Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Proven Character for Leadership

After taking quite a hiatus from publishing notes on a series I have previously taught and that I am teaching now on Wednesday evenings at my church, I wanted to return to these posts on the biblical letter known as 1 Timothy. You can find the first several parts of the series here.

Sadly, even a mention of the topic of pastoral integrity can conjure up mental pictures of all the prominent pastors we know of who have fallen in ministry. We remember them because they were placed on a proverbial pedestal, implicitly or explicitly stating that they were men of character worth following. Pastors aren’t supposed to be superhuman, as some seem to think, but they are to be pursuing God and godly character in such a way that their progress is evident to everyone. Notice how the Apostle Paul describes Timothy’s proven character to the Philippians:

Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you. (20) For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; (21) all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (22) But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father. (Philippians 2.19-22, HCSB, emphasis added)

After talking about God’s purposeful, ordered design for church gatherings and the life of the church, now in 1 Timothy 3.1-7, Paul speaks about the qualifications of those who would lead and teach the church. What types of prerequisites are placed on church leaders? The men who would oversee the church must first have done these things.

Proven Personal Integrity (1 Timothy 3.1-3)

He begins by affirming that if someone senses an ongoing deep longing to serve as an overseer (pastor), his desires are good and noble. But he must live out his stated desires by proving his character. The apostle gives a list of qualifications for serving as an overseer. The pastor must practice these qualities, he says. We won’t detail the list here, but a brief look will show Paul’s heart.

The pastor must be above reproach. He must be a one-woman man. He must have the character and integrity that anyone would expect of a pastor. But perhaps what is most striking about this list is that every trait except one is actually expected of every follower of Jesus. The only unique prerequisite listed is that he must be able to teach. In other words, every believer should pursue godliness to the degree that he or she has proven progress in character. But the pastoral overseer must not only demonstrate these traits, he must also be able to teach adequately if he is to lead a church.

Modeled Family Leadership (vv. 4-5)

In many ways, a spiritually healthy church is like a big family. And the reverse is true. In many ways, a spiritually healthy family is like a little church. This principle runs as a subtheme throughout 1 Timothy. As I mentioned in the last 1 Timothy post, when it’s done well, male leadership in the church is simply an extension of what’s taking place in the home.

As such, the home is not so much a pastor-dad’s proving ground for leadership ability as it is his primary place of ministry. He simply must be a good husband and father. He is to lead and minister (that is, serve) effectively in both the home and church, and he is disqualified from church leadership if he can’t be a servant-leader at home.

Shown Spiritual Maturity (v. 6)

New believers and those immature in their faith have not proven their character and are not ready, yet, to be an overseer or pastor. Paul’s concern is basic, and obvious: Immature believers are perhaps especially susceptible to pride, which can bring them down just like it did for Satan. So in order to serve as a leader in the church, a man must not be too new in his understanding of the gospel, or of God Himself.

Earned Public Respect (v. 7)

The final qualification that Paul mentions here is that the church leader must have a good reputation in the public eye. His integrity must begin at home, proceed into his church, and extend out into the larger community. Even if his family and church love him, if a pastor has not demonstrated a keen appreciation for how he comes across to nonbelievers or the general public, he is not fit for leadership. Paul doesn’t mince words: he says to neglect this idea is to risk falling into a trap of Satan and into disgrace. Certainly a pastor’s real evaluation comes from God and he should live for an audience of One (see 1 Corinthians 4.3-4). However, while not being driven by public opinion, a pastor should care about how he represents God in view of an outside community that is watching. If he doesn’t, he’s not qualified to lead in the first place.

God certainly cares about the character of the men who would lead His church. To ignore His requirements concerning proven character is to follow a recipe for disaster. It is out of His love that He places such requirements: for the glory of His name, the good of His church, and the hope of the larger community.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]