Over the past thirty years America has witnessed an unprecedented rise of mega scale churches and in tandem a meteoric explosion of moral failure. An entire generation of church goers are jaded, confused, and desensitized, because the pedestal of the pulpit crashed down. Because I take Galatians 6:1-2 seriously, I’ve elected not to list the names of men who’ve fallen from “grace” and the “ranks” bathmos (1 Tim 3:13) but many of these men were quickly becoming “household” names via their media ministry and book sales. Heartbreaking. So, should local churches demand better? Should the universal body of Christ do a better job of selection? Can we avoid some of these disasters? The answer to each question is a resounding, “Yes!” but in order to do so we must demand our preacher and his pulpit go back to the Bible.
Should local churches demand better? Can we avoid some of these disasters? The answer to each question is a resounding, “Yes!” but in order to do so we must demand our preacher and his pulpit go back to the Bible.
The pulpit is the pastor and the pastor is his pulpit. Our generation of hipster preachers use every trick in the phone to disconnect their person from their pulpit, working hard to appear as “everyday” guys “searching” for answers like the congregation during the week (or via Twitter) but suddenly transformed into thunder and lightning on Sunday. But the Bible doesn’t proffer such a view of pastor and pulpit. It’s never bifurcated. Instead, the Bible places intense emphasis on who the preacher is… the reason for this is that a true preacher isn’t saying what man wants to hear but what God wants said. A pastor’s Sunday pulpit is the genuine overflow of his Monday-Saturday character.
When writing to young Timothy the apostle Paul spent inordinate attention on Timothy’s character qualifications (1 Tim 3). Likewise, Jesus stated that at the final judgment, He wouldn’t base his heavenly entrance requirements on the external works of preachers but on the internal character of preachers (Matt 7:21-23).
Regarding spiritual Christian character the great reformer Martin Luther stressed prayerful readiness, “Your first duty is to begin to pray, and to pray to this effect, that if it please God to accomplish something for His glory – not for yours or any other person’s – He may very graciously grant you a true understanding of His words… You must, completely despair of your own industry and ability and rely solely on the inspiration of the Spirit.” John Calvin’s Institutes may have earned him the title “preeminent systematician of the Protestant Reformation” but his concept of piety was unsurpassed and rooted in the knowledge of God. Regarding the pietas behind writing his Institutes Calvin says, “I wrote them to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness.” Regarding daily communion with God, 19th century prince of preachers Charles Spurgeon said, “When your soul becomes lean, your hearers, without knowing how or why, will find that your prayers in public have little savor for them; they will feel your barrenness, perhaps, before your perceive it yourself.” The late great 20th century expositor Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones said of preachers:
“What do you look for in a preacher? Well, you remember how in Acts 6, even in the matter of appointing deacons, who were simply to handle a financial problem, a charitable matter of feeding widows, it was insisted upon that they should be men ‘filled with the Spirit’. That is the first and the greatest qualification. You are entitled to look for an unusual degree of spirituality, and this must come first because of the nature of the task. In addition you are entitled to look for a degree of assurance with respect to his knowledge of the Truth and his relationship to it. It is surely clear that if he is a man who is always struggling…influenced by the last book he reads, and ‘carried about by every wind of doctrine’ and every new theological fashion, it is clear that he is ipso facto a man who is not called to the ministry.”
The pastor’s pulpit starts with the pastor’s piety! The pulpit is the proclamation of God’s word and God takes His word very seriously so a preacher must practice what he preaches. James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” In this text, the original listeners would have connected the title “Teacher” with the Old Testament Jewish concept of Rabbi, a term which eventually became presbuteros, meaning pastor-overseer. The word Elder has a Hebrew origin zaqen, used in Numbers 11:16 and Deuteronomy 27:1, regarding the seventy tribal leaders who assisted Moses. This specifies a special group of men who were bearded (mature) and set apart for leadership. The New Testament Greek word for Elder presbuteros is used approximately seventy times and likewise refers to “aged” “bearded” or, “gray-headed” man of mature age. The word appears with various purposes across the NT including 1 Peter 5:5, 1 Timothy 5:2, Matthew 27:3, Luke 22:52, and Acts 4:8 and would have been widely accepted as meaning mature, fair, wise, men of spiritual integrity. And, because the NT church was originally Jewish it would have been natural for them to adopt the concept of Elder. Elder was the only commonly used Jewish term for leadership that stayed free from connotations of government or monarchy. Thus, it was the churches way of defining leaders while leaving Christ as the head of His church and not designating a special priesthood, as had formerly existed in Israel. The Greek word for Bishop is episkopos. The Greek word for Pastor is poimen. The qualifications for a Bishop, listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and those for an Elder in Titus 1:6-9, are parallel. Titus even uses both terms to refer to the same man (Titus 1:5-7). 1 Peter 5:1-2 brings all three terms together. Peter instructs the elders to be good Bishops as they pastor: “Therefore, I exhort the elders presbuteros among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd pomaino the flock of God among you, exercising oversight episkopeo not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.”
