I have some lawyer friends who hate lawyer jokes. If I tell one, they really give me grief. Most of you know that I love blonde jokes and I find that the best ones are sent to me by blondes. And I like preacher jokes – my only problem is that I’ve heard most of them. So when someone tells me one I have to politely chuckle even though I’ve usually heard it before. Yet, though I joke about lawyers, some of my best friends are lawyers and I have great respect for them. Though I tell blonde jokes, some of the most intelligent people I’ve met are blonde. In the same way, the position or office of Pastor is a serious one, or as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3, it’s a “noble” one. (3:1).
So when it comes to the church of Jesus Christ, Who’s Da Boss? Who's in charge of the church?" Most Christians would answer, "Well, the pastor is." Really? Is that what the Bible teaches? If the church belongs to God, we need to know from God’s Word, "Who is in charge of the church?" Turn to 1 Tim. 3:1-7 (p. 992). Here Paul enumerates for Timothy the qualifications of those who serve as overseers (pastors) and then later deacons in the local church. Paul moves quite naturally from his discussion of how to conduct oneself in church to the question of what qualities are required for church leadership. Please don’t let chapter divisions in the Bible confuse you. They don’t always introduce an entirely new subject. Our present chapter divisions were not in the original manuscripts but were only added about 700 years ago. Paul moves from the importance of doctrine (chapter 1) and the conduct in public worship (chapter 2), to the pastoral oversight and leadership in the local church.
We have folk from various church backgrounds. Many churches are governed by patterns stemming more from tradition and culture than from biblical principles. Because we have so many different ideas about church government, including the role and function of a pastor, we want to develop the idea that Christ exercises headship over His church through spiritually mature leaders who shepherd His flock. That’s the essence 1 Timothy 3. Essentially, Paul ignores the qualifications most contemporary churches think are vital. Many churches are eager to fill leadership positions with business executives, bankers, professionals…the upper crust of society who wield influence, but that’s not God’s standard for leadership.
Some of you are probably thinking: “I’m not a pastor, why do I need to hear this?” You need to know this because it’s part of God’s Word. If we’re going to faithfully obey the Word of God, we need to work through and understand what God’s Word talks about. That’s what we mean by expository preaching. It’s making the subject of the sermon based upon the subject of the passage before us. Sometimes a preacher opens up the Bible, reads a verse, closes his Bible, and then talks for half an hour…and he might as well never have opened his Bible in the first place, because what he says has absolutely nothing to do with the passage he read! In expository preaching, our goal is to share what the Bible says. So, we need to talk about it if the Bible talks about it. The New Testament makes it very clear that every church is to have pastors and deacons. They’re a vital part the life of a local church family.
Ephesians 4:11-12 makes it clear that Jesus gave leaders to the church and among those are pastors and teachers. When Jesus gives you a gift, you need it. He doesn’t give unnecessary gifts. If our Lord gave the gift of these leaders to the church, He knows that the church needs them. And if Jesus thinks His church needs these leaders, then we as the church needs to know why He thinks His Church needs officers. And in Ephesians 4:12-14, Paul explains why the local church needs these leaders. It’s to help the congregation go grow spiritually.
If you’re going to be part of a church that’s obeying God’s Word, it will not just have leaders, it will have the right kind of leaders. Most of us are very concerned who the President is, but we need to be even more concerned about who the spiritual leaders are in our church. The President only deals with temporal matters, church leaders deal with matters that are not only spiritual…they’re eternal. The bottom line is that this is important because God’s Words says it’s important. So if you’re taking notes…
1. Christ leads His church through spiritually mature leaders who shepherd His flock. The foundational principle of church government is that Jesus Christ is the Head of His church. Who’s in charge of the church? Jesus Christ is! It is His church; He bought it with His own blood. The local church does not belong to the pastor, or deacons, or even the congregation. It belongs to Jesus Christ who alone is the Head (Eph. 1:20-23). No one dare proclaim, "This is my church!" It doesn't belong to any of us. It belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Never in the New Testament are leaders of the local church referred to as "head" of the church. Nor is the church viewed as a democratic organization, where the members are free to vote their own minds on issues. The key question in church government is not, "What’s the will of its members?" but, "What’s God’s will? What’s the mind of Christ?"
The church is a living organism, with Jesus Christ as the living Head. It’s not to be organized like a corporation, with the pastor and deacons as a board of directors and the congregation as shareholders! To be sure, an organism is organized, yet it’s so much more: it’s living and responsive to the living Head. The church is a living organism in which every member is to be submissive and responsive to the Head and in mutual dependence and interaction with the other members so that the will of the Head may be carried out in a harmonious corporate manner.
