“If there is one who is irreproachable, a husband of one wife, whose children have faith, not open to the accusation of reckless living or undisciplined behavior, for it is required that the overseer is irreproachable as God’s steward, not intractable, not short-tempered, not violent, not greedy, but hospitable, a lover of good, prudent, upright, pious, disciplined, being devoted to the faithful Word as taught, that he might be able to exhort people in doctrine that is sound and reprove those who deny it.”
Sadly, prudence is a word that is not much used anymore in society. What was meant to be a virtue in most societies somehow has been burdened with negative connotations and a “prude” is a person who looks down on anything “fun” that people in society might embrace. Yet, in English, to be prudent means that one acts with restraint and does not run blindly into situations that might prove harmful to oneself or to others.
In Greek, the word σώφρων (sophron) refers to one who is thoughtful or self-controlled. It refers to one who takes action, but who does so responsibly and in consideration of the ramifications of said action. It is the term that Aristotle uses when he speaks of the person who avoids extremes in life and who lives with a degree of moral sobriety. It is related to the verb, σωφρονέω (sophroneo), which means to be of a sound mind, sane, reasonable, and able to “keep one’s head on their shoulders” when times get tough. Peter uses this verb when he speaks of our prayer life, reminding us that we are to be prudent or sober-minded in our prayers (1 Peter 4:7)…why? Because the prudent man knows to trust God in times of adversity even when he cannot see God’s hand at work. And indeed, we need such men in the leadership of the church.
There is a balance with the prudent. They do not rush headlong into change for the sake of change (as the youthful are want to do) nor does the prudent remain stuck in an endless repetition of things for the sake of tradition. Change will happen and it must, so long that it is the right kind of change. The purpose of the church is fixed by scripture, but how we live out that purpose will vary in its expression from generation to generation.
The challenge comes in helping the generation behind us to find their place in the life of the church. People often panic when they see the “twenty-somethings” in our families and community leaving the church or pursuing more entertainment driven models of worship (even though many of them are idolatrous). And yes, that should grieve us when we see that taking place. Yet, the answer is not to start changing everything to pander to this generation desires. Like every generation before them, at this stage of life, they usually think they know what they most need, but are often very mistaken. The right answer is to mentor them into adult life in the context of the church. That doesn’t mean that nothing will change (believe me, it will, as you entrust this generation with responsibility), but it does mean that the change will not be fickle or rash…it will be prudent in nature. Thus, Paul instructs Timothy (as he instructs us), find men that are prudent as you seek to find men to lead the church.