The word “novice” appears only once in the New Testament in 1 Timothy 3:6. In this passage, the apostle Paul is describing for Timothy the necessary qualifications of a man who would be appointed a “bishop” ? in other passages called “elder” (1 Timothy 5:19) or “overseer” (Acts 20:28) in the local church. Of the prospective bishop, Paul says the individual must be “not a novice.” The word translated “novice” in the New King James text is the Greek word neophutos, which literally means “newly planted.” It is this word from which the English term neophyte, is derived.
Why An Elder Should Not Be A Novice
Why would Paul specify that an elder not be a novice? The inspired apostle answers, “lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.” The spiritual oversight of others can be a demanding responsibility. A man given such responsibility must be spiritually mature enough so that he doesn’t acquire an inflated ego as a result of it. Where a less seasoned Christian might see the eldership as a means of self-advancement, the mature brother understands the gravity of the work, and realizes that the honor is due God and not himself.
Other Scriptural Reasons Why Elders Should Not Be Novices
Another reason for not appointing a novice to the eldership is the breadth of experience the work demands. As Paul told Titus, an elder must be found “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9 – NKJV). An elder must therefore have been in the faith long enough to not only develop a deep understanding of the Scriptures, but to have heard and overcome many of the arguments against its teachings. One who has not yet been challenged in his knowledge of God’s word will be ill-equipped to defend it.
In writing to both Timothy and Titus, Paul lists a number of individual characteristics an elder must possess such as blamelessness, temperance, hospitality, holiness, gentleness, self-control. Taken together, these qualities form a picture of a man of mature faith, as these attributes develop over time. While a newer Christian may already begin to evidence some of these, he cannot yet possess them in full measure until he has been “tried with fire” (1 Peter 1:7). James tells us, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4 – NKJV).
How long does it take for one to no longer be a novice? The answer is different for every man, just as the age of accountability is different for every child. People grow and mature spiritually at different rates. However, using the criteria the inspired apostle Paul provides, we can certainly recognize by his conduct a man who has achieved the level of growth that will enable him to be considered for the “good work” of shepherding the disciples of Jesus (1 Timothy 3:1). We should all strive toward such maturity, that we can be effective servants in whatever capacity the Lord would use us in His kingdom.