Sunday, May 15

So you want to be a pastor

Paul writes to Timothy, "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do."

Overseer is the word used in the NASB, HCSV, and NIV. Other English translations interchange overseer for:

  • church official (CEV)
  • leader (NEB)
  • bishop (KJV,RSV)
  • pastor (LB)
  • church leader (GNB)
Paul instructs Titus to "appoint elders in every town..." Whether elders, overseers, church officials, leaders, bishops, pastors, or church leaders, all seem to refer to what we know today as pastors, ministers, or church workers.

A desire to serve is clearly a good thing. Today we sometimes call this desire the "call of God." Whether this is something we want to do, or feel called of God to do, Paul lists qualifications that need to be evident in the lives of those aspiring to serve.

Here is Paul's "job description" list of things in someone wanting to be an elder/pastor/overseer/leader/bishop:

  • must be above reproach
  • the husband of one wife
  • temperate
  • prudent
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • able to teach
  • not addicted to wine
  • not pugnacious
  • gentle
  • peaceable
  • free from the love of money
  • manages his own household well
  • keep[s] his children under control with all dignity
  • not a new convert
  • ha[s] a good reputation with those outside the church
  • ha[s] children who believe
  • not accused of dissipation or rebellion
  • not self-willed
  • not quick-tempered
  • not fond of sordid gain
  • loving what is good
  • sensible
  • just
  • devout
  • self-controlled
  • holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching
Out of the combined list, 26 of the 27 qualifications have to do with the CHARACTER of the individual. Only one of the above requisites has to do with ministerial ability (teaching.)

A 27:1 ratio of character over job skills. Who we are is far more important than what we can do.

What a contrast to what is emphasized today. While character is indeed considered, the ratio often seems reversed and weighted towards job skills. Churches looking for ministers start with academic degrees, and post-graduate ministerial studies from accredited seminaries. We want to see high levels of communication skills, people skills, administrative skills, books published, experienced track record of successful ministry, etc.

What implications does this 27:1 ratio have for those of us who find ourselves serving as leaders, bishops, pastors, elders, or overseers? Why is character and the way we live our lives at home so important?

Paul seems to clearly think we have to be something before we can do something.

Recently we began a new approach to our ministry of church planting training. Instead of starting out with methods, materials, and models, we are first focusing on the individuals themselves who desire to serve. Character is really important. More important than job skills. One can get by on skill only for so long. After a while character always catches up.

After more than ten years of almost continuous work with so-called "lay leaders," I can say unequivocally that character matters. In our haste to see laborers sent out into the harvest fields, churches planted, baptisms reported, we too often turn a blind eye to known character flaws, or family/marriage situations. We assume these things are "none of our business" and that God is already dealing with them about these areas of concern. After all, "the work" is supreme. The end justifies the means. The Kingdom is first. We are all flawed--some more than others--but God somehow works around our faults to accomplish His purposes. Right?

Wrong.

I am a firm believer in that we are all ministers. All of us are "called" to the task of making disciples of the nations. We are indeed a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light... Yet to ignore or turn a blind eye to weak character traits in those desiring to serve always has its day of reckoning.

Sometimes wisdom dictates putting people on hold till they work through known personal issues. Sometimes it might mean NOT sending them until they give clear evidence of being able to control their temper, respect their husbands/wives, deal honestly with money issues, or be known for their hospitality, etc.

I write the above out of years of trying to work with individuals who come into the ministry with unresolved character flaws, and personal issues. Many have a keen desire to be used by God. They are gifted. Their energy levels far surpass my own. Yet over and over their down fall and failed ministry is tied directly to their own character deficiencies.

So, you think you might want to be a pastor? Missionary? Church planter? Christian worker? Youth minister? Evangelist? Great! Start by going down Paul's list and evaluate yourself carefully. Get others to do the same from their own perspective. Get help with those areas you might be weak in. It is in those weak areas that Satan will hit hardest. None of us is perfect, but scoring above average on the above list will make a huge difference in the impact your life will make as you serve the King of Kings.

12 comments:

Randy Hardwick said...

Thank you for this post. It is good to be reminded that character always matters to God. My tedency is to expect God's blessing in my ministry in spite of my character flaws. It is always sobering to measure myself against God's criteria rather than society's.

GuyMuse said...

Randy,

Thanks for stopping by. I wonder what ministry would look like today if we got back to focusing on the character of those serving, rather than job skills they possess.

John Blake said...

Excellent post brother. It gives me pain to remember the times I helped promote those who weren't ready in order to "get the job done." When character is ignored in pursuit of filling needs it is like building something with faulty components--under stress the parts crack and the whole thing fails. I confess to being party to decisions that didn't end well. Character trumps all other considerations.

GuyMuse said...

John,

Thanks for the comment. You aren't the only one who has tried building something with faulty components--under stress the parts crack and the whole thing fails... This is something we all struggle with in our eagerness to see things happen. I am reminded Jesus spent 3 years with the twelve and we want to see things happen after only a weekend workshop!

Aussie John said...

Guy,

What, amongst this list, ought we not expect to see in every genuine Christian?

GuyMuse said...

John,

Good point. I agree!

Greg Bailey said...

Character is not only important in the leaders that we seek to disciple, but also among missionary teams. I was part of a team of church planting missionaries that blew up, largely because of character issues. If only we had been more discerning... Pray for discernment. Blessings!

GuyMuse said...

Greg,

I agree. Results trumps character. We are more interested in reporting results. But over time character issues have a way of catching up and wiping out the results we were so eager to produce.

Jeff Walters said...

I don't completely disagree with your principles here, but I would point out that James 3:1 makes clear that the "1" in your "27:1 ratio" is pretty important. All are called to make disciples, but not all are called or gifted to be a pastor/overseer/bishop/elder/leader.

GuyMuse said...

Jeff,

You are right about the importance of being able to teach. But often there are a lot of other gifts and talents that are bumped ahead of the 26 character traits that Paul thought important. So we're not trying to downplay teaching, as much as we are attempting to awaken to the importance of character in those who feel led, or called, or want to serve as overseers/bishops/leaders/pastors.

Alan Knox said...

Guy,

Did you know that Philo used the same adjective usually translated "able to teach"? But, when he used it, it meant "teachable". That would make your ratio 28:0.

-Alan

GuyMuse said...

Alan,

Interesting. I am going to a meeting today with pastors where we are going to be talking about these matters. One of the things we are discovering by these informal dialogs with pastors is that many of them know they aren't gifted/called to pastor, but since that is the only accepted (paid)position for a church leader, they take it on not knowing how else to serve.