Qualifications of Church Leaders: Part 1 (1 Timothy 3)

1 Timothy 3_Leadership-QualificationsEverything rises or falls with leadership, whether it be a family or a local church. The Holy Spirit imparts gifts to believers for ministry in the church, and among those gifts are “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). As we noted before, even though the church is an organism, it must be organized or it will die. Leadership is a part of spiritual organization. In this section, Paul described the pastor, the deacon, and the church itself. By understanding these three descriptions, we will be able to give better leadership to the ministry of the church.

The Pastor (1 Tim. 3:1–7)

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.

According to the New Testament, the terms “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor” are synonymous. Elders and bishops (two names for the same office, Titus 1:5, 7) were mature people with spiritual wisdom and experience. Bishop means “overseer,” and the elders had the responsibility of overseeing the work of the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1–3). Finally, “pastor” means “shepherd,” one who leads and cares for the flock of God.

When we compare the qualifications given here for bishops with those given for elders in Titus 1:5–9, we quickly see the same office is in view. Church organization was quite simple in apostolic days: There were pastors (elders, bishops) and deacons (Phil. 1:1). It seems there was a plurality of elders overseeing the work of each church, some involved in “ruling” (organization and government), others in teaching (1 Tim. 5:17).

But these men had to be qualified. To be a church leader was a heavy responsibility and not everyone was up for the task. It was good for a growing believer to aspire to the office of elder, but the best way to achieve it was to develop Christian character and meet the following requirements. To become an elder was a serious decision, not one treated lightly in the early church. Paul gave sixteen qualifications for a man to meet if he expected to serve as an elder/bishop/pastor.

above-reproachAbove reproach (v. 2a). There must be nothing in his life that Satan or the unsaved can take hold of to criticize or attack the church. No man living is sinless, but we must strive to be blameless and above reproach.

The husband of one wife (v. 2b). All of the qualifying adjectives in this passage are masculine. While there is ample scope for feminine ministry in a local assembly the office of elder is not given to women.

However, a pastor’s home-life is very important and especially his marital status. (This same requirement applies to deacons, according to 3:12.) It means a pastor must not be divorced and remarried. Paul was certainly not referring to polygamy, since no church member, let alone pastor, would be accepted if he had more than one wife. Nor is he referring to remarriage after the death of the wife; for why would a pastor be prohibited from marrying again, in light of Genesis 2:18 and 1 Timothy 4:3? Certainly the members of the church who had lost mates could marry again, so why penalize the pastor?

It is clear a man’s ability to manage his own marriage and home indicate ability to oversee a local church (3:4–5). A pastor who has been divorced opens himself and the church to criticism from outsiders, and it is not likely that people with marital difficulties would consult a man who could not keep his own marriage together. I see no reason why dedicated Christians who have been divorced and remarried cannot serve in other offices in the church, but they are disqualified from being elders or deacons.

Vigilant (v. 2c). This means “temperate” or “sober.” “Temperate in all things” (“keep your head in all situations,” 2 Tim. 4:5). A pastor needs to exercise sober, sensible judgment in all things.

Sober (v. 2d). He must have a serious attitude and be in earnest about his work. This does not mean he has no sense of humor, or that he is always solemn and somber. Rather, it suggests he knows the value of things and does not cheapen the ministry or the Gospel message by foolish behavior.

Of good behavior (v. 2e). “Orderly” would be a good translation. The pastor should be organized in his thinking and his living, as well as in his teaching and preaching. It is the same Greek word, which is translated “modest” in 1 Timothy 2:9, referring to women’s clothing.

Given to hospitality (v. 2f). Literally, “loving the stranger.” This was an important ministry in the early church when traveling believers would need places to stay (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; 3 John 5–8). But even today, a pastor and wife who are hospitable are a great help to the fellowship of a local church.

Apt to teach (v. 2g). Teaching the Word of God is one of an elder’s main ministries. In fact, many scholars believe “pastors and teachers” in Ephesians 4:11 refer to one person, but to two functions. A pastor is automatically a teacher (2 Tim. 2:2, 24). Apt to teach is not something to which one comes by accident or by any sudden burst of fiery zeal. A pastor must be a careful student of the Word of God, and of all that assists him in knowing and teaching the Word. The pastor who is lazy in his study is a disgrace in the pulpit.

Not given to wine (v. 3a). The word describes a person who sits long with the cup and thus drinks to excess. The fact Paul advised Timothy to use wine for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23) indicates total abstinence was not demanded of believers. Sad to say, some of the members of the Corinthian church got drunk, even at the love feast, which accompanied the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:21). The Jewish people diluted their wine with water to make sure it was not too strong. It was a well-known fact water was not pure in those days, so weak wine taken in moderation would have been healthier to drink.

