Written by Pastor Jim Law
This is the third installment of articles that are pastoral reflections on twenty-two years with the same congregation. I am following a series of themes that emerge from Paul’s pastoral letter of First Timothy and have found this New Testament letter to be crucial in forging my ministry philosophy as well as our church’s practice.
From Gospel centrality (I Timothy 1) and the priority of prayer (I Timothy 2), we move to spiritual leadership (I Timothy 3). Charles Spurgeon once said, “The most suicidal thing a church can do is compromise on leadership.” By “compromise” Spurgeon was referring to the biblical character qualities outlined in Scripture as they apply to those who would serve as pastors and deacons.
The selection of spiritual leaders is one of the most vital tasks facing a local congregation. Sadly, the criteria considered for such an all-important decision is anything but the character of the man under consideration. Often in a superficial assessment, the church notices things like popularity, or personality, or familiarity, or one’s reputation in the business community or financial status.
Interestingly in I Timothy 3, the apostle Paul speaks of none of these as qualifications for service as a pastor or deacon in the church of Jesus Christ. Instead, he provides a list of character qualities that serve as a guide for every church in the calling of spiritual leaders.
The reason spiritual leadership comes to mind in this reflection is because no church can function properly on the spiritual gifts of a single pastor, and no church can thrive for long with a leadership that undercuts the witness of the church.
Early in my pastoral work, I was determined to teach I Timothy 3 as the biblical foundation for any discussion on the selection of spiritual leadership in our congregation. I believe this decision has born fruit by creating biblical expectations and a leadership culture that has brought about spiritual challenge and health within our Body.
A Passion for the Work
I Timothy 3 begins with the only objective standard found in Scripture for those considering a call to spiritual leadership, namely, a desire to do the work. Paul writes, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” One of the fundamental assessments in church leadership should be a reckoning with basic questions, “Is there a desire for the work of ministry? Is there a passion to give one’s life to the proclamation of the Gospel and the shepherding of God’s people? Is there a heart to serve the needs of the church through personal ministry?
In assessing my call to ministry, the desire for the pastorate was so strong on my heart that I remember thinking (and saying), “I can’t wait to finish this business school and get on with preparing for the ministry full time.” Corporate Finance and Strategic Management were quite boring to a young man who had a passion to know the Bible better. So, vocationally, if you could be just as satisfied selling insurance or pursuing a legal career or a host of other vocations, then that may be the way you should go.
In talking about spiritual leadership, the apostle Paul spoke of a passion, a strong desire for the work of ministry. For that to be absent is a problem, like the pastor who had retired but just didn’t know it. Like a galley slave to his oars, such a pastor walks into the pulpit, and it hurts to endure what he has thrown together.
Those assuming ministry roles should sense a strong call that is affirmed and recognized by the local church which in turn releases them to get busy with the task at hand.
An Irreproachable Life
From a strong desire to do the work, whether as a pastor (3:1-7); or a deacon (3:8-13), we come to character qualities that mirror each other. The only difference between the requirements of the two offices is that pastors must be able to teach and expound the Christian faith as this will be a chief responsibility of his work.
Deacons who are called to serve Christ in the local church are likewise to be leaders who are faithful, trustworthy, and committed to God’s glory. Philip Ryken spoke of the importance of a perspective deacon when he wrote, The word of a deacon ought to be one of the strongest guarantees in the church. People both inside and outside the church must be able to take deacons at their words.”
The list of character qualities for spiritual leaders is straightforward (I Timothy 3:2-7; 8-13):
- must be above reproach
- a one-woman man (his wife) which demonstrates his moral character; he is committed to one
woman and that is his wife.
-serious minded; he understands that the stakes of ministry are high
-respectable; he is respected because of his life’s commitments
-able to teach
-not a drunkard (his life’s witness is not controlled by the notoriety that he is a drinker)
-gentle, not violent, does not resolve his conflicts with force
-not quarrelsome, which if otherwise, will bring misery to the relationships of the church
-not a lover of money for obvious reasons
-his house is in order as a proving ground for spiritual leadership in Body life
-not a new convert lest the evil one tear him apart by many temptations
-thought well of by those outside the church
It was D.A. Carson who quipped that what is notable about this list of character qualities is that they are not very notable. This list is not a call to a higher standard, but rather to represent the character that should be modeled by every Christ-follower. Leaders in the church are to provide a living example of a life devoted to these commitments.
Thabiti Anaybwile writes, “A church without godly leaders is an endangered church. And a church that does not train leaders is an unfaithful church. God gives leaders to his church for the maturity, unity, and soundness of each local congregation. Without godly, faithful, replicating leadership, churches suffer deeply.”
I am grateful for the leadership culture that continues at FBCG. Following these biblical guidelines rescues the church from worldly, subjective, and biased selection processes that ignore character and prove a hindrance to the church reaching maturity in Christ.