Published: 15 August 2022

Is Your Pastor Biblically Qualified?

Biblically Qualified

Why did Paul need to tell Timothy that the work of being an overseer (pastor) is a “noble task” (1 Tim 3:1 ESV)? Similarly, why did he need to state that overseers must be above reproach (1 Tim 3:2)? It would seem that pastors in Ephesus were not above reproach and had ruined the reputation of the role of overseer. Church pastors in Ephesus had so tarnished the role that Paul needed to affirm that the job is indeed honorable. Just as dirty politicians ruin the reputation of true statesmen, pastors who are not biblically qualified ruin the reputation of the role of overseer.

Who is biblically qualified?

What are the biblical qualifications? They can be found in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 (also in Titus 1:5-9). The complete list of qualifications for an overseer (from 1 Tim 3:2-7) are below. A man is above reproach who possesses these qualities:

  • 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
  • Manage his household well
  • Submissive children
  • Not a recent convert
  • Well thought of by unbelievers

How do churches choose pastors?

Unfortunately, when selecting pastors, the Bible’s criteria often isn’t the primary focus. Instead of trusting in God’s ideal for a spiritual leader, we tend to lean to our own understanding. We look for men who are like those described by Paul David Tripp – “strong personality, quick witted, forceful, domineering, able to win the day in a discussion or argument, can cast vision and collect people.”1 In other words, churches tend to select pastors who are more like candidates for political office than the servant leader the Bible describes.

Churches tend to select pastors who are more like candidates for political office than the servant leader the Bible describes.

When we disregard God’s wisdom and replace it with our own, we are sure to make a mess of things. This is one of the major reasons why we read about pastors caught up in scandals on a weekly basis. If you think this is an exaggeration, head over to the MinistryWatch website and take a look at the Investigations page. For each dirty “pastor” or church leader that we find out about, I wonder how many are out there still getting away with it? 

“Not domineering over those in your charge”

An unqualified pastor doesn’t have to be a criminal offender to cause damage to the church. There are lots of so-called pastors who have developed a sense of entitlement. They see their position as one of power and authority and they bully people to get their way. This is in stark contrast to Peter’s instructions to pastors:

not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:3 ESV)

Likewise, Jesus said that we are not to be like rulers who “lord it over” others:

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45 ESV)

Still others see their current church to be a stepping stone to something bigger and better. They want a larger church, a more prominent role in their denomination, or just to gain a following of their own. In other words, church is about advancing their career. It’s funny how the Lord never “calls” these guys to smaller churches with a smaller salary. Go figure.

A biblically qualified pastor

None of the character traits listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 are difficult to understand. In fact, all the words used to describe a man who is above reproach are self explanatory. Even though the ideas are simple, let’s take a look at them and make a few observations.

A one woman man

As we discussed in a prior post, a pastor must be a married man and manage his family well (click here for more about this requirement). A literal translation of the Greek for “husband of one wife” is “a one woman man.” Of course, this means pastors are male. A qualified pastor has only one wife and he must be faithful to her. He is not an adulterer and is not flirtatious with women he is not married to. A wise pastor will not even be alone with another woman when providing spiritual counseling. 

Sober-minded and self-controlled

The Greek word for sober-minded is often translated as temperate. This word means being very moderate in drinking alcohol or being restrained in conduct, self-controlled, level-headed.2 He must either abstain, or drink in such moderation that his mind is never impaired. Self control and clear thinking is the trait that Paul seems to be describing. He is not careless, impulsive, rash, nor negligent.

Overlapping somewhat with being sober-minded, he must also be self-controlled. This is the opposite of someone who is unrestrained and undisciplined. This word can carry the nuance of sexual decency.3 This person is prudent and thoughtful. He avoids extremes.4

Respectable and hospitable

An overseer must be respectable or be of good behavior. Decent and dignified are words which come to mind when thinking about such a man. He has qualities that evoke admiration or delight.5 He is the opposite of dishonorable, contemptible, or unworthy.

