Biblical Requirements for Pastors: Older, Married, and with a Proven Family?

I want us to wrestle with an idea/question: when it comes to the biblical requirements for a pastor, should the pastor be an older man who is married and has a family that has proven faithful?

Certainly throughout history there have been a plethora of younger men in the pastorate, we have plenty who post and read here.  Some have young children, some are just beginning families, and some are single.  (I fit into the young and presently single “category” of pastors).  I’m sure that those who are younger all feel called into pastoral ministry…but as we know, desire is not enough.  Through the hands of Paul God gave particular qualifications with which a church is to test a man who desires to be a pastor/elder/overseer.

I must admit there has always been a part of those qualifications that have made me uneasy, so I have wrestled with the text, researched opinions and have still been left without an answer satisfying my heart and mind.

The qualifications I have in mind are: “Therefore an overseer must be…the husband of one wife…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?”—1 Tim 3:2, 4-5; and: “…if anyone is…the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.”—Titus 1:6 (all from ESV).

So here’s the grand question: are these qualifications necessary or only applicable if the man has a wife/kids?

And some thoughts to go with this/spur discussion:

1. Many will argue that line “if he is married,” but: is it our place to add an exception when Paul (at least in 1 Tim) makes such a strong statement “it is necessary”?

2. Paul’s argument is: if a man can’t manage his home (via his children’s behavior), then he won’t be able to care for the flock.  Certainly, if a man has out of control kids under his roof, then there’s something going wrong and he shouldn’t be pastoring.  But if managing a home provides experiential knowledge for managing a church, then what about a man whose home is simply himself?

3. Often the term “elder” is said to apply to the office and has less to do with the age of the person.  But the term does carry obvious age implications, no matter how we try to define it.  And in 1 Peter 5, Peter talks about the work of “elders” as a position/office, but then he says: “likewise you who are younger be subject to the elders.”  I have heard arguments that say Peter suddenly switches his definition of “elders,” and I’ve heard arguments that younger and elder here refer to spiritual life.  All of this in an attempt to reconcile the supposed age-is-not-a-big-issue factor of the office with Peter’s context.  But wouldn’t a more natural reading be that Peter can give such a command to those who are younger to obey the elders (in office), because the elders, like their title, are actually older men?

4. Finally, yes I know the arguments: if pastors have to be married and have kids then that disqualifies Paul, Timothy, and above all Jesus.  But such an argument from Timothy, as far as I’m aware, is an argument from silence.  And I’m not comfortable using an apostle who was hand-picked by Jesus, and God himself as exceptions to the qualifications of pastors who are not God and who were not blinded on the road to Damascus.

So there you go.  I’d like to see some good discussion and thoughts.  Where do you stand on this issue and why?

Comments

  1. says

    One question that comes immediately to mind is: are you referring to “pastor” of a local church? If so, I’m not sure that Paul, Timothy, or most particularly Jesus, were ever pastors of a local church.

    Husband of one wife: as I understand it, that phrase is actually “a one (or first) woman man”. That portrays a man’s characteristics, not his marital status.

    As to “elder”, I think age is definitely involved, but that’s like asking “how high is up?”

    If you’re talking pastor of a local church, that man is referred to as the “presbuteros” .. the bishop of the church. I think (memory here) that word was also used for a Sanhedrist, who were all, as I understand it, married (which leads some scholars I’ve read to think that Paul had, at one time, been married).

    I don’t have any answers, but most of the pastors I know are younger than I am. But I doubt seriously that I would be led to join a church plant with a 20-something single man for a pastor.

  2. says

    I think Bob hits on a great point. I wonder if we’ve folded certain spiritual gifts into the biblical idea of eldership. This might be why we can’t seem to reconcile the two.

