Stuart Briscoe says, “The qualifications of a pastor [are]; the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros.” This is a fine generalization for the demeanor and basic orientation of man of the cloth, but does it paint the full picture of what makes an elder of the church? While a pastor most certainly should be intelligent, kind, and resilient, these qualifications fall painfully short of the qualifications laid out in scripture. You may be asking me now, “Rob, where do we find the qualifications for pastors laid out in scripture and why would you take the time to write about it?” I’m glad you asked.
I will start by answering the question of why I would take the time to write about this subject. Firstly, because God has laid out instructions on how to determine who should be an overseer and who should not and all too often these sacred instructions are overlooked, taken as mere suggestions, or simply disregarded altogether. Another reason why I have chosen to write on this topic is because I have had to come to terms with these qualifications myself and make the hard decision to walk away from pulpit ministry. As the terms one’s life changes, one might find themselves qualified in one season of life, and unqualified the next and it’s not necessarily related to gross sin. As we go through these instructions found most famously in 1 Timothy chapter 3, verses 1 through 7, consider them and whether the overseer you are under meets them.
“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” These that are laid out in verse 2 are only 7 of the 14 qualifications listed in this passage so let’s go through them individually. In part one we will cover only the first two.
What does it mean to be “above reproach?” The dictionary defines it as being such that no criticism can be made. This would describe a person of exemplary character in whom the community can follow their example and they are free of scandal. It’s no secret that the gospel itself is a scandal and is an offense to the perishing, but the type of scandal that would make one reproachable is not being too truthful but rather the kind of scandal that lurks in the shadows. How many of today’s pulpits are occupied by scandalous men and women in whom ordination boards and communities have made excuses for them because they thought they were charismatic personalities or well-connected enough to draw a following but never thought about how their past marriages, shaky business dealings, or various other hints that their integrity may be lacking might affect the future of the church? In an age when some churches are becoming as ostentatious as Hollywood, some washboard abs, a winning smile, and some designer clothes can take you far and might just get some people to look past your lousy character.
When men no longer defend women and children but instead send women to defend men and children, something is terribly out of balance. Why might God limit the role of the church overseer to that of a patriarch? Did He not begin humanity with the creation of a man and then from that man create woman? Then did He not raise up the nation of Israel through the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The core unit of all societies is the family which begins with a husband and wife, with the husband as the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23); and then Christ is the head of the church and we are instructed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to appoint men who are above reproach and the husband of one wife as overseers of the church under Christ.
Show me a woman who is also a husband and you will have a whole new set of issues on your hands. Another point of controversy for this qualification is that many churches won’t hire a pastor unless he is married. I admit that I took my first job as a pastor when I was a single man but as I reflect on those years, I don’t know that I had the maturity needed to lead even a group of teens until after I had been married for at least a couple of years. I had not yet learned what it meant to truly consider another person. I hadn’t struggled and worked to provide for someone who depended on me. In many ways while I was trying to instruct those teenagers, I was still a lot like them. Marriage is a means of sanctification and a wonderful gift from the Lord for His people; if I should ever find myself on a pastoral selection committee in the future, I will strongly advocate that we choose a married man and pray that God sends us one.
It also told men in the ancient world that they could not be overseers of the church and be polygamous. The church overseer was to exemplify the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church in only being wed to one woman.
The final point of controversy for this qualification is that the married man of God should only be married one time. There is room for debate about whether the first marriage happened before or after conversion, if it ended because of death or divorce and what the terms of the divorce were (see the qualification about being above reproach), however, one thing that can be discerned clearly is that the married man of God is to have a healthy, godly marriage that is sacred and should be safeguarded from outside threats that would seek to destroy it. Should the man of God’s marriage end because of infidelity, particularly of his own, it should go without saying that he is disqualified from the office of overseer, should repent before the Lord, seek to restore his tattered marriage if possible and make the reparation of his family the utmost priority. If his church believes they are helping him by shielding him from the chastening of God which may for a time spurn rebellion but make a beloved child see the error of his ways and repent to his Father, they don’t understand that God chastens the one’s whom He loves. (Hebrews 12:6) Are you sitting under a female pastor who should be silent in the service (1 Corinthians 14:34)? Are you sitting under a single pastor who is continuing to put off the sanctifying institution of marriage? Are you sitting under a pastor who has had affairs in the past, perhaps as a pastor and should have been removed already? It might be time to find a new church.
To continue discerning if your pastor is qualified to be an overseer of the church, or if you are qualified to continue pursuing a call into the pastorate, continue to Part two.
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