The number of people successfully masquerading as pastors astounds me. How do these imposters manage to carve out lengthy and prosperous careers, often in spite of obvious character flaws and an utter lack of biblical fidelity? The short answer is that too many congregations prize personal preferences over biblical standards for shepherds.
Through the pen of the apostle Paul, the Lord has given us a comprehensive list of qualifications for pastors and elders. These biblical standards help God’s people know what to look for in a true shepherd. And just as important, they help us know what to avoid.
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. (1 Timothy 3:2-3)
So far in this series, we’ve examined what it means to be above reproach, as well as some of the specific qualifications Paul mentions above. Today we’ll consider two more.
Paul instructs that an overseer must be respectable. John MacArthur explains:
Kosmios (respectable) carries the idea of “orderly.” A man prudent in mind will have a respectable or orderly life. His well-disciplined mind leads to a well-disciplined life. In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, Homer Kent said, “The ministry is no place for the man whose life is a continual confusion of unaccomplished plans and unorganized activities.”. . . the word kosmos, from which kosmios derives, is the opposite of “chaos.” A spiritual leader must not have a chaotic, but an orderly lifestyle.
The orderliness, or lack of, in a pastor’s life has a direct influence on his ministry. If he cannot order his own life, how can he bring order to the church (1 Timothy 3:5)? Sadly, there are many leaders today who ignore Paul’s admonition for church services to be conducted “properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Corinthians 14:40). There are even charismatics at the far end of that spectrum who fervently believe that chaos is the conduit through which the Holy Spirit operates:
Random and chaotic ecclesiology brings no honor to God. Instead it sows confusion and distraction into the church, and weakens believers’ confidence in the veracity and authority of God’s Word. Chaos has no place in the church or in the orderly lifestyle the Lord requires of the shepherds of His sheep.
God also requires approachability and accessibility from those who would shepherd His flock. Paul tells Timothy that church leaders must also be hospitable. According to John MacArthur, “The word literally means ‘to love strangers.’ It is a frequently commanded Christian virtue (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9).” So the hospitality Paul is highlighting is not primarily about entertaining friends, but rather showing hospitality to strangers. Jesus said:
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12)
There was a time not too long ago when pastors primarily communicated with their people face-to-face, or at least personally over the phone. But with the advent of email, text messages, and social media, church leaders today can keep a layer of separation from their congregations. Some take an even more aggressive approach to their privacy:
If left unchecked, that kind of toxic attitude will permeate the entire church, sowing division where there ought to be unity. It’s a selfish arrogance that is the exact opposite of how believers are commanded to behave (Romans 12:10-13; 15:1; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:3-4). Division comes easily enough to most churches without encouragement from the pulpit—it must never be the fruit of the pastor’s example.
A true pastor is someone who personally cares for his sheep and strangers in need of his care. John MacArthur shares the following insights:
Persecution, poverty, orphans, widows, and traveling Christians made hospitality essential in New Testament times. They had no hotels or motels, and the inns were notoriously evil. Often they were brothels, or places where travelers were robbed or beaten. . . .
The door of the Christian home, as well as the heart of the Christian family, ought to be open to all who come in need. That is especially true of the overseer. Elders are not elevated to a place where they are unapproachable. They are to be available. A pastor’s life and home are to be open so that his true character is manifest to all who come there, friend or stranger.
Pastoral leadership is a high calling that must not be taken lightly. Unqualified shepherds are dangerous to your spiritual growth, and a destructive cancer to the Body of Christ. Even in areas as seemingly mundane as orderliness and hospitality, God has high standards for His shepherds.
People looking for a new church, or churches looking for a new pastor are often too narrowly focused on the skills the pastor has to offer. Scripture calls us to focus on personal character and conduct.
But there is one—and only one—skill pastors must have (1 Timothy 3:1–7). That one skill is an indispensable ability required by all who would shepherd God’s flock. We’ll look at it next time.