    For example, we have a preconceived idea that (pastors) are preachers and teachers, and the term pastor is interchangeable with elder. Following this line of reasoning, those who teach and preach are elders. But there are many gifted teachers and preachers who aren’t necessarily elders, nor should they be. But they shouldn’t be silenced either because they are Spirit-gifted teachers. So they should be able to teach, maybe even weekly from a pulpit, all the while under the oversight of a body of elders. I think we’ve mixed certain spiritual gifts with the position of pastor. Some may argue against this suggestion by saying the elders should be the ones preaching from the pulpit, but that is simply proving my point. Where in Scripture does it say this, other than forcing “apt to teach” to mean preach every week?

  3. says

    The Scriptures clearly teach that the local church is to be lead by a “Plurality of Elders”… and not a single “Senior Pastor”.

    With an established plurality of mature and godly Elders in the local church the fear of calling a young pastor because he has little experience is somewhat muted, although not altogether eliminated.

    It has been my experience that churches are at far greater risk who do not have a proper and Biblical form of Leadership by a plurality of Elders, than are at risk because of the age of their pastor.

    Grace Always,

  4. Christiane says

    Look at the ‘real’ leaders of your faith out there:
    people like Bob Cleveland and Matt Chandler whose walk with Christ is one filled with a Christ-like humility, a gift from the Holy Spirit that helps them point always towards Our Lord. There are many ‘real’ leaders of your faith with this gift of the Spirit.

    That ‘sign’ of ‘humility before the Lord’,
    is something to look for in a shepherd,
    that can help them to guide their flock into Life.

    Those who have this precious gift range in age from young to old.
    But without this gift, a shepherd may become blinded by pride.

  5. says

    I think the teaching as to the plurality of elders may well apply to the church at Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, etc, as there likely wasn’t a big red brick building on the highway in which they met. The very likely met in homes, which made their “church” look more like our church when it’s in Sunday School, than it does when it’s in the “sanctuary”. In that context, it makes sense.

    Every house church had a leader. An elder.

    In the Baptist system, we say the pastor is the elder .. the presbuteros .. and the deacons are to be sort of “spiritual leaders”, and that’s a concept with which I do NOT agree. So I’m not waving no Baptist flag here or nuthin’.

    But then, I don’t think the IMB approves of “house churches” anyway, which 8 of our members helped plant 6 of last week in Tarapoto, Peru.

  6. says

    Bob,

    I think this is a “Both/And” issue instead of an “Either/Or” issue… In other words, I think I can agree with you on the single Elder House Church model. But when it comes to a larger church setting I think a plurality of Elders is both the Biblical model, and has been proven many times over to produce a much more harmonious church experience for the leadership and the membership.

    On the 6 new house church plants in Peru…. WAY TO GO!!!

    Grace Always,

  7. says

    As I’ve always understood it, the term elder was not related to chronological age in the discussion of elder qualifications. Could it be that when Peter says “You who are younger…” he means “younger in the faith”?

    I concur that husband of one wife does not preclude someone who has never been married from being a pastor.

    So I guess I’d say as long as a man was not comitting sexual sins and he had a level of spiritual maturity, I can’t see these two things disqualifying him from being a pastor.

  8. says

    Excellent, Mike.

    I struggled with the question back in Cedar Rapids. One of my best friends there was a single man. We searched things out on these questions and struggled with whether being single eliminated him from service. We felt he was qualified in every other way, but wondered if his singleness prohibited him from service.

    We ordained him as a deacon on the following grounds, some of which you mentioned.

    1) We came to the view that this passage was meant to put limits on those who were married, not to eliminate service by those who are single or to require marriage. The evidence is spotty and could be interpreted both ways.

    But we came down on the “inclusive” side. If someone is going to be excluded from service, it must be on the clearest of evidence. When
    things are not clear, we included, not excluded from service.

    2) We also discussed the idea you mentioned – that Jesus and Paul were both clearly single.

