What do all businesses, schools, non-profits, and churches have in common? They all have leaders. Leaders are important. They are the ones who determine the vision and set the direction for the future. As well they are the ones who make sure everyone is equipped to play their part in the organization. Without leaders, organizations flail. They meander around until they disappear. So leaders, especially good leaders are important.
This is especially true in the church. The last thing God wants is for a church just to meander around until it dies off. He wants His church to accomplish His mission. And He provides leaders to do that.
But God doesn’t just provide any old leader. He provides men who meet certain qualifications and desire certain things. What are those desires? What are those qualifications? What does it take to be a leader in the church?
A Leader in the Church Must Meet the God-Given Qualifications of an Overseer
The qualifications I specifically have in mind are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. There are other lists, but we will limit it to this list today.
I say that these are God-given because Paul wrote this list under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The fact that they were given by God to the church through Paul is significant. It tells us that they aren’t negotiable.
While every church is going to have different needs, these should be the primary qualifications a church looks for in their overseers. Good business skills, a charismatic personality may be desirable, but those skills don’t show up on this list. So we need to be careful not to hold things outside of the list God gives us as primary importance. If a person meets the qualities on this list, they will be a good overseer, who serves the church well. He may not have the exact personality you want or do everything like you think he should, but he’s going to be a good overseer.
What are the qualifications of an overseer?
I think the easiest way to look at this list is to break it down into three categories which I’m labeling as — Inner Life, Outer Life, and Family Life. This breakdown isn’t original to me, I got it from another pastor, so I want to give credit where credit is due. With that being said, let’s start with:
(1) Sober-minded — That simple means that this person is able to think clearly. Their decisions aren’t influenced by passion, lust, emotion, or personal gain. They are thinking about and allowing God’s Word to guide them.
(2) Self-Controlled — He is to be in control of himself, not given to anger, personal ambition, or his passions.
(3) Respectable — A person who is respectable is someone whose behavior matches their profession. Their not a hypocrite. They do what they say. Their outer life matches their inner life.
(4) Not to be a recent convert
“He must not be a recent convert, [and then he gives us his reason why when he says] or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (1 Ti 3:6)
This is not to suggest that time necessarily guarantees maturity. Many people who claim the name of Christ remain spiritually immature for a lifetime. Now, of course, that’s not something we should aspire to. The writer to the Hebrews reprimanded his readers for their continual immaturity (Heb. 5:11–14). Nevertheless, the point is time doesn’t necessarily guarantee maturity, but those new to the faith will not have had the necessary time to come to possess the spiritual maturity that is required of an overseer.
(5) Above reproach — This doesn’t mean an overseer is perfect, instead, it means that no one can bring a legitimate charge of wrongdoing against them. While they still sin, they deal with it quickly and in a healthy way — repenting and seeking reconciliation.
(6) Hospitable — This doesn’t mean that they have to have someone over to their house every Sunday after church. It’s certainly good to have people over, but that’s not a necessary thing. Instead, it means that they are open to strangers. They are a friend to sinners. They desire to care for those in need.
(7) Able to teach — This doesn’t mean that everyone who is an overseer is going to be an amazing preacher. What it means is that they know the Bible well enough to be able to tell and teach others about Jesus and the gospel. They understand the basic doctrines and flow of Scripture, and they are able to teach others those things.
(8) Not a drunkard — This doesn’t mean that a pastor can’t drink. Instead, it means that he is not given to much wine. He is not dependent on it. It is not something he needs.
In some sense, this can apply to things other than drink. It can apply to drugs, possessions, and sex. All of these things are things we can become dependent on. Things that we run to when there are problems in our life, rather than running to Christ.
You see, an overseer, a pastor, should be one who runs to Christ instead of these things. Christ should be the One who gets him through and the One who provides him with rest, joy, and peace. And, in reality, that shouldn’t just be so for a pastor, it should be so for all of us. You see, the reason a pastor should have these qualifications is so he can lead, guide, encourage, and motivate others to have them as well. Which means that this list shouldn’t just be something we file away for our next pastoral search. Instead, it should be a list that is front and center in all our lives because we all should aspire to possess these qualities.
(9) Not be violent but gentle — A pastor should lead with the same gentleness that Christ does. He shouldn’t lash out at others because of their sin. Instead, he should gently guide and lead them in the truth.
(10) Not be quarrelsome — He shouldn’t be someone who is always picking a fight.
(11) Not be a lover of money — Instead he should be someone who is content with the possessions he has. Being content should allow him to lead out in generosity and faithful dependence on God.
(12) Well thought of by outsiders — This doesn’t mean that those outside the church will always agree with what he believes or says, but that they respect him.
(13) Husband of one wife — Literally this means he is to be a one-woman man. While this verse has certainly sparked controversy over the years, I don’t believe this mean that an elder has to be someone who is married. Nor does it mean that he can’t have been divorced.
Instead what I believe Paul is getting at is the heart of the matter.
- Is he faithful to his wife? Or are his eyes and affections always wondering?
- Is he going to stick by her through the thick and thin? Or does he bolt out of there the moment things get tough?
- Is his focus on his wife and her needs? Or is it somewhere else?
This is what I believe Paul is getting at with this qualification. He is getting to the heart of the matter. He is drilling down to expose this man’s character. If that is what Paul is doing, then, that is what we should do as well.
(14) Lead his household well — Since the pastor deals with people, the test of his leadership and management capabilities is noted by observing his home. His home is his first church. If leadership and spiritual oversight isn’t exercised well at home, it’s not going to be exercised well in the church.
So that is quick run through of the qualifications a leader in the church must possess if they are going to be an overseer.
Sum Up the Series
So again, what does it take to be a leader in the church?
In order to be a leader in the church a man must:
- See himself as an overseer
- View the office of overseer as a high calling that involves sacrifice and a passion for the task
- He must meet the God-given qualifications of an overseer.
That’s what it takes to be a leader in the church. And that’s the type of man for which a church should be looking. Once they have those men in place, they should pray that they would continue to grow in those areas, as well as they should seek to grow in them themselves.
Question for Reflection
- Are you as a church seeking men who meet the God-given qualifications of overseer?
Post adapted from my sermon: What does it take to be a leader in the church?