No matter who we are or where we are serving, it seems that any good minister under Jesus Christ asks this question. There are those who expect too much of a minister or someone who has taken a leadership role in the church, and there are those who expect too less. I want to observe, now, what qualifications have been given to ministers, specifically in 1 Timothy for the sole purpose of examining myself. I hope that this brief look at these qualifications also helps those who are either in the ministry or aspire to be in the ministry.
“This saying is trustworthy: ‘If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.’ An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self- controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy — one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of Gods church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devils trap.”
Paul wrote to Timothy describing the qualifications for a minister of the Gospel, and indeed every believer should strive to meet these qualifications. Whether or not the term overseer refers to only the Pastoral role or to the entire church staff, we can know that these qualifications apply to all church leaders because of Paul’s distinct message to deacons in v. 8; telling them to do likewise before adding to the list.
“Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And they must also be tested first; if they prove blameless, then they can serve as deacons. Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self- controlled, faithful in everything. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, managing their children and their own households competently. For those who have served well as deacons acquire a good standing for themselves, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”
These qualifications seem not to reserve themselves for only the Pastors or the overseers of a church, but seem to apply to anyone who would have a leadership role in the church at all: from deacons to Sunday School teachers to small group leaders to youth workers to Pastoral staff to worship leaders and on to the pastor himself.
Noble work of the Gospel
Paul writes that if anyone desires to be an overseer, that he desires noble work. He seems to encourage those who feel they have been called to serve as leaders in the church by saying that work is a noble work! This statement almost seems to emphatically imply that more overseers are needed, and now even more so as darkness has enveloped the world to an even greater degree. Thus, no one who aspires to be a leader in God’s church should be discouraged. Because the work of an overseer is so noble and because good ministers are needed in all areas of the church, Paul continues with a list of qualifications that should be considered carefully. Thus, to those who desire to be leaders in the church, Paul is giving a list of attributes to strive for in everyday life: qualifications that God’s people should be striving for anyway.
Ministers of the Gospel need to lead lives that are beyond reproach. This, in itself, becomes more of a burden the more sin is accepted as a regular way of life in the culture surrounding us. Living beyond reproach means living in such a way that no accusation made against us can stand. Because no one is perfect, it means accepting God’s forgiveness. It means earning the trust of those around us. It means practicing what we preach, and it means constantly allowing the conviction of the Holy Spirit to change us. It means being honest about who we are and how we feel and think. Instead of pretending to be some perfect pious peacekeeper, it means we are genuine with others.
The most successful churches (the churches that do the most work for the Kingdom) I have been to have a group of men that keep the pastor accountable or have a church staff that meets for accountability reasons each week. They are churches where the same pastor who preaches that evangelism is important is the one who is out meeting people and sharing the Gospel every week outside the church walls. It is important for ministers to live beyond reproach.
Paul writes that leaders must be the husband of one wife. In instances where there is a woman in a leadership position I imagine that she must be the wife of one husband. In other words, leaders must not also be adulterers but instead must be a one-woman type of man or a one-man type of woman.
Leaders must also be self-controlled, sensible and respectable. These terms are terms that seem to obviously relate directly to one another. We must not act rashly. We must have our senses about us, acting in a practical and functional way. We must act in a manner that can be respected. If leaders in our churches are not this way, churches will not grow and the work of Christ will not be done in our communities.
Leaders must be hospitable, not only at home but with the church as well. It is important that we do everything we can to make others feel welcomed because they are. Christ died for all sin, not just those who are already in the church. This being said, we probably should not talk badly about those outside of the church. I was part of a dinner conversation some time ago in which one church member, speaking of someone who had been attending, said, “I just don’t understand why (he) continues coming. I don’t think he knows what church is about.” This is a bad example of hospitality. Needless to say, the young man this member was talking about no longer attends that church. We should not talk badly about those inside the church. We should certainly not play favorites as we lead in ministry.
Overseers (and those in teaching positions) must be able teachers. For, how can anyone grow in the faith if the person teaching him is simply not very good at teaching? A good teacher shares his experiences in a very real way while, all the time, relating those experiences to scripture. He shares his failures and victories with those he teaches. He leads not only in word, but also in deed (always practicing what he preaches). He is not two-faced and does not have to have his way. He seeks to glorify God and doesn’t reason out decisions for his own advantage. He teaches in the way that he relates to people and in the way he is at home.