    3) Our clearest biblical evidence was 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul tells us that he wishes that everyone was single like him and that it was the preferable state for serving God. If Paul meant to eliminate single people from service in 1 Timothy and Titus, then 1 Corinthians 7 needs some editing.

    This is a tough one, but our decision was that in the light of the sketchy biblical evidence we had, single men were eligible for service in the church.

  9. says

    And, while I think “elder” refers to spiritual maturity, not chronological age, I think there has to be some chronological element. I was in a full-time ministry position at age 24, but as I look back on my ministry, it was probably only in my early to mid-30’s that I had the maturity to be considered a true elder in any sense.

    I was a pastor before I qualified as an elder (if I ever have?).

  10. says

    The elder is a position more than an age issue, and the husband of one wife is a one woman kind of man, that is, a faithful person. The Catholics will accept married ministers from other denominations who convert and, so I understand, even let them serve in the ministry. However, if the wife dies, they are not permitted to marry again. This is called digamy. Baptist had usually let ministers marry, if their spouses die. Divorce is another matter, due to the influence of the Anglican background. I can tell you that you really get to know what it means to be “rejected,” if you have a second marriage in the ministry due to divorce – justifiable or not. The trouble with biblical believers is that, when they are in legalistic mode, they can be extremely cruel. Since I think the term is more office than age related, I think a young person can certainly serve as a pastor as well as a single person. But then I agree with our founding fathes like Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall even women can serve as eldresses. I can hear the fuses sizzling.

  11. says

    The title Elder obviously refers to the age of the pastor. But I agree it is also connected with the spiritual maturity of the pastor. In addition, it is a term of respect for the pastor, even if the pastor is young.

    Another way of looking at it. Even the youngest pastor can be called “elder” by some in the church. The longer he faithfully serves, the more people there will be who can call him “elder.” It has sure happened to me :-).
    David R. Brumbelow

  12. says

    It seems that elder and pastor should be used interchangeably. If they should not be used interchangeably where do we find the qualifications and duties of pastors in the New Testament?

    • Bill Mac says

      I’m not entirely convinced that elder and pastor are interchangeable. The NT does not use them interchangeably. I see Elder as an office and Pastor as a spiritual gift. I think there is necessarily a lot of overlap, but not complete overlap. For example, I am an elder in my local church. As such I can do shepherding duties and and I try to do them diligently. But it is not my calling. We have an elder who is also our pastor. Someone who believes he is called by God to do pastoral ministry. He is the one we call pastor. He has the office, but he also has the gift.

      I could be wrong about this, but that’s what I think.

      • says

        I think where we get the overlap comes from three facts: 1) The only time the word ‘pastor’ is used in any “official” sense is Eph 4:11 where some are given as evangelists and some as pastor-teachers (or possibly: pastors and teachers).

        2) When Peter addresses the elders in 1 Pet 5, he tells them to pastor/shepherd the flock, and speaks of when the “chief shepherd” appears, who they are working for and will be rewarded from. He also tells them to exercise oversight… which then:

        3) Paul refers to the group of “overseers”/bishops in 1 Tim in the same manner/basic requirements as he does the elders in Titus.

        Hence, why I’ve often heard it described: biblically, the office is known mainly as “Elders” and their tasks are to provide oversight and shepherd.

        I buy it. Whatever titles we assign, I think it’s hard to come to any conclusion except that all Elders are shepherds/pastors from 1 Pet, just as all Elders are teachers from 1 Tim.

        • Bill Mac says

          Mike,

          As I say, I think there is overlap, just not complete overlap. And that is because Pastor is listed as a spiritual gift, something which all elders may not have. Think of teaching. Anyone CAN teach, and many do out of necessity. But not all have the gift of teaching.

          • says

            Bill,

            If you are correct and being a pastor is only a spiritual gift then the BFM is wrong to call it an office.

            I’m curious though, what spiritual gift do you see as defining ‘pastor’? I’d like to understand how to separate this from the duties of overseers (bishops/elders).

