Character Matters for Pastors
Passage: 1 Timothy 3:2-3
Just a little over 10 years ago, I got my start as a youth pastor. We had quite a few teens and a pretty large volunteer staff of 15-20 adults. When I was first hired, I was immediately faced with the challenge of filling around 8 staff positions. I remember having a very clear idea of what I wanted in youth worker. I wanted dynamic teachers, and I wanted people who were young and hip and could connect well with the teens. I remember talking with the junior high director about some potential workers, and a young seminary couple came up. Since the man was in seminary, he could really help with the teaching load. However, I thought he and his wife might be lacking the cool factor. But we didn’t have a lot of other options, so we decided to ask them. As you probably guessed, they turned out to be some of the best youth workers I ever had because they were genuinely godly, they loved the teens, and they were committed to the ministry. After a few years of working with volunteers, what I valued in my youth staff began to change. I learned that all of the giftedness in the world couldn’t replace dependability. And I learned that being hip or cool wasn’t nearly as important to connecting with the teens as just loving them and being committed to making an impact in their lives. As I think of the really impactful youth workers I had, there was a lot of variety among them in their stage of life, giftedness, and personality. But there is very little variety in the fact that they were all godly, committed, humble servants who loved the teens and wanted to impact them for Christ.
Of course, I would have known all of this to begin with if I had looked closely at our text since it tells us pretty clearly what is required to be a good minister. They are clear that character matters far more than a flashy personality or flashy gifts. Last week, we studied v. 1 and the significance of the office of overseer, or pastor. Today, I would like to focus on vv. 2–3, and its 12 requirements for pastoral ministry. I want to emphasize again as I did last week that you are not off the hook today simply because you are not a pastor. Eleven of the 12 characteristics in vv. 2–3 are required of all Christians, not just pastors. And I’m sure you can find at least one trait in this list that you need to develop. I also believe that it is important that you have a good understanding of what is required in your pastors. I want you to expect from me what God expects and hold me to it even if it’s painful. It is very important to the health and unity of our church that we are all thinking the same thing about what a pastor should be.
With that in mind, let’s dive into this list. The first requirement is…
This requirement concerns a pastor’s reputation or testimony. The Greek term is a compound word that literally means, “above being caught.” It means that there must be nothing in his past or in his character that can legitimately be used to compromise his credibility. No one should be able to legitimately dismiss his leadership or his teaching based on the fact that his character doesn’t match what he preaches. Of course, Paul doesn’t mean that he is perfect because no one is. As well, I’ve added the qualifier “legitimately” a couple of times because an illegitimate complaint doesn’t disqualify a man. What ultimately matters is what the Bible says, and if he has a good testimony by God’s standards. Most scholars believe that this term functions as the head of this list. It was Paul’s primary concern because the false teachers had major character flaws, which were destroying the credibility of the pastoral office. Therefore, Paul begins his list by emphasizing the importance of a spotless testimony. A pastor must have a blameless testimony. The remaining qualities then tell us what this looks like. Of course, this raises the tricky question of at what point does a man cease to be blameless? Can a man be disqualified based on things he did before he was saved? I don’t believe so because Paul would have been disqualified. Otherwise, it’s hard to be too dogmatic about when someone is no longer considered blameless. I believe the line can vary depending on the church and what is important in that context. Regardless, the basic idea is clear. A pastor must have a testimony that is worthy of the office.
Similarly, every Christian should have a testimony worthy of Christ. You should strive to live such a life that no one could legitimately use your character to dismiss your ministry. But sadly many Christians who are very vocal about their faith have significant character flaws. They are in financial ruins, they are irresponsible, or their family is a wreck. And people dismiss them as hypocrites. Christian parents often have the same issue. Their kids know they are hypocrites. They have no credibility to disciple their family because of the inconsistencies of the lives. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Guard your testimony. Don’t ever let it ruin your credibility as a minister of Christ.
The Husband of One Wife
This is probably the most debated item in this list. Some believe Paul is saying that a pastor must be married? That can’t be what Paul means because he and Barnabas were not married, and in 1 Corinthians 7, he teaches that celibacy for the sake of gospel ministry is a gift from God. Others believe that Paul is forbidding polygamy. There’s no question this phrase disqualifies a polygamist from the pastoral office, but I’m confident that Paul means more than that. Polygamy was very rare in that day and wouldn’t have warranted mention in this list. As well, the same phrase is used in 5:9 of widows. Paul cannot be talking about a woman having multiple husbands because this was completely unheard of. It’s also possible that Paul is forbidding remarriage. But Paul clearly had no problem with widows remarrying. He actually encourages younger widows to do so (5:14). Therefore, the best way to understand this phrase is as describing faithfulness to one’s spouse. The emphasis in the Greek phrase is on one, and it can literally be read as “one woman man.” In other words, a pastor must be committed to his wife both in his actions and in his heart. He must love her, and have eyes for her alone. This was a needed emphasis in Paul’s day because while polygamy was uncommon, it was very common to have a mistress. As well, the false teachers were promoting some ungodly ideas about marriage. 4:3 indicates that they were forbidding marriage. They probably believed that celibacy makes you godlier. Paul disagreed. Marriage is a good thing, but whether a man is married or not, he must be morally pure and faithful to his wife or the celibate life God has given him.