However, there is a vast difference between the cultural use of wine in Bible days and supporting the alcohol industry of today. Paul’s admonition and example in Romans 14 (especially v. 21) would apply today in a special way. A godly pastor would certainly want to give the best example and not be an excuse for sin in the life of some weaker brother.

Not violent (v. 3b). “Not contentious, not looking for a fight.” Charles Spurgeon told pastoral students, “Don’t go about the world with your fist doubled up for fighting, carrying a theological revolver in the leg of your trousers.”

Not greedy (v. 3c). It is possible to use the ministry as an easy way to make money, if a man has no conscience or integrity. Covetous pastors always have “deals” going on outside their churches, and these activities erode their character and hinder their ministry. Pastors should “not pursue dishonest gain” or work for filthy lucre (1 Peter 5:2).

Patient (v. 3d). “Gentle” is a better translation. The pastor must listen to people and be able to take criticism without reacting. He should permit others to serve God in the church without dictating to them.

Not a brawler (v. 3e). Pastors must be peacemakers, not troublemakers. This does not mean they must compromise their convictions, but they must “disagree” without being “disagreeable.” Short tempers do not make for long ministries.

Not covetous (v. 3f). You can covet many things besides money: popularity, a large ministry that makes you famous, denominational advancement, etc. This word centers mainly on money.

A godly family (vv. 4–5). If a man’s own children cannot obey and respect him, then his church is not likely to respect and obey his leadership. For Christians, the church and the home are one. We should oversee both of them with love, truth, and discipline. The pastor cannot be one thing at home and something else in church. If he is, his children will detect it and there will be problems. The word “manage” (or “rule”) means “to preside over, to govern,” and suggest a pastor is the one who directs the business of the church. (Not as a dictator, of course, but as a loving shepherd—1 Peter 5:3.) The word translated “take care of” in v. 5 suggests a personal ministry to the needs of the church. It is used in the Parable of the Good Samaritan to describe the care given to the injured man (Luke 10:34–35).

Not a novice [recent convert] (v. 6). “Novice” literally means “one newly planted,” referring to a young Christian. Age is no guarantee of maturity, but it is good for a man to give himself time for study and growth before he accepts a church. Some men mature faster than others, of course. Satan enjoys seeing a youthful pastor succeed and get proud; then Satan can tear down all that has been built up.

A good testimony outside the church (v. 7). Does he pay his bills? Does he have a good reputation among unsaved people with whom he does business? (Col. 4:5; 1 Thes. 4:12)

No pastor ever feels he is all he ought to be and his people need to pray for him constantly. It is not easy to serve as a pastor, but it is much easier if your character is all God wants it to be.

In Part 2, we will look at the qualifications of a deacon and local church itself.

Biblical LeadershipTo think about and discuss

1. In what ways is a Christian leader different from a secular leader or manager? Often strong, natural leaders are perceived to be future church leaders. How should the existing leaders discern whether or not these men have the spiritual qualities for the role?

2. What can members of a local church do to make their leaders’ task easier? (See Heb. 13:17.) What is the extent of the authority an elder is given? What safeguards are given in the Bible so it is not abused?


Published by Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr.

Pastor Joe has been serving in Christian ministry for 19 years. He is the author of "Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living." Through a commitment to servant leadership, he proclaims relevant Bible truth, equips the saints for effective ministry, and builds up the body of Christ. Married thirteen years, Pastor Joe and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children.

11 thoughts on “Qualifications of Church Leaders: Part 1 (1 Timothy 3)

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tom. I read your intro and chapter 1. So far, we are in agreement.

      Did you read my entire article? What exactly do you think contradicts the Bible?

      I am posting Part 2 on Thursday. Feel free to share your thoughts. God bless!

  1. Pastor Joe
    Sadly, I am a divorced man. Actually, my wife and I are both from failed marriages. One of the reasons they both failed was certainly because these marriages were not modeled on a Biblical model. Mine certainly was not, as I was quite lost for the first 45 years of my life. Now, however, we are both committed to following the model The Bible spells out for marriage. We can’t undo the past, but we can certainly do our best, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to finish well. I do teach, evangelize and assume some leadership roles among my peers in our church. I also get that God is not going to call me to be either a Pastor or Deacon, and that’s just dandy. He does have a mission and a plan for me, and as long as I just worry about that, and not pining away because I want to be a Deacon then It’s all good.

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