The main function of church government is to allow Christ to lead His church through those leaders. If leaders and members live daily in submission to Christ as the living Head and seek to obey His Word, then when they come together to take care of business, they deny self and reverently seek what the Lord desires for His church. And to implement this principle, Scripture teaches God has ordained that His Church have pastors.
2. Christ exercises His headship through spiritually mature overseers. The pastor is not the boss. He’s certainly not his own boss, nor is he the church bellboy, jumping at the whim of the members. That’s powerfully illustrated from a wonderful incident from the pages of church history.
Hugh Latimer was a pastor in the Church of England and an early reformer during the English Reformation. He was also a powerful preacher, preaching justification by faith alone. He taught that once a person was regenerate, they would not indulge themselves in the pleasures of this world, but instead would be transformed. He spoke often about the concept of being sanctified in the presence of God.
On one occasion, Latimer was asked to preach at Hampton Court in front of King Henry VIII. Predictably, after Latimer preached, the King was very offended. Not so much that he preached directly against the King, but rather that he preached against sin, particularly those that King Henry indulged in. So Henry the VIII commanded Latimer to preach the following Sunday and to apologize for his previous sermon. So Latimer showed up the following Sunday at Hampton Court and this is how he began his sermon:
"Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king's most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease! But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God! Who is all present! And who beholdeth all thy ways! And who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully." And then Latimer proceeded to preach the same exact sermon he’d preached the week before, but with more intensity, more energy, and with more of a call to a holy life. Later, Latimer would be martyred and burned at the stake along with Thomas Bilney.
A pastor is a man under orders. Serving Jesus means living and seeking to please an audience of One. Sometimes it means suffering and persevering and even dying as a faithful soldier. We know then that…
a. It’s God’s plan for His church to have pastors. God intends for his church to have pastors. Though church history has oscillated between the equally unbiblical extremes of “clericalism” with clergy domineering over the laity and “anticlericalism” with laity rebelling against the clergy, the basic conviction has persisted that some kind of pastoral oversight is God's will for His people. Thus, on their first missionary expedition Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders…in each church” (Acts 14:23). This wasn’t some pragmatic organizational human arrangement, it was the ascended Christ Who gave some to His church “to be pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). We find that same divine-human policy in Paul's instructions to Timothy, as Timothy is given the traits which qualify leaders for the oversight of the churches of Ephesus (1 Tim. 3).
b. God has not specified the precise form which pastoral oversight should take. For example, while 1 Timothy 3 lists out the qualifications of “overseers” in vss. 1-7 and “deacons” in vss. 8-13, it throws little light on their exact duties. While it’s assumed a pastor will conduct weddings and funerals, oversee Communion, baptize new converts or make hospital calls – the New Testament never teaches that those things are part of his “job description.” And the responsibility of Deacons is even less clear.
3. Desiring to be a pastor is an excellent aspiration, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (vs. 1). Remember, Timothy was sent in as a spiritual commando to clean up this church. There were some problematic leaders. That alone made those in the church look contemptuously on church leaders and the office of a pastor or “overseer.” Apparently, that’s why Paul does a double emphasis that it is a “noble task” by adding “The saying is trustworthy.”
Individuals enter the ministry for a myriad of reasons, not all of them noble. Some are looking for an easy career; some are in it for the money, others for job security, prestige and respect. Some want a safe life and to be able to just work with Christians, and there are a host of other unacceptable motivations.
But in the early church conditions were very different. There was little money to be made, since the churches were poor and few Christians were rich. The ministry was not a position of prestige, since Christians, and especially preachers, were despised outcasts. The church was a frequent target of persecution; those in leadership literally put their lives on the line.
I remember Dad Cummins telling me that if someone thought about going into the ministry because they thought it would be a “soft life,” then they need to reach up and feel their head because that’s the only thing soft.”
According to a survey of pastors by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth: 80% believe the ministry negatively affects their family life. 33% say being a minister is an outright hazard to their family. 75% reported a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry. 50% feel unable to meet the needs of their job. 90% feel that no matter what their training, it’s inadequate to cope with the demands of the ministry. 70% says they have a lower self-image now than when they started. 40% report a serious conflict with someone in the church at least once a month. 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
Yet Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy.” That’s a unique phrase to the Pastoral Epistles, appearing five times introducing a basic truth that’s obvious. What’s obvious? Sensing a God-given passion for ministry is a good thing because being a church leader can be discouraging. There are squabbles, petty arguments, trying to make a budget squeeze into limitless demands, seeking wayward sheep, along with the continual pressure of preparing sermons and caring for the spiritual well-being of the church. Yet, regardless of its liabilities serving Christ’s church is a glorious endeavor.