Marital fidelity needs to be emphasized in day when it is valued very little. We live in a day where it is socially acceptable for married men to talk freely about their lusts for women other than their wives. Of course, pornography is everywhere and not just among men. We cannot be reminded too often that God’s design is perfect and far better than any temporary pleasure we can pursue. As well, we need to remember that lust is wicked. Jesus said it is heart infidelity. We must have a zero toleration policy when it comes to lust, and if you are married, you must work hard to cultivate a singular focus on your spouse.
The next three requirements are…
Temperate, Sober-Minded, and Good Behavior
The word translated temperate originally meant abstinence from alcohol, but since alcohol abuse comes up in v. 3, most believe Paul uses it here to speak of a clear mind and sound judgment. Sober-minded has a similar in meaning. Paul uses it a lot in the PE including in 2:9 regarding godly women. It describes a disciplined self-control. A pastor cannot be ruled by his emotions. He can’t be someone who is up one day and down in the dumps the next. He can’t be impulsive or prone to emotional outbursts. Rather, he must maintain a clear head at all times and practice discernment in the face of tremendous pressure. And then he must follow through by doing what is right on a consistent basis. He must live a disciplined life. This will lead naturally to the next requirement, good behavior. This term also came up in 2:9. It describes respectable, dignified living. Together, these three terms describe an orderly, consistent, and disciplined life. It’s the kind of life that breeds confidence because you know this person is discerning and predictable. He is a leader you can trust to make good decisions and to follow through with them. This doesn’t mean he has to be boring or can never have fun. But he must know how to be serious. I like what one commentator said. “A clown may attract a crowd, but he will not function as a true spiritual leader” (Kent).
This principle isn’t just true for pastors. Men, if you want to lead your wives well, then you need to be temperate, sober-minded and respectable. Parents, if you want to earn the trust of your children and really have their ear when you speak, you can’t be someone who flies off the handle and makes outlandish statements that your kids know you will not act on. It happens all of the time. Mom loses her temper and starts to wax eloquent, and the kids are thinking, “Here goes Mom again making all of her promises about how things are going to be different. But we know nothing is changing.” Husbands, fathers, and mothers, I can’t say this too strongly. Some of you will destroy your marriage and push your children away from Christ because you can’t control your temper or live a disciplined life. Grow up or get help! You can’t lead without self-control. And this principle applies to every other leadership context. If you want to earn people’s respect and make a real impact, then be someone who is clear-headed, disciplined, and consistent.
The next quality Paul mentions is…
The Greek word literally means “lover of strangers.” It means that a pastor must set an example of using his home to serve anyone in need, not just his close friends and family. Hospitality was very important in the early church because hotels were rare and those that did exist were often places of rank wickedness. And so when Christians came through town, it was important that Christians opened their homes to them. And since churches didn’t have buildings, homes were the center of church life. Of course, we don’t have quite the same issues in our day, but our homes still have incredible ministry potential. When you open your home to someone, it communicates a unique kind of love and opens great doors for ministry. Our family has greatly benefitted from the hospitality of so many of you, and we want to use our home to do the same. If we haven’t had you over yet, we are working on it. And so a pastor cannot be someone who is only available to the church when he is in the church building during his 40 hours a week of availability. No, he must live among the church and bring them into his home as much as possible.
Of course it’s not just pastors who can use their homes for ministry. First Peter 4:9 commands all Christians “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” God expects you to be hospitable. If you never have people into your home and you have a reasonable capability to do so, you are missing a great opportunity. Do you ever feel like you don’t know many people at church? Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough ministry opportunities? Practicing hospitality is one of the simplest ways you can get to know people and minister to them. Invite people over—in particular people you don’t know well and then get to know them and show them love. Play with their kids. Ask them how they came to know Christ or how you can pray for them. You don’t have to be an awesome cook. You don’t have to have a big home. Just love on people. Proverbs 15:17 states, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” Use your home to minister grace.
Able to Teach
This term simply describes someone who is able to effectively communicate truth. It’s not an exclusively Christian term; therefore, it just describes a gifted teacher. However, the PE clarify that a big part of a pastor’s teaching ministry is that he must be able to correct those who are in error (2 Tim 2:24–25; Titus 1:9). A pastor must know the Scriptures and understand orthodox theology and practice well enough that he can answer questions and objections regarding the faith. But it’s interesting that the 2 Timothy passage says that he must be ready to do so with humility. It should never just be about winning an argument, and a pastor should never be more dogmatic than the Bible about a particular issue. But at the same time, he has to know his stuff and be confident in what he believes. That’s why I believe there are very, very few men out there who are capable of pastoring without a seminary degree. Theology and sound biblical interpretations are just too important to be left to someone who hasn’t been through disciplined academic rigors.
