Imagine you're on the search committee of your church looking to hire a new pastor. During the process, you come across a man with impeccable character. He's faithful to his wife. He's a good manager of his home, is a gifted teacher, and is above reproach. So the committee makes a recommendation to the church, and the church hires him as their next pastor. Sounds good, right? Not so fast.
Did you know it's possible to hire a man like the one described above and make a significant mistake? Did you know it's possible for a man to possess all those qualities and still miss one of the major qualifications listed in the NT for a pastor?
A Pastor’s Character
According to the New Testament, elders lead the church by being “an example to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). We know that character is a crucial component for all effective leadership. The cultivation of Christlike character is the essential component for all true spiritual leadership. Qualified elders must have integrity of heart. They are not in it for position, title, prestige or money. They are pastors because they love Jesus and are called by the Spirit to serve. They have a selflessness, depth, and substance to their character that lends weight and credibility to their leadership. Every church needs such men.
So, how do local churches go about finding such men? Clearly, if a church is looking at a prospective pastor, they should carefully evaluate a man's character before making any decisions. The biblical criteria, or qualifications, for eldership are listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Those lists are virtually identical. As you study the relevant biblical data, what you’ll see is that about 90% of the qualifications are focused on a man’s character. To qualify as an elder a man must be above reproach, hospitable, temperate, devout, and so on. What’s challenging about such a list is that character is often evaluated subjectively, not objectively.
When a man's character is examined, churches tend to make two mistakes. First, they assume the man under consideration has godly character, instead of asking and inviting input from others. Second, they assume any deficiencies of character they do see will probably change sooner rather than later instead of acknowledging this is often a slow and steady process.
So, if you're considering a man to be your next pastor, what questions should you be asking? What are the things that are non negotiable? Well, let's start where God starts. If a man is going to lead and serve God's church, according to Scripture, there are some essential qualities he must possess. According to Scripture, we can group the necessary qualifications into 4 categories: God, Family, Self, Others. Consider the following list:
A Man’s Relationship to God and His Word: a male leader, able to teach, not a new convert
A Man’s Relationship to Family: one-woman man, faithful children, manages family well
A Man’s Relationship to Self: above reproach, sober minded (mentally and emotionally stable), self-controlled, not a drunkard, not a lover of money
A Man’s Relation to Others: respectable, hospitable, not violent or given to anger, gentle, not quarrelsome, well thought of by outsiders
That's quite a list! And when people go through it, they tend to summarize this data by identifying men who have no major or obvious character flaws. They look for men who have a close walk with God, an exemplary relationship with their family, are self-controlled etc. They ask questions like: Does he relate well to others? Is he a mature Christian? Can he teach? Is he faithful to his wife? Does he care for his family well? Is he addicted to anything? Is he materialistic or worldly? Is he gentle? Is he respectable? In short, is he above reproach? These are great questions to ask, and each of them should be asked!
A Pastor’s Reputation
There’s another really important question that churches often fail to ask: do non-Christians like him? Does he have real, vibrant and deepening relationships with non-Christians? Is there evidence that he does? If so, who are these unbelievers? What are their names? Identify them. Do non-Christians respect the man under consideration? Scripturally speaking, is he “well thought of by outsiders"?
Why does that matter? It matters because this is one of the biblical qualifications for a pastor. In fact, two of the qualifications for an elder in the NT make direct reference to this. But for some reason churches don't ask that question before hiring a pastor. And failure to do so is a mistake that carries with it serious implications!
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul says an overseer must be hospitable and well thought of by outsiders.
Both of these qualifications pertain to a man's relationship to the world around him.
Being hospitable does not primarily mean a pastor enjoys having church members over to his house for lasagna. It does not mean that he enjoys helping other Christians. The Greek word used for "hospitality" is philoxenos, which means “the love of strangers.” @@Hospitality is making place for the stranger, the sojourner, and outsider.@@ For an elder to be hospitable, he must be personally missional. The idea of a "missional pastor" is not a modern invention. It's a biblical requirement. And for a pastor to be missional means at least four things:
1. He has a missional heart: He desires to engage a lost world.
2. He has a missional life: He does what he says.
3. He has missional skill: He’s gifted at interacting with unbelievers.
4. He wants a missional church: He’s committed to developing a missional culture in the church he leads.
Second, he’s well thought of by outsiders. He has a good reputation with unbelievers. He’s regarded as a friend and is liked and respected. He works hard to cultivate real, genuine relationships with people, and he has a pattern of love, care, integrity, and vulnerability with his neighbors. He’s real, and they know it.
Moreover, his preaching, communication, and leadership always assume that non-Christians are present. He avoids “us vs. them” language. He avoids excessively “pious talk.” He’s not disrespectful or dismissive in his comments about outsiders. He shows charity and grace toward those with whom he disagrees. He interacts in his city and community with real insight, knowing the cultural idols that hold sway. He has learned to speak into that context with gospel clarity, and he helps others show hospitality toward non-Christians. He’s willing to confront pharisaical tendencies among believers, not just the irreligion and pagan ideas of non-Christians. In short, he’s sensitive to all forms of unbelief and sin, and is broken-hearted about it.
Jesus was a friend of sinners, and pastors should be no less. Because the church is God’s missionary people, the elders who are called to lead the church must be missionary leaders. So if you’re looking for a pastor, hire a man that’s a true friend of sinners.
Jonathan Christman serves as Lead Pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. He is married to Tina and they have two children. You can connect with Jonathan on Twitter @jwchristman.