So here’s the first requirement for leadership. A person must want the job! There should be a God-given desire that moves the heart to action. The application is clear: If you have to twist someone’s arm to get them to serve, you’ve probably got the wrong person. Reluctance and hesitation aren’t always a bad sign. Perhaps the person feels unworthy or perhaps they don’t understand what the job entails. Sometimes reluctance is good because the job of leadership is a critical task. We don’t want leaders who take the job lightly. On the other hand, settled unwillingness and opposition is a sign that you don’t have the right person for the job. Three implications to consider...
They must personally want the job. It’s not that their spouse wants them in the ministry or their parents. A colleague of mine had a lady in his church who wanted her husband to be an elder – the same man was known for his brutal temper and had a problem with smacking her around.
Churches should protect their leaders. If leadership is a noble task, then churches should uphold their leaders before the congregation. Being an elder is a great work, being a deacon is a great work, serving the Lord as a Sunday School teacher is a great work. The same is true for all volunteer positions in the church. Let’s uphold leadership, pray for leadership and protect their reputations, encouraging others to show respect and appreciation for the leaders God has given the church.
Young people should be taught that leadership is a worthy calling in the local church. Too often church members make disparaging comments about the pastor, staff, deacons or the Sunday School teachers…and then we wonder why our teens drop out of church when they reach adulthood. How much better to uphold godly leaders and challenge our young people to aspire to the same kind of leadership someday!
4. A pastor is to lead by shepherding God’s flock, the local church. In our New Testaments we find two primary terms used interchangeably to describe a pastor: elders and overseers. Elder refers to a man of maturity, not necessarily in years, but in spiritual discernment. Overseer focuses on the nature of the work. It refers to men who superintend, watch over, or guard the church. These terms point to men spiritually mature enough to discern spiritual danger, as well as to guard and guide the flock into spiritual growth.
A third word, (my personal preference) is pastor or shepherd. It’s used in a noun form only once for church leaders (Eph. 4:11), where Paul says that God has gifted some as pastors and teachers, the two concepts being tied together. The verb form is used of pastors in several places. In 1 Pet. 2:24, Jesus is called the Shepherd (Pastor) and Guardian (Overseer) of our souls. Thus, human pastors and overseers work under and are accountable to the Lord Jesus, the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4). The word pastor looks at the work from the analogy of a shepherd and his sheep.
A fourth word used for pastors is the Greek word, prohistemi which means "to stand before or first." It means to lead or have charge over. A fifth Greek word, hegeomai, means to lead or rule. We learn then that the role of pastor involves authority, yet it also requires servanthood.
The ministry is work. It’s intense spiritual, emotional and mental labor. Paul talking of his own work in the ministry told the Colossians, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28-29). The ministry is not a nine-to-five occupation that one can walk away from and forget at the end of the day. Shepherding is an agricultural term. That’s no accident. Pastors don’t sit behind some desk all day, writing sermons. Pastors are shepherds and shepherds should smell like sheep. It’s a 24/7 responsibility.
The thrust of these various terms for a pastor is that there is to be a designated body of leaders in the local church. It seems best that there be multiple leaders. A pastor is not a dictator or a lone ranger. The term for a pastor is often used in the plural with regard to a single local church. There’s wisdom in many counselors (Prov. 11:14) and there’s wisdom in sharing the responsibility and authority in the church, so that no single person will dominate without accountability. Pastors or elders must be spiritually mature men and subject to Jesus Christ as the Head of His church.
5. A pastor must be a man of excellent qualifications, vss. 2-7 “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” These characteristics are not exhaustive but represent a minimum for a pastor if he’s going to be a leader in the church and the example to a lost world that he should be. It’s very noteworthy that these qualifications are not what one would need to have to run for political office or be a CEO of a company. Only one really has anything to do with ability. Instead, these are godly character traits. The most important qualities that church leaders can demonstrate then are not intelligence, personality, vision, administrative skills, decisiveness, courage, charisma, humor, tact of any other similar natural ability. While those all play a part, the most desirable quality for a leader in the church is Christ-like character.
Character matters. It counts. Tragically, there are men in pulpits serving as pastors who shouldn’t be. Are they gifted? Yes, but they’re not biblically qualified. Please understand that we’re not minimizing the importance of knowing biblical truth, however, as Vance Havner used to say, "You can have a head full of knowledge and a heart full of sin." 1 Timothy 3 states that character is the major qualification for church leadership. Why? Because who a person is and how he conducts himself indicates how he manages his life and areas of responsibility. For the church there can be no compromise in the area of personal integrity. Paul spells out fifteen qualifications so that there are no doubts as to what spiritual maturity entails. Before we examine the qualifications in more detail, several things need to be said.