I’m very thankful that this church gives me the time I need to be in the Word and prepare well to teach and preach because the preaching ministry is vital to the church’s health and consistent expositional ministry is essential to building our foundation of spiritual health.
Not Given to Wine
This is a compound Greek word that literally means “alongside wine.” It paints a vivid picture of an alcoholic who spends his days attached to a liquor bottle. Drunkenness and alcohol abuse come up several times in the PE, indicating that it must have been a problem in Ephesus. And here Paul says that a pastor is disqualified from the ministry if he is a drunkard. The NT repeatedly teaches that drunkenness is a sin for all Christians, not just pastors. Ephesians 5:18 says that a Christian cannot be controlled by God’s Spirit while being drunk. And so if you like to get drunk, understand that it is a sin against God. Unless there is a clear medical need, to use any drug or alcohol to the extent that it takes away from your mental alertness and the control of the Spirit. You need to repent of that, and you need to commit to the process of change.
Now, I must acknowledge that this passage does not forbid any and all use of alcohol. Later in the book Paul tells Timothy to use some wine for medicinal purposes (1 Tim 5:23). And so if you occasionally enjoy a glass of champagne, I can’t say that you are breaking a command. But the Bible does warn us about the great danger that alcohol poses. Proverbs 20:1 states, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” We could tell stories for hours of people who were deceived by alcohol and ended up destroying their lives, finances, careers, and families or that got into a vehicle and killed someone. I’ve seen alcohol do enough destruction that I don’t ever want any part of it, and I would urge you to have the same fear and to stay away.
Not Violent or Quarrelsome but Gentle
I’m leaving out “not greedy for money” because most scholars believe it was not part of the original text. Even if it was, the idea is repeated in the final qualification of v. 3. As well, I’ve lumped three qualifications together because the conjunction “but” is intended to create a contrast. That being said, a pastor must not be violent. The term extends beyond physical violence to include any kind of combative personality that loves to fight or that tries to bully people with his position, personality, intelligence, or physical strength. The pastorate is no place for a bully or for someone who picks fights. Instead, a pastor must be gentle and peaceable. He should be someone who maintains a cool head in a tense situation and is able to cool tensions rather than raising them. Of course the qualifier here is that he is a peacemaker when the source of tension does not warrant a fight. In 1:18, Paul told Timothy to start a war against the false teachers because truth was at stake. In those kinds of times, a pastor has to stand his ground, but most of the tension that comes up in churches is not over doctrine. It’s over minor things like budget items, differing standards, or carpet colors. A pastor has to maintain a cool head when tensions rise, and he has to bring people together around the things that really matter.
Of course, peacemaking is an important quality for all Christians. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” If tension and division follows you around, you have a problem. A Christian must carefully discern what battles are worth fighting and then he must pour water on the rest of them. Be a peacemaker in your home, at church, and at work.
Again, this is a compound word that literally means “not a lover of money.” 6:10 uses the same word and warns that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and v. 9 hints at the fact that the false teachers were known for this kind of greed. Sadly, prominent pastors have been known far too often for their greed, their elaborate homes and elaborate lifestyles. There is something inherently wrong with a man getting rich off the ministry, which is about pursuing eternity, not temporal gain. A pastor who is greedy discredits his message that we are pilgrims on earth living for heavenly rewards. This doesn’t mean that a pastor should be in poverty. Chapter 5 is going to say that a pastor who works hard at his job should be paid accordingly. But I think we all understand there is a difference between appropriate remuneration and excessive wealth. There is definitely a difference between a heart for temporal and eternal rewards.
And this is significant for all Christians, not just pastors. Christians must live with an eternal perspective, driven to lay up eternal treasures, not temporal ones. Are you a lover of money? Do you hoard what you have and obsess over things, or are you generous and live with the attitude of Christ that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)? Of course, you don’t have to have money to love money. Maybe you don’t have much, but you obsess over getting more and you are not content with what you have, even though Hebrews 13:5 commands you to be. As I said two weeks ago, all the money in the world cannot compare to the blessing of Christ’s constant presence and grace and so put off greed and covetousness and replace it with contentment in God’s abiding presence.
These verses are clear that character matters in pastors and really all Christians. I hope that you will pray for Pastor Kris and I that we would be the kind of men the church deserves and that God demands. I hope that you will hold us accountable to this standard. Don’t shy away from saying something if you have a concern. You shouldn’t demand anything less than God demands. That’s also true for your own life. You should demand of yourself what God commands you to be. Let’s all support each other in being a community of saints worthy of the calling we have received.