Therefore, it’s clear James is referencing ordained clergy rather than a bible study leader or Sunday school teacher. There are a few items to note about this warning.
First, we must accept there will always be a preponderance of supposed preachers who love the idea of being called teacher but aren’t living out the lifestyle of a Godly teacher. In 1 Timothy 6:3-4 Paul warns, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness he is conceited, understands nothings; he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language…” A poorly prepared preacher will erode church from the inside. Note Paul describes a church being torn apart from the inside by detrimental teaching. These aren’t outsiders! Churches don’t fall by doctrinal earthquake, they fall by doctrinal erosion, when one tiny falsehood stems into another, and within years a church is overrun. No church wakes up one morning and says, “Gee, today we’ll stop teaching God’s word…” No pastor suddenly exclaims, “Today, I’ll teach heresy…” It’s one small crack in the foundation, one spot of rust, one dent in the armor, until eventual collapse.
Churches don’t fall by doctrinal earthquake, they fall by doctrinal erosion, when one tiny falsehood stems into another…
Next, it’s important for a pastor to analyze his character and his conduct. As mentioned previously, Paul gave Timothy a staggering list of internal qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. Look closely at the list below. These qualifications are written in the present tense demanding that a man currently (and habitually) be living out each principle, else not receive, or be removed, from his post. It is useful to view each qualification as one stair, thus requiring a man climb all seventeen stairs before presuming himself ready to be examined for Pastoral Ministry. It is also helpful for married men to review these with their spouse, requesting on areas of strength and weakness:
- Aspiration. Aspire is from the Greek orego, meaning to, “reach out after or stretch oneself” including the internal and external act. Thus, a man must showcase passionate compulsion to serve Christ in any capacity asked and at any cost to himself. This ambition must be for service, NOT the office, or money, for it to be pure.
- Above Reproach. The Greek anepilemptos means, “not able to be held” referencing a man without any obvious sinful defect or blight on his character. Specifically this man won’t have any private, public, sexual, financial, or addictive failure, which another could notice and name.
- Husband of One Wife. Greek, “one-woman-man” describes a man devoted in his heart, mind, and practices to the woman who is his wife. He loves, desires, and thinks only of her and maintains sexual purity in both his mind and conduct.
- Temperate. Greek, nephalios literally means without wine or unmixed with wine and metaphorically references an alert, watchful, or vigilant man who thinks clearly and is unrestricted by mental or emotional turmoil.
- Prudent. Greek, sophrona is literally to avoid the appearance of being a clown, relegating humor to its proper place. The temperate man orders his mind to focus on spiritual things and remains unstained by frivolities, distractions, worldly sarcasms, humors, and mindless vanities.
- Respectable. Greek kosmios refers to the orderly behavior, which stems from a temperate and prudent mind. The well-disciplined mind leads to a well-disciplined life, depicting a man who arrives on time, maintains commitments, meets deadlines, accomplishes goals, and is not in fiscal disarray.
- Hospitable. Greek philoxenos a compound word from the Greek words, “to love’ and, “strangers” meaning a man who openly loves strangers, willing to meet with those in need, willing to open his house, and not withdrawing from public contact or accountability.
- Able to Teach. Greek didaktikos references both the hard work of study and skilled presentation of Holy Scripture. This singular gift/skill separates the Pastor-Elder from the Deacon, and the vocational minister from the bi-vocational, thus standing as a premium qualification in ascertaining whom God has called to particular office.
- Not Addicted to Wine. A man must not have a reputation as a drinker, talk freely about alcohol, or be known to frequent places, which associate themselves with alcohol. A man who consistently enjoys alcohol becomes a poor example to those with a weaker conscience and removes himself from consideration for leadership.