* Most of these qualities are prescribed elsewhere in the Bible for every Christian. They’re not just for pastors. We all must be seeking to grow in these areas.
* Spiritual maturity takes time, effort, and discipline (1 Tim. 4:7). There are no shortcuts. We live in a day when we’re used to instant everything. There’s no such thing as instant godliness. The crucial question is: Are you involved in the process? Remember, Paul has just written that women are not to hold positions of authority in the church; but he doesn’t want to leave the impression that just any man is qualified! A man is not qualified to be a spiritual leader in the church just because of his gender.
* No one is perfectly qualified to be a church leader. These qualities, for the most part, are not the kind of thing where you can say, “I’ve arrived!” There’s always going to be room for growth. If perfection was required, no one would qualify as a pastor, but at the same time, an elder should not be in glaring violation of any qualification. If he’s weak in any area, he should be aware of it and should be working on that area. As Paul says with regard to the ministry, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Then he adds, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant…” (2 Cor. 3:5, 6). So every pastor ought to have a sense of inadequacy in himself when he considers the office of overseer, but also a sense that God has called him to this excellent work (3:1). Because of time limitations, we’re just going to be able to touch on these.
a. Pastors are to be men of integrity. "Above reproach." Obviously, this doesn't mean sinless or no one would be qualified. It does refer to consistent mature Christian living which does not open up doors for public reproach. In other words, no legitimate accusation can stand against him. He does everything possible to right all wrongs and does not allow offenses to linger.
b. Pastors are to be men of moral purity. This phrase "husband of one wife" has been debated for centuries. Paul is not excluding bachelors or widowers, nor does the phrase speak of polygamy. Some think Paul is forbidding a man who’s been divorced, but there’s a Greek word for divorce so why didn't he just write it to say, “not divorced.” Personally, I believe that these interpretations miss the point entirely. Literally the phrase is, “a one-woman man.” It’s quite possible for a man to be married to only one woman yet not be a one-woman man. Is David Letterman the husband of one wife? Yes. But is he a one-woman man? No. Paul's restriction is not marital, it's moral. The overseer must not be a womanizer. Godly leaders are not flirts. They’re devoted to their wives and maintain sexual purity.
Winston Churchill once attended a banquet at which the attending dignitaries were asked the question, “If you could not be who you are, who would you like to be?” Naturally, everyone was curious as to what Churchill, seated next to his beloved wife, Clemmie, would say. When it finally came Churchill’s turn, the old man, who was the dinner’s last respondent to the question, rose and gave his answer. “If I could not be who I am, I would most like to be” — here he paused to take his wife’s hand — “Lady Churchill’s second husband.” Winston Churchill was a one-woman man.
c. Pastors are to be men of discipline. There are six terms used here: "Sober-minded" means fully rational. Leaders must have their heads on straight. "Self-controlled" is to control oneself in adverse circumstances. The leader is cool, calm and collected. "Not given to drunkenness." Scripture consistently condemns drunkenness. Intoxication can’t be biblically rationalized. Scripture does not teach that drinking alcohol is sinful but it does teach that drunkenness is sinful. The point here though is that leaders are to be men of discipline. This discipline is witnessed in an elder not being a hot-head, "not violent." He doesn't blow a gasket when others disagree with him. Godly leaders are not fist-fighters (a pagan way to settle disputes). Nor do they engage in verbal assaults, "not quarrelsome." Rather pastors are peacemakers, not troublemakers; they’re "gentle," kind, fair and reasonable.
d. Pastors are to be men of respect. "Respectable." The offense of our message is unavoidable but offense of the messenger is inexcusable. Leaders are upright men. Titus adds, "not overbearing." Pastors must never use their authority in abusive ways. They’re not to be guilty of manipulation, intimidation or coercion.
e. Pastors are to be men of hospitality. "Hospitable" means “loving the stranger.” They’re to use their homes as tools to advance the Kingdom. They’re to be friendly and approachable, not cold or aloof. They must be receptive to people. They’re to have an open heart and an open home.
f. Pastors are to be men who are gifted and knowledgeable. He must be "able to teach." Many of the qualifications listed overlap those of deacons, except this one. The elder's most important task is the ability to take God's Word and communicate it effectively, 5:17, "whose work is preaching and teaching." This doesn’t necessarily mean that he must stand in a pulpit. Teaching has various expressions, Bible studies, small group facilitators, etc.
