Ministry; we are all called to serve. We are all called to share the gospel. We are all called to help build the church. Each of us is a member of the body of Christ and is vital to the health of the whole. Your life matters. Your ministry matters. The church needs you. The world needs you. God has a plan for your life that is specific to you.
There are those among us who God is calling or has already called into a leadership position within the church. The Bible says that this is a noble and important work and it also lays out some specific qualifications for those who lead the church. In this message I want to take a look at these qualifications and share what the Bible has to say. Let’s take a look at the scripture:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
The church does not call believers into ministry, God does. The person who is called into ministry must answer the call of God and have their calling confirmed by the Word of God and the church. The church should not endorse a person into ministry merely because they have a desire to be in ministry or the education, vision, burden, vision or call. For believers who want to lead the church of God in a ministry office as a pastor, evangelist, prophet, teacher, apostle or missionary they need to be tested by other believers according to the Word of God (not church tradition). As believers we do not have the right to diminish the call of God upon someone’s life nor do we have the right to diminish the standards declared in scripture that a leader in the body of Christ should meet. These are standards and principles that God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has established in His Word. Just as John 3:16 stands as an absolute we should follow these principles to protect the name of the Lord, His Kingdom as well as the honor and credibility of leadership positions within the church.
What are the qualifications?
Morality and Spirituality
As you read through 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the standards that are listed for those in ministry are primarily moral and spiritual. The established and proven character of a person who is leading the church is far more important than their personality, their ability to preach or teach, the spiritual gifts they possess, their administrative acumen or their academic accomplishments. The bible teaches us the focus of the qualifications of those who lead the church should be upon godly behavior, demonstrable wisdom and a history of right choices.
The spiritual history of the person who wants to fill a ministry office needs to be proven.
They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. (1 Timothy 3:10)
Scripture teaches us that the person who desires to lead within the church should be a believer who steadfastly follows the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. The leader needs to be a role model of faithfulness, truth, honesty and chastity. Simply stated, their character should reflect the teaching of the Lord Jesus.
A Christian leader first and foremost should be a great Christian.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
A leader’s Christian life and faith should be able to be set before the church as an example of how a Christian should live. Pastors must truly manifest a high level of faithfulness, godliness, purity, loyalty and love towards the Lord Jesus and the gospel.
Believers in Christ should learn Christian ethics and Christ-likeness not only from studying the Bible but also from the examples that pastors and church leaders demonstrate. A pastor’s life is an illustration of the Christian faith for their congregation to follow. If we grow relaxed in requiring that those who lead us provide an example of true Christianity for the church to follow we are ignoring the mandate of scripture.
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Philippians 3:17)
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
A leader in the church is first a leader in their home. The scriptures teach that a person’s leadership in their home, marriage and family relationships are highly important.
An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (Titus 1:6)
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) (1 Timothy 3:4-5)
Leaders within the church are to be examples to the family of God, especially in their faithfulness to their spouse and children. 1 Timothy 3:2 declares that a leader must be, “the husband of one wife”. There is a lot of debate in the church concerning this verse and the subject of divorce. Let’s deal with this in a couple of different ways.
- At the time of this writing polygamy was common so we may definitely rule out having more than one wife in that sense.
- Moral faithfulness to your spouse is the most commonly applicable meaning to this verse.
The literal translation of the Greek (mias gunaikos) is “a one-woman man”. A Christian leader should be a faithful husband to his wife.
Some sects within the church teach that if a person has ever been divorced (pre or post salvation) that they are disqualified from leadership. Some teach as long as the divorce took place prior to being born again it is irrelevant because of grace. Some teach that as long as the divorce was not between two born again believers that it is irrelevant. I personally agree with the last statement.
The main point is that a person who desires to be in ministry should be a person is faithful in this all-important area. Persevering in moral faithfulness to your wife and family is a biblical requirement to be a leader and an example in the church.
People within the church who have committed serious sin or moral transgressions after becoming believers have biblically disqualified themselves from the office of pastor or any other significant leadership position within the church. All sin can be abundantly pardoned by the grace of God but believers who fail in this area lose their ability to serve as models of perseverance in faith, love and purity.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)
“Now the overseer is to be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2).
What happens if they fail?
1 Timothy 3:2,7 established a principle that any leader in the church who discards their loyalty to God, His Word and his faithfulness to his wife and family should be removed from leadership within the church.
What about grace?
Failure by leaders in the church does not mean that God or believers will not forgive them. God will forgive any sin listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-3 if the person is repentant for that sin. The leader who fails in this way can be forgiven and restored in their relationship to God and the church. However, the scripture teaches that there are some sins when committed by a believer that disqualify a person from leading in the church because of the disgrace and shame that are attached to the sin, even after forgiveness for the rest of a person’s life.
The church today tends to overlook the scriptural qualifications for leadership. If we as believers want to see New Testament Christianity demonstrated through our lives and through our churches we must not turn away from the righteous requirements for leaders that God has established in His Word.
Leaders are to maintain the highest standards of holiness, persevere in faithfulness to God, His Word and they are to lead a godly life. Leaders should be earnestly and faithfully prayed for by those whom they lead. They should be encouraged and supported in the work that they do.
If you are a leader I pray that your life would reflect the Lord Jesus in such a way that we could live after your example. As a believer I pray that you will only follow Christian leaders whose lives provide a biblical example of Christianity.
When the world looks at us may they see Jesus manifested in every area of our lives.