- Not Pugnacious. Greek me plektes literally means, “not a giver of blows” and eludes to a man who does not strike back with physical violence but settles disputes with a calm and cool demeanor.
- Gentle. Greek epieikes describes the man who is considerate, genial, forbearing, and gracious, easily pardoning after being sinned against. He does not keep a list of wrongs and does not hold a grudge.
- Uncontentious. Greek amachos references a peaceful and non-quarrelsome man who promotes unity amidst church members and supports the church leaders before any personal agenda.
- Not a Money Lover. Greek aphilarguaron is an alpha privative meaning no attention is fixed on monetary reward. It is a perverse corruption of ministry to perform Christ’s work with a goal of monetary gain. Love of money is at the root of all evil and the motivation of all false teaching. A true Pastor-Elder must have a record of giving financially and never intimate that vocational ministry is his primary goal, accepting God’s providence in this matter.
- Manages His Household Well. Literally means to, “Preside over each part of the household morally and aesthetically well.” Thus, there will be a practical, fiscal, and moral, leadership order around the Pastor’s home, which allows his wife and children gladly fulfill their biblical roles. This mandates consideration of a man’s wife as it relates to his own pastoral calling.
- Children Under Control With Dignity. Greek hupotage is a military term, requiring the family “line up under” his authority. Thus, the man must showcase his home to maintain courtesy, humility, and competence, with children that bring honor to their parents while living underneath his roof.
- Not a New Convert. Greek neophutos appears a lot in extra-biblical texts as a newly planted tree, meaning that a young or newly baptized believer should not be elevated to leadership, until a period of tempering and humbling has been provided.
- Good Reputation Outside the Church. Reputation translates marturia from which we get martyr, meaning the man has a certifying testimony, and the community at large applauds his character, and is largely accepting of his conduct.
Further, 1 Peter 5:1-4 says, “I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Note how Peter specifies the internal qualities that motivate a pastor. 1) He accepts the flock is God’s not his own 2) He is passionate that the flock succeed 3) He never dominates the flock 4) He only asks the flock go where he’s first gone. Who wouldn’t want to be led by a man like that?
Before a man attempts to lead a church he should get honest with how he’s leading himself! Is he pure? Is his family in order? Has he proven to be a genuine and Godly motivator for his friends and coworkers? Note Paul’s list of commendations from just the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy:
- Correct false doctrine, call them to purity, good conscience (1 Tim 1:3-5)
- Fight for truth and God’s purpose, keeping faith (1 Tim 1:18-19)
- Pray for the lost and lead the men of the church to do the same (1 Tim 2:1-8)
- Call women in the church to fulfill their God-given roles (1 Tim 2:9-15)
- Carefully select leaders on the basis of giftedness and godliness (1 Tim 3:1-13)
- Recognize error and point these things out to the church (1 Tim 4:1-6)
- Be nourished on Scripture, avoiding myths and false doctrine (1 Tim 4:6)
- Discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim 4:7-11)
- Boldly command and teach the truth of God’s Word (1 Tim 4:12)
- Be a model of spiritual virtue that all can follow (1 Tim 4:12)
- Be progressing toward Christ-likeness in his own life (1 Tim 4:15-16)
- Be gracious and gentle in confronting the sin of his people (1 Tim 5:1-2)
- Give special consideration and care to those who are widows (1 Tim 5:3-16)
- Choose church leaders with great care, seeing they are proven (1 Tim 5:22)
- Take care of his physical condition so that he is strong to serve (1 Tim 5:23)
- Teach and preach godliness, helping people discern hypocrisy (1 Tim 5:24-6:6)
- Flee the love of money (1 Tim 6:7-11)
- Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance (1 Tim 6:11)
- Fight for the faith against all enemies and all attacks (1 Tim 6:12)
- Instruct the rich to do good, to be rich in good, and generous (1 Tim 6:17-19)
- Guard the Word of God as a sacred trust and a treasure (1 Tim 6:20-21)
- Keep the gift of God in him fresh and useful (2 Tim 1:6)
- Not be timid but powerful (2 Tim 1:7)
- Never be ashamed of Christ or anyone who serves Christ (2 Tim 1:8-11)
- Hold tightly to the truth and guard it (2 Tim 1:12-14)
- Be strong in character (2 Tim 2:1)
- Be a teacher of truth reproducing himself in faithful men (2 Tim 2:2)
- Suffer difficulty willingly making maximum effort (2 Tim 2:3-7)
- Keep his eyes on Christ at all times (2 Tim 2:8-13)
- Lead with authority (2 Tim 2:14)
- Interpret and apply Scripture accurately (2 Tim 2:15)
- Avoid useless conversation that leads only to ungodliness (2 Tim 2:16)