"He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" Titus 1:9. Pastors must know and articulate divine truth. Ephesus had a problem with false teachers. There will always be wolves that attack the flock but faithful shepherds defend the sheep.
g. Pastors are to be men with proper values. "Not a lover of money." Vocational elders are to be supported financially by the church, yet they must not be mesmerized by money’s power. Materialism's god must be rejected.
h. Pastors are to be men who spiritually lead their families. “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” John Bunyan said a man can be a saint abroad but a devil at home. This can’t be allowed. Obviously, children of pastors won't be perfect. They’re sinners just like their dad and shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than other church children.
Our church has always been very kind to our three children. That’s why our children, though adults now, love this church. Sadly, this is not the case in many churches. The standard for a PK should be that if anyone else’s children were doing what the Pastor’s kids are doing, and if their behavior would not be an issue, it should not be an issue even if they are the Pastor’s kids. We must remember that children will be children so this isn't a reference to childishness. Titus adds to this, 1:6b, "a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient."
Obviously, we can’t answer all the questions regarding this here. Each church leader and congregation must wade through these difficult issues individually and prayerfully. We can make it easy for our children to do right and hard for them to do wrong, but in the end, they still have a will of their own and are responsible for the decisions they make.
For me the question is: Does the Pastor deal with family conflict biblically or does he enable wayward children by denial and passivity? Eli the priest was judged because he "failed to restrain" his sons when he knew they were living a life of sin. Regardless of where we draw the line, some men can be disqualified by their home-life.
i. Pastors are to be men of spiritual maturity. "Not a recent convert." Such promotion can be extremely dangerous, vs. 6b, "or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil." Time needs to be given to new converts to establish themselves and their reputations before entering a leadership role within the church. That’s why it’s dangerous when a celebrity comes to Christ, to thrust them and their new found faith into the limelight just because they’re famous. Tozer dubbed that “Wheaties Christianity.”
j. Pastors are to be men with a good testimony. “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap." The world may question our convictions but they must not question our character. Nothing has hurt the church more than leaders whose personal lives contradict the faith they profess and the precepts they teach.
What 1 Timothy 3 is teaching us is that the kind of person who is fit to lead God's church must be a man of character, "since an overseer is entrusted with God's work" (Tit 1:7). Too frequently, churches select leaders based on personality, education or past achievements. Churches would save themselves a lot of grief if they returned to biblical qualifications. Godly leaders are not produced by seminaries; nor do pulpit committees or ordination councils make men fit for eldership. Only the Holy Spirit can produce true godliness, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose" (Phil 2:13). Yet, spirituality does not come with passivity, "to this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" (Col 1:29). We must allow the Spirit to work, but we must sweat holy sweat.
Conclusion: No pastor ever feels that he’s all that he ought to be. Most are toughest on themselves. It’s not easy to serve as a pastor/elder, but it’s much easier if you’re seeking to live as a person of godly character.
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul points out that pastors are the special targets of the enemy. Twice (vss. 6, 7) Paul mentions the devil in connection with elders. It reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where two deer are talking. One deer has a target on his chest. The other one says, “Bummer of a birthmark, Ernie!”
Elders are marked men. If Satan can cause a church leader to stumble, he brings down many others. So please pray for me, pray for our leaders, pray for pastors you know who are seeking to serve God that we would daily be walking in reality before God, judging ourselves according to His Word.
Please understand that this daunting list is not meant to depress us, but to inspire us to grow and be better men and women of God! A noble work demands a noble person. If after listening today, you feel depressed, that’s okay…as long as you don’t stay depressed.
Recently, I read of a godly missionary, a veteran 75-year-old missionary, who assessed his own life in light of this list. His evaluation: “I’m above reproach, I’m the husband of one wife, I’m free from the love of the money, I don’t linger over wine…” Then, he paused for a long moment and said, “But I could use some work in the rest of the areas.” And I thought to myself, “If he would say that, what about me?”
As I survey this list, I see some areas of strength, some areas of growth, and some areas that need real work…and I’ve been a pastor for 25 years! Does that mean I should retire? No! Because the next pastor won’t be perfect either.
These qualifications are for every Christian. And it’s okay to say, “I can’t meet those qualifications now” but it’s better to say, “By the grace of God, that’s the kind of person I want to be.” What God wants is not perfection, but growth toward a goal! As Steve Brown says, “God is not as interested in how far I have come, as He is in the direction I am going.” Who’s Da Boss? Jesus Christ is. As a church family, a community of believers, let’s make sure that we are obeying His leadership and by His grace, let’s depend on Him more and more to grow in grace and godliness!