In what way is it OK to lower our standards in order to fill church leadership roles?
I suppose that should be an easy question to answer ("Don't!"). But it doesn't feel easy to me, because I can think of missionary situations.
Picture Paul going into Lystra or Derbe and doing evangelism for a week or two, or a day, and a few converts happen. And weeks later he comes back and strengthens the churches. So within months you've got elders. The Bible says, "Don't put a new convert into the eldership," but that's all there is!
So in church planting you have to adjust somewhat. How far? I would say to not go any farther than you have to. That's the kind of thing that comes to my mind.
Here's a second thing that comes to my mind, and I'll mention this just to back away from it. Women should not be elders, according to 1 Timothy 2:12. They should not teach or have authority over men, which is what elders do.
And in a missionary situation, an evangelist—and I think women should do evangelism—is leading people to Christ. Suppose she leads a bunch of men to Christ? Now I'm thinking of Marilyn Laszlo in Papua New Guinea, because I watched her do this on video.
She's by herself in this village, and she's leading people to Christ. And six village leaders come to Christ. Now what? They don't know anything. They don't even know that there is a Bible.
So she sits around with these six guys and she starts studying the Bible with them to draw them in. They're supposed to be the elders, and she's the only one who knows the Bible. So they get to 1 Timothy, and they read it, and they all look at each other and say to her, "You're not supposed to be doing that!" And she says, "I know! So start doing it!" And there's this big change.
Now is that legit? Well, it's not ideal, but I'm glad there's a church in that village, and I think a woman telling the story of Jesus is not teaching or exercising authority over men in an elder-like way. She's just telling the story, evangelizing, spreading the good news. But then she's confronted with, "Now, what do I do? I've got some converts." The ideal is that men then take over the leadership.
The acceptability of a church lowering its standards in order to fill leadership roles is this: "low" is partly relative, isn't it?
If you have a church that's made up mainly of long-term, seasoned, wise, mature, Bible-knowing Christians, your standards of who should lead in that group are going to be high, because in order to lead you have to be ahead of somebody.
In a church made up of newer believers or just simpler non-studying believers who don't know as much about their Bibles, what it will take to be ahead of others in that situation will not be as far ahead in Bible knowledge as in another kind of church. So for that to be called "lower" is, I think, fitting.
So, yes, there is an appropriate way to adjust our expectations.
Like when it says that an elder must be apt to teach, OK? He must be a good teacher. Well, how good? How skillful does he have to be in handling his Bible to take people from where they are to where they need to be?
In one kind of church he has to be really skillful, because these people know a lot. And in another church, if he has been a Christian for five years and knows where Romans and Psalms are, he might be ahead.
So, there is a good deal of relativity that comes into assessing the qualification of elders. We want them to be qualified with biblical qualifications, and that's a relative judgment in some of the cases.