah and to rule Israel by it. Leaders are preparing to be kings and priests ruling and reigning with Yeshua in his millennial kingdom, so they must have thoroughly understand Torah now. 

Their lives and ministries must show evidence or fruit that they understand righteousness (are tzadiqah) like the sons of Zaddok (Ezek 44:7, 9), that they adhere to righteous standards in their homes, families, business dealings and in their ministries.

Leaders must know the difference between what the Bible defines as holy and profane and the clean and unclean (Ezek 22:6; 44:23), and be able to judge righteously in all matters (Ezek 44:23–24).

Leaders who manifest any spiritual similitude to Ahab, Jezebel, Korah, or Balaam are not of YHVH and we reject.

We reject leaders and ministries that teach any egregious false doctrines, who preach another gospel, another Messiah Yeshua, who cause divisions, factions, separation, offences contrary to biblical truth, who are greedy for material gain, who preach for filthy lucre, who are covetous of other ministries, and who are insubordinate to YHVH-ordained spiritual leadership (Rom 16:16; Tit 3:10; 2 Thess 3:6; 2 Tim 3:5; 1 Cor 5:5, 11).

We reject congregations or ministries where women are functionally in charge and male leadership or eldership oversight is outright or de facto non-existent. Woman have a vital place in ministry, and their gifts and role should not be diminished in any way. They simply need to follow biblical protocols that dictate that they work under the male eldership. The only exception to this would be the role of the prophetess providing she meets all the qualifications of a true Torah-obedient prophet of YHVH.

Unless one fits the biblical qualifications of a prophet, there is no place in YHVH’s biblical model for “one-man ministries.” All leaders, inside and outside the local congregation need to be accountable to several other leaders who  themselves meet the biblical qualifications for leadership in the redeemed Israelite community. In this way, the body of Yeshua is protected from false teachers, and young leaders are mentored and raised up, and learn from the wisdom and experience of older leaders. In this way, spiritual errors can be quickly corrected before they get out of hand and the sheep of YHVH are led astray spiritually.

Money grubbing pastor!

There are no examples in the Scriptures where YHVH’s servant-leaders ever asked for money or took offerings (for their personal benefit) from those they taught. Those who consider themselves to be “in the ministry” need to learn to walk by faith, not ask for money, and to let YHVH provide for all their needs. They need to do secular work to support themselves and their families. They must minister only as YHVH supports them financially through freewill  love offerings of his people that they themselves do not solicit. This is in line with The Didicahe—The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, which was written circa A.D. 100 making it probably the oldest and most reliable non-canonical writing from the post-apostolic era that we have. In chapter 14 of this work, it is written that any itinerate biblical teacher or prophet who ask for money for himself, is to be categorically rejected as a false teacher or prophet.

Divorce and remarriage is very rampant in our day including in the Messianic or Hebrew Roots Movement. Sadly, some Messianic teachers or leaders are probably living in adultery, since they have been previously divorced without biblical  grounds while they were a born-again believer. To allow such an individual to teach in the congregation is to bring sin into the camp. We must be very cautious about this. 

A ministry leaders must not be one of which it can be said that he is one who sows discord among brethren, which is an abomination to YHVH (Ps 6:16–19).

What About Existing Ministries?

What about leaders who already have ministries in place but who don’t fit all the biblical qualifications for leadership? Are they to be rejected?

There are almost always exceptions to the rules. The world is not an ideal place, and neither is the spiritual body of Yeshua! Furthermore, YHVH is sovereign and can do whatever he wants with whom he wants whenever he wants. The Bible is full of examples of individuals who seemed unfit to be used as vessels for YHVH, yet he nevertheless raised them up and commissioned them to do great things for him. A serious problem arises, however, when very few leaders fit the biblical qualifications, and most are an “exception to the rule!”

There can be no exception to the rules in certain key areas, however. Common sense and a basic understanding of the Scriptures dictates this. These areas include:

  • Leaders must adhere to the main tenets of the biblical faith, which are salvational issues (as noted above).
  • They cannot be teaching “another gospel,” be a false teacher or prophet as defined by the Scriptures.
  • They cannot have major character flaws such as being adulterer or fornicator.

If a ministry leader fits these basic qualifications, but, for example, he has not been properly mentored, is he to be rejected? Not necessarily. In this case, it seems that the instructions of Yeshua should come into play: judge the tree by its fruits. While warning his disciples against false prophets who would come in sheep’s clothing, he admonished them to evaluate the fruits of the person’s ministry to determine the leader’s validity (Matt 7:15–20).

What About New Leaders Just Being Raised Up?

The Hebrew roots or apostolic faith movements are very young, informal, disorganized, unstructured organizationally, and are very grassroots in nature. YHVH is raising up many new leaders who find themselves leading Bible study groups in their homes, which often eventually evolve into congregations. Many times those who have little or no ministry experience, no mentoring, no accountability, and very little biblical training suddenly find themselves thrust into leading congregations or starting ministries. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for the needs of people are being met. These new leaders are often boldly stepping into difficult areas to fulfill needs that no one else is meeting. Often, in their geographical area, there are no other congregations or qualified leaders. What is to be done with these individuals? How are they to be mentored? To whom are they to be accountable?

