This is probably one of the most difficult areas for any assembly. The basic qualifications are listed in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Actually, these are qualifications that almost any member should be able to meet. They are primarily the elements of a good testimony or example. As we have already mentioned, elders are an example to the flock before they are anything else. They need to be able to say with the apostle Paul, "Follow me as I follow Christ." If they cannot be our example, how can we hear the word of God through them?
The qualifications center around a good testimony, especially in the family. The church is the family of God, so if a brother does not have a good testimony in his own family, how can he labor in the family of God? If there are weaknesses in his natural family, he will likely carry those same weaknesses into the spiritual family. The natural family is the "proving ground," where a man is tested before he can serve in this capacity in the spiritual family. I do not believe the scripture teaches that a man must be married or have children, but the same mature character traits we would see worked out in a family should be seen in some way. The apostle Paul had no wife or family, yet he spoke of himself as a "nursing mother" and one who "exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one as a father his own children" (I Thessalonians 2:11).
The subject of children is probably the most difficult of all. The scripture says that a man must "have children in submission with all reverence." In Titus, it says that his children must be "faithful." Some translations say "believers," but I think a careful study will show this is a poor translation. A man cannot make his children believe. A father cannot fill his children with the Holy Spirit. Only God can do that. But I do believe if a father is leading his children properly, they will want to know the God that He knows. They will want to do his will and follow in his footsteps. This is the characteristic that we are looking for in his children.
Also notice that we are looking for how a man is managing his household. His household is those who are under his authority. When a son or daughter moves out of the house and is on their own, they are no longer in a man's household. The grace we are looking for is how a man manages those who are under his care. We would expect that when a member of his family moves out, they would reflect the training they received from their father. To move out in rebellion would raise a question in our minds that must be answered. We cannot make rules on these situations, but rather we must be confident that the Holy Spirit can give us the ability to render proper judgment. We are not looking for "perfection" but maturity, stability, and a proper relationship with God. We are looking for marks of spirituality, someone we can trust to lead us on in our relationship with God. We must not compromise the standards given in scripture but neither should we go beyond them to make it a place that no man can qualify for. God will lead us in this if we will be still and listen to Him.
A common question pertaining to qualifications seems to be about past failures. In other words, if a brother has had failures in his family in the past, does this disqualify him for life? This may not be an easy question to answer in every case, but I do believe it can be answered. What were the failures? If there were failures in the past, have they been corrected today? We are all growing, and a brother may have learned from the failures, corrected them, and have his present house in good order. Are the past failures such that they bring discredit on the person today? In other words, how would we or the community around us look upon the man? One of the purposes of meeting the qualifications is to make sure that an elder has a testimony that would not hinder others as he gives leadership. If we have to constantly overlook obvious weakness or failures, then the brother cannot exercise effective leadership.
When judging these things, we need to consider the insight and evaluation of spiritual brothers very carefully. Some may want to raise the standard too high while others may want to compromise. Coming to a common judgment of the whole assembly may not be easy but I believe we should be able to do so. The witness of weak or unspiritual members may have to be limited, but no member should just be "pushed aside." Each should receive careful consideration. Honest fellowship in the love of God should bring us to one mind and one judgment.