Here’s a serious danger for ministers: having knowledge and skills that surpass your maturity.
When I say maturity, I mean growing in spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, gospel application, generosity, and sharing life in a church. But I also mean developing habits like working hard, being prompt, being a lifelong learner, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, spending time with family, honoring God in your singleness or marriage, enjoying times of recreation, taking a day off, and sleeping well.
It’s possible for a person to acquire information, receive diplomas, have ministry skills, be a type-A, magnetic individual, and yet not be mature. When people are put into leadership without having been assessed at the heart level, it is deeply dangerous.
It’s possible to know how to preach Christ from all the Scriptures with homiletical precision, but not have a Christ-centered heart. It’s possible to articulate the atonement without weeping before the cross. It’s possible to wow a crowd without loving the people you’re addressing. It’s possible to preach an exegetically accurate sermon, but have the subtext (illustrations and applications) glorify you. It’s possible to know how to articulate four views of sanctification, but harbor hidden sin. (In this digital age, you may not have as many women as Solomon physically, but you can have more women than Solomon online).
Knowledge Is Not Maturity
So here’s the sermon I’m preaching to myself and others, especially aspiring pastors/planters: prioritize godliness. Watch not only your doctrine, but also your life (1 Tim. 4:16). Spiritual maturity is not what you know, but how you live with what you know.
Spiritual maturity is not what you know, but how you live with what you know.
It’s no surprise that Paul’s pastoral epistles are filled with matters related to character—a constant reminder that if we aren’t pursuing godliness, we aren’t fit to lead.
Character Over skills
Biblical manhood is often portrayed as some macho, type A, bold quarterback of a guy. But you don’t have to be a macho man to plant a church. This isn’t UFC. Our battle is different altogether.
To be clear, you do need certain abilities to be a pastoral leader (such as the ability to teach, 1 Tim. 3:2), and you should work to develop these God-given skills. As a leader, you must possess courage, discipline, and a willingness to sacrifice. And yet when we make a particular personality type a requirement for church planting, we’ve made a grave error.
God-honoring manhood can be expressed through the extrovert or the introvert, the aesthetic or the athletic, the intellectual or the practical.
Let’s not define manhood and leadership with extra-biblical notions. Let’s go to the Scriptures instead, and have our minds and hearts shaped by a vision of grace-enabled, grace-driven godliness (Titus 2:12).
Let’s not define manhood and leadership with extra-biblical notions.
In the sacred text, we find certain traits of pastoral leadership that are often neglected, overlooked, or minimized in popular chats about church planters—traits like kindness, gentleness, and humility. But these are fruits of the gospel.
In 1 Timothy 6, Paul outlines some key character traits of any man of God who would lead the people of God. He begins with a sharp contrast (“But as for you . . .”). In contrast to the false teachers, who were conceited, contentious, and greedy (vv. 3–6), Timothy is to flee this pattern of life and pursue something else. Specifically, Timothy is to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness (1 Tim. 6:11).
These character traits should accompany the leader fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). They are worth our brief reflection.
Righteousness. Jesus has given us positional righteousness, and now by his grace, we are called pursue practical righteousness. So let’s be fair and just in all our dealings with people. Let’s avoid adopting questionable and shady practices in order to reach a desired goal. Let’s resolve to be leaders who live above reproach in making decisions and executing vision.
Godliness. Out of a worshiping heart, put sin to death. Don’t merely tell others to do so. The Puritan John Flavel once observed, “Brethren, it is easier to declaim against a thousand sins of others, than to mortify one sin in ourselves.” Godliness will make up for many of your deficiencies in ministry. You may not be a five-star preacher, but if you’re godly, people will listen, because you bear the aroma of Christ.
Faith. Trust God. Great faith springs from the soil of a great vision of God. So enlarge your vision daily through his Word, and trust his character and promises. You won’t have a marathon ministry without great faith.
Love. Pray for the Spirit to make you a loving shepherd. Pursue stray sheep. Love hurting sheep. Bear others’ wounds in view of Jesus healing your deepest wounds. Wash feet. Love the poor. Love the nations. Lead the congregation to love one another.
Steadfastness. The weight of ministry is heavy, but with the Spirit’s help we can persevere. Settle in and plod along. We tell our aspiring planters, “Prepare for 30 years, not just the next three.” Aim for consistency, not sensationalism. When you fail, and you will (a lot), get up in the strength of the One who never did.
Gentleness. This quality perhaps stands in starkest contrast to what often characterizes the macho leader. Yet here, as well as in his requirements for elders, Paul highlights gentleness (1 Tim. 3:3).
Jesus is the ultimate picture of godliness, of manliness, of a shepherd—and he was gentle.
So strive to be known for kindness, tenderness, and meekness. They look like warmth, approachability, and graciousness. Remember that meekness is not weakness. Remember Jesus, who coupled strength and authority with humility and meekness. He is the ultimate picture of godliness, of manliness, of a shepherd—and he was gentle.
We need church planters who prioritize godliness. You don’t have to be a type-A macho man to plant a church, and you don’t have to be the most skilled. But you do have to pursue godliness. You have to reflect the Chief Shepherd.