These are difficult questions to answer, and each situation is unique. This much can be said. New leaders that YHVH is raising up need to be encouraged to seek the loving oversight of older, experience and more mature elders in Israel (the spiritual body of Yeshua) who will mentor, train and raise them up, even if done so by long distance. This is better than nothing, and with the advent of modern instant communications, it is entirely possible. In-person mentoring is preferable, but sometimes logistically not possible. We can only do the best that we can do to meet the biblical standards, and we have to leave the rest in YHVH’s hands.

Other Considerations Regarding Qualifications for Leaders

  • Leaders cannot be hirelings as Yeshua defines it in John 10.
  • Leaders must fit the qualifications of being a true shepherd after YHVH’s heart as defined in Ezekiel 34.
  • Leaders must be those who seek first the kingdom of Elohim and his righteousness (and not material gain) in all areas of their lives (Matt 6:24,33).
  • Leaders must be teachers of the Word of Elohim, have faith and righteous conduct worth emulating by those they lead. This means they need to be spiritually mature in the Word, in their faith, and in holiness (Heb 13:7).
  • Leaders must be able to preach the word whenever called to do so, be able to rebuke, exhort and reprove in patience according to the Word of Elohim(1 Tim 3:2).
  • A leader’s ministry must be characterized reconciliation (1 Cor 5:18).
  • A leader must not be ashamed of the gospel (Rom 1:16), but preach the message of the cross consistently and without compromise (1 Cor 1:23). 

YHVH’s Condemnation of the Leaders

  • Leaders must be careful to avoid the characteristics for which YHVH condemned false leaders. 
  • Leaders who have a head-knowledge understanding of the Torah, but who don’t know Elohim intimately (Jer 2:8).
  • Leaders who rule by their own means, or on their own authority — who are self appointed (Jer 5:31).
  • Leaders who are profane (polluted by worldly values) and walk in wickedness (Jer 23:11).
  • Leaders who commit adultery, are liars, who strengthen the hands of evil doers (who don’t stand up for what is right, who don’t hold others biblically accountable, who allow those who don’t meet the qualifications of biblical leadership to hold positions of leadership, Jer 23:14).
  • Leaders who reject the knowledge of Torah, YHVH will reject (Hos 4:6).
  • Leaders who teach what the people wanted to hear — teach things which accommode the lusts of the people and fail to expose sin. (Hos 4:8–9; 1 Tim 4:3)
  • Leaders who are hirelings and preached for money (Mic 3:11).

Rule and Government in the Local Congregation

Even in public meetings (corporate, associations, governmental, etc.) rules of order are followed, and there’s always a chairman with a gavel. If such parliamentary procedures are respected among the heathen, how much more then should order be expected in the house of Elohim? YHVH is not the author of confusion within the congregation (1 Cor 14:33). He himself has established male eldership and authority or rulership in the congregation (Eph 4:11–14; 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Tim 5:17) that is to be obeyed (Heb 13:7, 17), and that has authority to rebuke (1 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:10–13, especially note verse 13), to discipline, and to even excommunicate members if necessary (Titus 3:10; 1 Cor 5:3–5). This is to done following strict rules of order, discipline and biblical protocols (Matt 18:15–21; Titus 3:10). As the Supreme Lawgiver, YHVH is the Author of law and order and government, leaders, pastors and elders. Paul instructed Titus to set things in order in the local congregations by appointing or ordaining elders (Tit 1:5). See that? Order, not confusion or rebellion! How? By establishing an authoritative structure of elders. YHVH is the author of this. That is why elders including older men are to be respected and not rebuked (1 Tim 5:1). Being an elder has very stringent requirements and it is not something to be taken lightly in YHVH order of things (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9).

On a sheep farm there fences around the sheep. The fences are there to protect the sheep. Without fences the sheep will run wild and become food for predators. Without fences, predators will easily enter the sheep pasture and harm or kill the sheep. Sheep farmers or shepherds work hard to take care of those fences, to care for their sheep, to clean their barns, to keep them fed and watered morning and evening. Without regular and adequate food and care, the sheep will be unhealthy and bleating in hunger. It is not only the responsibility of the shepherd to feed his sheep, but also to protect the sheep from predators. 

YHVH in the Bible refers to his congregational leaders shepherds. That’s what the Hebrew and Greek words for pastor literally mean. Members of a congregation need to learn to respect, appreciate and to stop fighting the spiritual shepherds YHVH has put in their lives to love them, to feed, protect and care for them—his sheep. 

The local congregation is a voluntary association comprised of those who of their own free will have chosen to associate with it. By becoming a part of a congregation, one cannot come into it expecting to force one’s will upon that congregation in attempts to change it to fit one’s own ideas. If one cannot accept the way a congregation operates, then one is free to leave it.

If and when the “sheep” of a local congregation cannot abide by the rules and standards that the biblical-based leadership has in place to protect its “sheep,” then that leadership has no choice but to follow the clear instructions of the apostle Paul (Rom 16:17; Titus 3:10) and Yeshua himself (Matt 18:15–20), and forbid those sheep from coming into the congregation, unless or until the offending “sheep” repent of their rebellion and choose to abide by the rules. If the “sheep” fails to do so, the leaders of the congregation must now deem that “sheep” as a wolf and protect the congregation from it as the Bible again and again instructs leaders to do.

 

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