Should a church require that a pastor be gifted? Yes. Paul indicates that if a man desires to serve as a pastor, he must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1.9). A man is not required to produce theological tomes for the ages or to pack out auditoriums with his great oratorical skills, but he must be able to faithfully and clearly communicate the truth of Scripture so that others are able to understand the Bible and act upon it.
What’s equally noteworthy, however, is the unmistakable emphasis that Paul places on the necessity of a pastor’s godliness. He spends more ink here than he does on giftedness. For Paul, godliness is of utmost importance.
For example, in 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Paul lists approximately sixteen qualifications for a man who desires to serve as an overseer. One relates to giftedness: the ability to teach. Fifteen refer to character.
Likewise, in Titus 1:5–9, Paul lists approximately sixteen qualifications for a pastor. One relates to giftedness: again, the ability to instruct in sound doctrine. Fifteen address character.
Paul is undeniably biased. Giftedness matters. Character matters maybe more.
Consequently, Paul insists that the young pastor, Timothy, prioritize godliness in his life and ministry. Paul charges Timothy: “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7); “keep yourself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22); “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
Why does Paul emphasize godliness over giftedness?
It’s not that the gospel life is more important than the gospel word. How many passages throughout the pastoral epistles emphasize faithful teaching! Again, the gospel word must come first. Yet beyond that basic element of faithfully teaching the gospel word, maybe Paul realizes that human beings generally don’t need any help in being persuaded to follow charismatic and talented leaders. We do it naturally.
What we—even as Christians—fail to recognize is how essential godliness in the life of the pastor is to gospel-word ministry.
In Titus 2:11–14, Paul writes, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness . . . and to live . . . godly lives . . . waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” According to Paul, God graciously redeems his people so that they might reject ungodliness and reflect his character to the world.
Therefore, godliness is mission-critical for the church. And, like any group of people, churches will take on the character of their leaders. More times than not, ungodly pastors will produce ungodly churches, and godly pastors will give rise to godly churches. As a result, pastors, whom God calls to lead this band of transformed repenters, must be characterized by repentance and an ongoing pursuit of godliness.
For this reason, the church so desperately needs leaders who not only teach the truth clearly and compellingly but also who live it authentically and consistently. Paul warns that there will be those who “have the appearance of godliness, but deny its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Perhaps these individuals grew up in the church; perhaps they know some Bible verses; perhaps they advocate family values—but they’ve never been transformed by the gospel. So many spiritual counterfeits exist that the church needs to be led by men who are living examples of the transforming power of the gospel.
PASTORS AS EXAMPLES
Pastors also serve as examples to their flock. Paul speaks plainly on this point: “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). And again Paul directs, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech” (Tit. 2:7–8).
Therefore, pastors, prioritize the pursuit of godliness in your life.
Consistent time alone with God in his Word and in prayer are of the utmost importance.
Be accountable to other men.
Accept that most pastors possess average gifts, and resolve to be happy to be a man who possesses average gifts and a biblical zeal for godliness.
Be encouraged. God will not finally evaluate our ministries based on the measure of our giftedness. God will finally evaluate our ministries based on our diligence to exercise the gifts he has given us and on our faithfulness to know him and to walk with him before our people.
Brothers, let’s strive to be men like Paul who on the one hand says, “I am the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), and other the other hand says, “You . . . have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (2 Tim. 3:10).
In other words, let us say with Paul, “I am an example of a sinner transformed by the power of the gospel, and I am a man whose life, though imperfectly, does in fact genuinely and increasingly reflect the character of God to God’s people.” For Robert Murray McCheyne’s words still ring true: “My people’s greatest need is my own personal holiness.”
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the 9Marks blog and is featured in the June 2020 9Marks journal on the topic of “Shepherding.”