This post was first published in January, 2015. —ed.
What qualifies a man for pastoral ministry? Based on the abundance of self-appointed and unaccountable leaders in modern evangelical churches, it seems many church-goers either don’t know or don’t care. The fellowships they attend may profess Scripture’s authority in their doctrinal statement, but their practice reveals that it’s nothing more than a token badge of orthodoxy. Churches truly submitted to the authority of God’s Word look for qualified leaders and hold them to biblical standards.
The apostle Paul could not have been clearer about what biblically qualifies a man for pastoral work or leadership in the church. In 1 Timothy 3:2–3, he writes:
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
While those qualifications seem pretty straightforward, many people in both the pulpit and the pew have overlooked or ignored them altogether. They have allowed their congregations to be overrun by pastors and elders who lack the proper training, the proper accountability, and—worst of all—the proper character to hold the position. And rather than follow Paul’s instructions, these ecclesiastical mavericks have fashioned their churches in their own rogue likenesses.
God’s people need the protection that comes from knowing what His Word says about what to look for in a pastor, and what to avoid. To that end, we’ve been examining the qualities and characteristics Paul uses to describe a godly shepherd.
Paul writes that the godly shepherd is temperate. The literal translation of the word nēphalios is “unmixed with wine.” But since Scripture condemns drunkenness, not drinking, it is likely Paul was using the word metaphorically, referring to the need for shepherds to be alert, vigilant, and clearheaded. In that case, it’s not merely a prohibition against drunkeness, but anything that would dull his senses, distract his attention, or inhibit ability to rightly discharge his duty.
John MacArthur explains Paul’s point this way:
Drinking is only one area in which excess can occur. Overeating has been called the preacher’s sin, and often that’s a just criticism. If a man cannot exercise self-control and discipline over something as basic as his physical appetites, he proves that he is irresponsible, immature, and unfit to lead. A leader who displays uncontrolled excess of any kind weakens his testimony and cripples his usefulness. Paul’s point is clear: Godly spiritual leaders must be moderate and balanced in every area of life.
In short, the godly shepherd is not given to excess.
A leader in the church must also be prudent. John MacArthur offers the following description of a prudent man:
The prudent man is well-disciplined, and knows how to correctly order his priorities. He is a person who is serious about spiritual things. That does not mean he is cold and humorless, but that he views the world through God’s eyes. The realities that the world is lost, disobedient to God, and bound for hell leave little room for frivolity in his ministry. Such a man has a sure and steady mind. He is not rash in judgment, but thoughtful, earnest, and cautious.
The prudent pastor follows Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:8:
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Consumer driven churches, however, place no value in prudent leadership. They believe that church growth is achieved by sideshows containing lame stunts and childish antics. They would rather exegete their own illustrations than the biblical text:
In stark contrast to the man in that video, the prudent shepherd is, in the words of John MacArthur, a man whose “mind is controlled by God’s truth, not the whims of the flesh.” His mind dwells on things that are praiseworthy and pure (Philippians 4:8). He understands the immense responsibility of influencing souls for eternity. And he therefore depends on the unshakable foundations of Scripture rather than the shifting sands of culture.
God’s requirements for leaders in His Church are exacting and extensive. Temperance and prudence make up two pieces in the far larger picture of what it means to be above reproach. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy profiled several other vital character qualities and standards for godly shepherds. We’ll look at what John MacArthur has to say about two more of them—respectability and hospitality—next time. And we’ll contrast that with modern examples of imposters who clearly fail to meet those requirements.
Used with permission from John MacArthur.