I recently read an interesting comment by a seminary president about the ministry. He said that the hardest thing about being a pastor today is the confusion about what it means to be a pastor.
If this is true, and I wouldn’t rush to argue with him, think about how unsettling and unacceptable this is. The ministry is one of the most important jobs on the planet. Yet confusion abounds.
Think about who this affects.
It affects the pastor. He’s often left feeling confused, pressured, and ill-equipped to do his job. Melting under the unrelenting heat of fluid and often undefined expectations, he retreats to discouragement.
It also affects the congregation. To use the preaching illustration, if there is a mist in the pulpit there is a fog in the pew. In other words, if the pastor is confused, then you better believe the congregation is not synced up.
Finally, there is confusion among the unbelieving world. Left to the impressions of whoever they happen to know or happen to see a video of or a meme of a pastor on a private jet; they are also unclear.
This is why I just want to boil it down to two categories: godliness and giftedness. Is the brother godly, and does he faithfully handle God’s Word?
Before going into what the Bible says about these categories, I want to acknowledge that there are a number of “common grace” preferences that we may come to appreciate about various pastors. Some men may have an extra dose of a particular category. Certainly, you can think of one who exudes more warmth. Perhaps you can think of others who are better communicators. Others may excel in their intuitiveness. Let’s be honest, there are some who are frankly off-the-charts intelligent. Others drip creativity when they are preaching like Bob Ross with a paintbrush. The list could go on and on.
But let’s be clear, these are common-grace gifts that we should rejoice in, but they are not essentials for the office of pastor. Praise God that the qualification for being a pastor does not mean men have to be as smart as D. A. Carson or passionate as John Piper. But, mark it, all have to square up with the biblical qualifications.
Let’s go through these.
A Pastor Must Be Godly
A list of qualifications for the pastor is found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1–7)
When we look at the list we see that these moral qualifications, what strikes us are how remarkably ordinary they are. With a couple exceptions, they are not completely different than what we would expect from other mature Christians. And this is the point: the pastor must be an example of a mature, godly Christian (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Paul talks about some of the items he is to be an example in, speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity (1 Tim. 4:12). So the first question we need to ask is, Is he godly?
A Pastor Must Be Gifted
One qualification was nestled into the list of moral qualifications in 1 Timothy, Paul writes that an elder must be able to teach (v.2). And this makes a lot of sense when we think about it, because so much of the pastor’s work has to do with the Word. Who can forget when the early church wisely appointed deacons so that the men who handled the bulk of the teaching could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4)?
The pastor, especially the regular preaching pastor, must maintain the pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). He must preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). And Paul lays out how this is supposed to look. He is to do it in season and out of season; that is, when it is popular and when it is unpopular. He doesn’t take a poll to see what people want to hear. He reads the Word and gives people what they need to hear. The pastor is to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2). In fact, his ministry is so bound up with the Word that Paul ends this exhortation by telling Timothy “fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:5) That is to say, do your job and faithfully handle the Word.
The pastor doesn’t take a poll to see what people want to hear. He reads the Word and gives people what they need to hear.
But it’s not only preaching. The pastor must guard the faith (2 Tim. 1:14) from false teaching by exhorting in sound doctrine and rebuking those who contradict it (Titus 1:9-11). He defends the faith by feeding the flock and feeds the flock by defending the faith. The pastor works hard to teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). As David Helm says, the pastor must be a carnivore! He must feed on the meat of the Word of God and give it to others.
This type of word-work finds its way into the life of the church in the weekly gatherings of the church. It’s in the music, prayers, and conversation. The Word shapes counseling in the church even as it sparks and sustains discipleship (Eph. 4:11-15). Because so much of the life of the church is shaped by the Bible, the pastor must be gifted to handle the Word well.
Godly and Gifted
If we are thinking in summary terms of what a pastor is to be and do, we have a good start when we think in terms of him being godly and gifted. Similarly, Paul told Timothy to give attention to his life and his doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16).
And as we watch our pastors and think through qualifications, we can remember this from Paul, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Tim. 4:15) The minister will never be perfect, but he should be making progress, by the grace of God. And the church where he serves should be able to mark this progress with gratitude to God.