Naturally, a respectable person is someone we like to be around. This makes it important for a pastor to not be cold, unfriendly, unsociable, unhelpful. He must be hospitable. He is someone who loves to be with people and welcomes them into his home.

Able to teach

There is no such thing as a non-teaching pastor. Teaching is one of the gifts mentioned in several passages which is given for building up of the church (Rom 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11). “This is one of the more significant requirements of an overseer and sets him apart from the deacons. The elders are the teachers; the deacons are more involved in the day-to-day serving.”6 One who is able to teach is neither a poor communicator nor unknowledgeable.

Not a drunk or addict

Being intoxicated is always condemned in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 5:11 says we aren’t even to associate with someone who claims to be a Christian but is a drunk! A pastor cannot be a carouser, alcoholic, or addict. The Greek word used in this passage portrays a person who spends too much time sitting with their wine.7 

Not violent or quarrelsome

The word violent in this verse denotes one who is a pugnacious, defiant person with a chip on his shoulder.8 Overseers cannot be violent bullies, but must lead gently as 1 Peter 5:3 says. A man who is harsh, forceful, hotheaded, or domineering is not fit to be a pastor. 

Similarly, they must not be quarrelsome. This Greek word’s definition conceptually overlaps with the previous trait (not violent). “It is a strong term describing active and serious bickering; it even can refer to physical combat.”9 When selecting pastors, we should dismiss from consideration any man who shows signs of being belligerent, combative, divisive, bad tempered, or thin-skinned.

Not a lover of money

We can infer that some in Ephesus were teaching, not for the sake of the kingdom, but in order to make money. So it is today. There are many men who pose as pastors pretending to have the best interest of the church at heart. In reality, they are only doing what they do to line their pockets. A materialistic, covetous, greedy man who wants to spend the church’s money with little to no financial oversight is a lover of money.

Not a new Christian

New Christians are not spiritually mature and are therefore unable to serve as overseers. They lack the wisdom and spiritual insights that only time spent in study and church life can provide. In short, they are simply not equipped for the task. Humility is one of the important characteristics that accompanies spiritual maturity. Paul says there is a real danger that an immature overseer would grow arrogant. 

Well thought of by those outside the church

It is of utmost importance that the church doesn’t fall into reproach. There is no faster way for that to happen than for its leaders to fall into disgrace. Not only must a pastor have a good reputation inside the community of believers, but also among unbelievers. He is not a person who has a poor reputation or is disrespected, disliked, or untrusted. This is not to say a pastor is perfect, but his character and reputation should be such that no legitimate claim can be made against him.

The ultimate spiritual achievement or minimum standard?

Some people look at these qualifications and conclude they represent the pinnacle of Christian sanctification and maturity that seem impossible for the average disciple to possess. However, these character traits are not the ultimate spiritual achievement, but are minimum standards for those who would be pastors. Why would I say this? Because God expects all disciples to develop these character traits (with one exception).

The only qualification in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 not expected of all believers is “able to teach.” Paul gave this list of requirements as a means of filtering out those who are unfit to serve as pastors. If a man cannot conduct himself in the manner expected of all Christians, he has no business leading.

The quietly qualified

It’s the rotten apples we hear about. We hear about them so much one might despair there are any biblically qualified servants of God left. Be assured there are still many, many men who are quietly serving the Lord faithfully as biblically qualified pastors. You’ll never hear of most of them. This is because they are too busy working to advance God’s kingdom to toot their own horn.

If you have a biblically qualified pastor, be thankful. Thank God for him, pray for him, and encourage him in his work. Shepherding a flock of God’s people is often a thankless job.


  2. Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000: BDAG, s.v. νηφάλιος, 672.
  3. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 445.
  4. Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000: BDAG, s.v. σώφρων, 987.
  5. Ibid., BDAG, s.v. κόσμιος(ία), 561.
  6. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000: 445.
  7. Ibid., 446.
  8. Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000: BDAG, s.v. “πλήκτης,” 826.
  9. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 447.