  13. Bill Mac says

    Mark: The original BFM used the term elder. I’m uncertain of the rationale behind the change, but I have some theories. I think the term elder is more precise. It certainly requires few steps to demonstrate the biblical case the the office of elder vs the office of pastor. But, I’m not about to sweat it.

    As to your second question, I think it boils down to the difference between duty and calling. Paul likely had a pastoral gift. But he was not an elder.

  14. says

    I agree with the elder/age issue. But it is probably best to consider maturity as the real marker. When Paul teaches that an elder’s children are to be in subjugation, every indicator is that they are to be in the faith and obedient to it. Though we might like to think of toddlers and even preteens as submitted, the real test will come in the teen years. The family, and not just the prospect for eldership is in view in all the qualifications. They must qualify him as well as him qualifying himself. The maturity is tested by the attributes of the family as well as in personal life with those outside, knowledge of the Word, ability to teach it, et cetera. If he has been unable to control his family through the means of the Gospel, what good would he be to the church? So when I look at it, as a parent, I can’t imagine myself an elder twenty years ago. The test of my readiness for eldership in the family of God is my family. And that is not found out in a vacuum, but one must have succeeded as a husband and a father to a measurable and substantial effect. That takes years if not decades.

  15. says

    Incidentally, I am all for a plurality of elders. I spent 10+ years in various Presbyterian denominations, and have seen how well men who are capable and respected can lead a church. And how they can be revered for doing so, by the membership.

    And, I don’t know if I lost my ordination when I joined an SBC church, but when it comes to knowing elders, I are one, so I guess I ought to.

  16. MInister Brent says

    IM strugling with this as well God called me to the minstry at the age of 17 when i rededicated i ran till i was 19 and now 4 years later ive been preaching 4 years and God began to putit on my heart over 8 months ago i would have a pastor postion well we had a pastor so i assumed assistant pastor so i talked to are pastor he said i see you as a youth pastor but thats not what God was calling me to and Jason was doing excellent in that postion then he pulled the i want my son in law to be the assistant and a week later lo and behold he left the church because he was standing in Gods way and God got rid of him so im left confused i prayed God why i dont understand u said assistant pastor and he said to my heart i never said assistant u said that Brent wait on me ill give u instruction 2 months later he said brent u will be pastor and i said what? at 23?? u kidding me church would never go for that and i had and elder member come up to me said his wife was having dreams of me being pastor and his grand daughter after service one sunday morning when the service was over and the man im not giving names but he said and pray we find a pastor and the grand daughter of the same man that his wife had the dreams said poppy theres your pastor and pointed at me and he told me about that after church and i still tried to fight it then i walked ove rto the youth house one night to speak for jason since he was at a meeting and they all called me pastor brent theres pastor brent and im like ok Lord i get the picture and one night i was speaking in July on a Wednsday and after preaching almost every service the last 6 months i was preaching and through the message God after it said now Brent on Sunday night call the board and tell them and i said ok Lord ill be obedient and i did scared to death but God gave me strength and i went before the board and i made myself avilable for Pastor and every single minister thats came into to preach to see if there spose to pastor has left saying im not spose to pastor this church and theres only a few more left before they hold the election and im just i know Gods will is going to be done but its stressfully so ive been casting it on the Lord for he said come unto me all yee who laden and heavy burden and i will give you rest for my yoke is easy and my burden is light and thats what ive been doing plus the stress of no job until today was my first day working as a network tech at a major church but only on non church days of course but there happy now that i have a job and i know they support me but im still human and being human regradless u have to fight doubt and fear for God has not given us the spirit of fear but of power and of love and a sound mind praise the Lord pray for my situation and im also single but Gods led me to this amazing woman shes 20 and a minister as well im praying for GOds will in that were friends right now but i pray his will is for her to be with me shes everything ive been praying for but until God says yes Brent her im not moving Im waiting on the Lord as the Word says