The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. ~1 Timothy 3:1
I must say, I’m one of those guys that leadership books make me cringe. As I’ve worked on a D.Min in church revitalization, I’ve read a lot of them; and very few have much to do with what the Bible actually talks about in terms of leadership. In fact, it seems exceedingly odd to me that books for pastors about being pastors rarely seem to quote scripture for pastors about being pastors.
So I want to take a moment and go to one of those passages: 1 Timothy 3:1-7. As it speaks to those who desire to be pastors, it is obviously a good place to look for those in such ministry and those who want to be in it. (There are also several points of application for those in any church leadership position.) Leadership thoughts from Paul’s teachings:
First, if you want to be a pastor, focus on your character. You don’t have to read very far to figure out that Paul’s greatest concern is the character of the person desiring this noble task. Church leadership is ultimately not about vision (other than a passionate focus on Jesus) or talents or education or technical abilities or gregariousness, etc. It is about you as a person.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” So instead of being worried about can you cast a vision worth following? you need to worry about are you living a life worth following? and more specifically are you living a life that will help other people follow Jesus better? It’s about character.
Paul’s opening description summed up 99% of everything else he said: “An overseer must be above reproach” (3:2). This is not a demanding, unobtainable perfection; but rather a life where character flaws are being minimized, sin is being confessed, and growth in spiritual fruit is evident.
Paul continued with several different character traits that flow from this, including: sexual purity and faithfulness to one’s spouse, self-controlled in several aspects, honorable, gentle, content and not greedy, kind and not prone to pick fights or hold grudges, and a bookend summary: a mature follower of Jesus.
If you’re more concerned about rhyming sermon points than the type of man you are, you need to step back and reevaluate your heart.
Second, if you want to be a pastor, lead your family in a Christ-like way. Here we won’t debate whether or not a pastor should be married and have a family; we’ll just operate under the current assumption that most will/do. In families, we tend to spend a lot of time around each other with our guards down. This means, a lot of times our spouses and children see sides of us we can gloss over with a smile and an “everything’s fine” out in public. So: when your guard is down, does Christ still shine through?
Paul made a very strong statement: “He must manage his own household well…for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (3:4-5). Just a few verses later, Paul directly called the church the household of God (3:15). Paul essentially taught that family life is the training ground for eternal-family life.
And it does beg the questions: How can you help care for Jesus’ bride if your own bride is neglected and malnourished (contra Ephesians 5)? Or, how can you guide God’s sons and daughters if your own lack your guidance at home (contra Ephesians 6)?
All of this, of course, flows from that issue of character. Your character at home in private and before the church in public should be the same. You should be seeking to show greater and greater Christlikeness in all areas of your life.
And, speaking of family: third, if you want to be a pastor, treat others in the church like beloved family. This is the other side of the previous point: caring for God’s household. The church isn’t a business and we’re not CEOs. The church is family. Not only did Paul call it God’s household, but in 5:1-2, Paul exhorted us to appeal to older men like fathers, older women like mothers, younger men like brothers, and younger women like sisters.
Now yes, this side of Revelation 21, family has dysfunction and every church will have dysfunction. This isn’t excusing well I roll my eyes at my mother, so I’m going to roll my eyes at the older ladies. It’s clear from Scripture that the church family is to seek to model a loving, functional family (as much as possible). This means that we forgive when we feel wronged, we fight for each other’s well being, we care for each other’s needs, we nurture and protect each other, we encourage, guide, and share wisdom.
Now, on the one hand we should not go Catholic with our titles as Jesus had words against calling a religious leader father (Matthew 23:8-10); but on the other hand, I would argue from Paul’s descriptions here and Peter’s in 1 Peter 5 that just as a pastor functions as an under-shepherd for the church here on earth to the Great Shepherd, so they also are to function as under- (or earthly-) fathers for the church to the Heavenly Father.
A father models his life for his children to follow. A father teaches and strives to impart wisdom about God and his word. A father encourages, cares, and prays for his children. All of these are also pastoral leadership roles toward the church. Hence, pastors are mature men leading God’s household.
Finally, if you want to be a pastor, strive to teach well. Buried in all those character traits, Paul mentioned that an overseer must be able to teach (3:2). This isn’t about alliterated points, catchy illustrations, and a poem—this is about knowing the Bible, living the Bible, and sharing the Bible. Yes, we speak and explain God’s word, but we must be cognizant of all the different ways that people learn and grow. We will not be experts in every method, but we must be able to show people the greatness and the glories of Jesus, and we must be able to show people how to follow him well.
Just as parents learns how best to teach and discipline their children, so if we see our churches as family, we will strive our best to know God’s people and we will learn more fully how best to teach them the word and the ways of God.
So you want to be a pastor? Seek to be the man the Bible calls you to be.
 Overseer, elder, and shepherd (what we call pastor) all speak about the same leadership position in the New Testament, but this is not a post to defend that or to argue about what word is best to use, so I’m just going with the more nowadays common pastor.