The legendary lawman Wyatt Earp became a deacon of Union Church in Dodge, Kansas, in 1878. Do you think he would qualify as a leader or deacon in your church today?
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp TV series was originally broadcast on ABC from 1955-1961, played by rugged Hugh O’Brian. I watched the reruns of the TV series when I was a kid and the theme song sometimes still gets stuck in my head:
I’ll tell you a story, a real true life story
A tale of the Western frontier.
The West, it was lawless,
but one man was flawless
and this is the story you’ll hear.
Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp,
Brave courageous and bold.
Long live his fame and long live his glory
and long may his story be told.
Let’s test Earp posthumously by using 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Verse 10 says, “They must be tested first.”
THE CHARACTER TEST
“Deacons should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical” (v. 8)
Earp has also been portrayed in movies by Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, James Garner, Kurt Russell, and Kevin Costner. Was Earp a godly leader or just a Hollywood legend? Deacons must be the real deal, not a hypocrite (i.e. actor).
“…not drinking a lot of wine” (v. 8)
Earp, his brothers, and Doc Holliday owned and/or ran several saloons and brothels, which would be a deal breaker in most evangelical churches.
“…not greedy for money” (v. 8)
Make sure your deacons and leaders are not mishandling money inside or outside the church. Earp was arrested in Arkansas for stealing horses.
THE MATURITY TEST
“Holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (v. 9)
You cannot be a man of God unless you are consistently a man of the Word. A deacon is not required to be a teacher, but he must be biblically literate and be a soul winner, which leads to the next measure of maturity:
“…a great boldness in the faith” (v. 13)
There’s no evidence that Wyatt Earp was biblically literate or that he was a soul winner.
“Select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). What does that look like? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a).
There is clearly no evidence that Wyatt Earp was Spirit-filled or controlled.
THE FAITHFULNESS TEST
A good reputation is a byproduct of having already served well in the church. Deacons must be blameless (I Timothy 3:10), and acquire a good standing for themselves (v. 13).
The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1880 made Wyatt a western legend. However, that 30 second shootout led to other less admirable grudge killings. Don’t hesitate to look into the past of your deacon candidates before asking them to serve in this sacred assignment.
THE FAMILY TEST
The Bible never burdens its officers with expectations of a perfect home, although a deacon’s ministry clearly begins there.
“If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” (v. 5).
Wyatt’s wife Urilla died of typhus in their first year of marriage. He deserted his second wife, Mattie, in 1882 when he moved to Tombstone. Earp married a prostitute named Mattie Blaylock, who committed suicide after he left her. Josie (Sadie) was the common law wife he lived with until his death.
Qualified deacons are not potential leaders, they are proven leaders. You would be wise to use these four biblical tests to help you select your next deacons, elders, or any high level leaders of your church.
This article originally appeared in Deacon Magazine Spring, 2016.