- Be an instrument of honor, set apart from sin (2 Tim 2:20-21)
- Flee youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, and love (2 Tim 2:22)
- Refuse to be drawn into philosophical and theological wrangling (2 Tim 2:23)
- Not argue, kind, teachable, gentle, patient even when wronged (2 Tim 2:24-26)
- Face dangerous times with a knowledge of the Word of God (2 Tim 3:1-15)
- Understand Scripture is the basis of all legitimate ministry (2 Tim 3:16-17)
- Preach the Word, reproving, rebuking, exhorting with patience (2 Tim 4:1-2)
- Be sober in all things (2 Tim 4:5)
- Endure hardship (2 Tim 4:5)
- Do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5)
If you take these 42 commendations for pastoral ministry and condense them down to three categories they are 1) Teach truth 2) Defend from error 3) Live a holy life. Too many pastors forget the third one! The profession of preaching doesn’t bring honor to the man, the man must bring honor to the profession of preaching… A man should walk to the pulpit only after he’s been proven spiritual, faithful, and capable.
The profession of preaching doesn’t bring honor to the man, the man must bring honor to the profession of preaching.
James continues, providing a warning to potential ministers, “Let not many become…” The Greek carries the weight of presumption, an over-assumption, the passive imperative could make our modern vernacular, “Don’t get caught up in this teaching idea!” or, “Don’t let the limelight overrun your good sense!” Evidently, when James wrote this there was a group of young Jewish-Christian rabbi’s enraptured with the idea of authority. James says, “Slow down!”
Former president of Dallas Theological Seminary John Walvoord once looked at a class of graduating students and said, “I’m afraid for this year’s class. You have a great number of beliefs but not enough conviction!” Walvoord’s point should be contemplated by every man daring to enter a life in ministry because the pulpit may seem at first to be a special glory but in reality it is a very special pain. The pulpit weekly beckons the preacher like the sea calls a sailor, waves that must be traveled, but incessantly battering him at the helm. The mighty Scottish reformer John Knox said, “To really preach is to die naked a little at a time and know each time you do, you must get up and do it again.”
Finally, James explains why men should accept the call thoughtfully describing the impending judgment of the post. “We shall incur a stricter judgment” means exactly what it says. I’ve heard scholars attempt to work around this phrase but it’s just not possible. James, himself the half-brother of Christ and leader of the Jerusalem church, even includes himself. Recall Christ’s words in Luke 12:41-48,
“Peter said, ‘Lord, are you addressing this parable to us, or to everyone as well?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possession. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
To whom much is given much is required! Note, there was a dutiful servant, a defiant servant, a distracted servant, and a daydreaming servant. The greatest discipline was retained for the servant who knew the most but did the least! Based on this teaching, Paul analyzed himself accordingly in Acts 20:25, “I know that all of you who I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”
Friends, all of this points back to Paul’s intensity towards Timothy when he wrote things like, “I remember you in my prayers day and night.” Paul knew that Christ had called His preachers to be watchmen on the walls and they weren’t allowed to leave their post nor altar the task they’d been given.
A true gospel preacher will be literally constrained by his calling. He’ll cleanse anything from his mind or life that could limit his effectiveness. There can be no alternate agendas, no ladder to climb, no circuit to travel, no beer with the buds, no private fantasies, no love for new fashions, no glory and greed. Day and night he thinks only of God and the people, his beloved city, walking the walls to protect the sheep and keep out the wolves. All in the city look toward his example and have hope, for as long as the watchman is standing on the gate, the besieged city cannot fall. Logan Brengle well said:
“Leadership is not won by promotion, but by many prayers and tears. It is attained by confessions of sin, and much heart-searching and humbling before God; by self-surrender, a courageous sacrifice of every idol, a bold, deathless, uncompromising and uncomplaining embracing of the cross, and by an eternal, unfaltering looking unto Jesus crucified. It is not gained by seeking great things for ourselves, but by counting those things that are gain to us as loss for Christ.”
 Books foundational to a minister’s calling may include Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon, Preachers & Preaching by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Pastoral Ministry by John MacArthur.