Church leaders must not be addicted to much wine. They must be gentle, not quarrelsome or greedy. Having adopted the ‘angry-alcoholic’ set of genes from my father, the qualification that says we must be gentle and not quarrelsome comes at some difficulty for me. I have to wage a significant war every day not to succumb to the anger living within me. On many occasions, I have failed to meet this qualification. I have said words that didn’t need to be said and my critiques of people always seem to be harsh. With this qualification, I have to step back in humility and ask whether or not I should be serving in any ministerial capacity. It is here that I am forced to consider a truth that eludes so many when they are thinking about how awful their leaders are or how their leaders fail to meet expectations or fail to lead in a way that earns at least some result. I hope those who are reading are reading carefully here because this is the most important truth that I could share with anyone on the topic of church leadership.
Jesus Christ was the only perfect man to have ever walked the earth. This is what we teach and is the core of our entire belief system. Yet we judge our leaders for not being perfect. No church leader can possibly meet all of these qualifications perfectly. The beauty of serving in ministry is that no one is qualified and everyone is called. If we believe our pastor to be lacking, we must talk with him. If there is another member of the leadership team who we feel does not meet certain expectations, we must talk with them. If we are those leaders and someone approaches us, we must do everything in our power to set things right.
All too often, the first response is to release someone from service or to write them angry emails or to lie about them to others. This must stop! To judge our leaders for their imperfections is to say that they must be perfect. To say that they must be perfect is to say that it is possible for someone other than Christ to be perfect. To say that someone other than Christ can be perfect is to undermine one of the core reasons for the faith to actually exist. If we can be perfect, there is no need for Christ. If there is no need for Christ, then there is no need for Christianity.
The failure of any leader to meet any of these qualifications in an instance is not grounds for his dismissal or mean that he shouldn’t be trusted. It only proves that we as people are completely depraved and in need of a savior whose name is Jesus Christ! We should praise God that there are no perfect leaders, because this demands that our leaders trust a perfect God.
This being said, I must issue a warning to those currently in leadership and those who aspire to be in leadership within God’s church. While failure to meet any of these qualifications in an instant should not be a detriment to us as leaders, failing to strive constantly for these qualification, failing to listen to and try to understand the concerns of those under us, failing to listen to the conviction of the holy spirit and failing to make peace with the concerns of those under us will produce an unfruitful ministry. What good is leading if there is no work being done that is worthy of leadership? If you are the leader who sees yourself as a king, please rethink while God has given you a chance to prosper a ministry. If you are upset with a leader that you have, talk to them about your concerns. If they do not listen, they are probably unwilling. While no one is perfect, we need leaders who always strive for perfection and who always listen to their people without the immediate predisposition of defending self. We are here to serve others and to share Christ with others. To do this requires that we sometimes swim in the mud. We must do so with reason and be willing to give a reason when asked. To constantly defend and justify our own actions is to emphatically claim that we are perfect and have no need for Christ. No leader under Christ should be this way.
So, we must always strive to meet these qualifications. The moment we assume that we have fulfilled every qualification and that we are the epitome of what it means to be a leader is the very moment we truly are not fit to lead.
The rest of the passage is pretty basic. Leaders must be good managers of their household, having their children under control. They must not be new converts. They must have good reputation among outsiders. I do not know many leaders within the church who know anyone outside of their own church family. If we are to have a good reputation among outsiders, then we must be regularly meeting and interacting with those outside the church. Plain and simple.
My time in this passage today was very fruitful for my own introspection. Now, I would like to encourage those who read to also look inwardly for all who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ are called to be ministers of His gospel. So, am I qualified for any leadership position? I don’t care how ‘impressive’ my resume is or what experiences I’ve had. The clear answer is no. Christ is, and I will always rely on Him to lead me. What about you? Are you qualified for leadership? I hope you think carefully and rely on the Holy Spirit.
 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (HCSB)
 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (HCSB)