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As discussed briefly in the previous section, the basic requirements for church leaders (pastors and deacons) are outlined in three passages in the New Testament: 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-4. Every ministry leader should take time to study these texts and seek to model their lives based on the characteristics listed there. There are numerous books written on these passages, and I urge the reader to get hold of some of them for further amplification of the richness of these passages.


At the outset, it is worth noting that Paul says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Timothy 3:1). If you desire to be a leader in the church or ministry, it is something good in the sight of God. It is God’s will that godly leaders develop among His people. It is His usual way to lead His people through mature men and women.


It is, therefore, no surprise that He gave us the key qualifications of prospective leaders. These qualifications can be grouped into personal, family, relational, and talent qualifications of a leader. Overall, a leader “must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). That is, he must live an exemplary life that is devoted to God. Of course, no leader is without fault, so God is not looking for perfection. What Paul meant to say was that if you look at the leader’s life, there are no glaring weaknesses that mar his character.


Personal Characteristics


Among the personal attributes of a Christian leader are spiritual maturity, humility, soberness, financial integrity, self-control, and holy living. These character traits imply that a Christian leader’s first obligation is to God. He is, first of all, a Christian before he is a leader. As such, his primary calling is in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.


Concerns from multiple fronts usually swamp leaders. It is easy to fall into the trap of dealing with the external and urgent while neglecting our life before God. Early in your leadership journey, resolve not to put anything or any person between God and you. Start your day with your devotions or quiet time. End your day in prayer. In between, be always communing with your Lord.


Commit yourself to spiritual disciplines which are the means of grace that will lead to godliness. In his excellent book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, Donald Whitney listed the following disciplines that the Christian ought to pursue:  systematic Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.[1]


Family Relations


Moreover, a leader must have a good relationship with his spouse and children. Paul said that a pastor must “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). His logic is that if a person cannot manage his own family well, how much more the family of God? I will have more to say on this topic in a separate chapter below.


Relating to Others


In relating to others, a Christian leader must be gentle, peace lover, hospitable, respectable, and a good example. In a word, he must love her neighbor as herself. Human relationships are what leadership is all about. As any leader can attest, it is easier to lead 100 sheep than ten people (even if he has not been a shepherd!).


I have often marveled at the relational blind spots I sometimes have. There was a time when one of my colleagues in the office was unusually aloof. I thought I had something to do with her working relationship with other staff only to find out later that she was dealing with a traumatic experience during one of our team building sessions.


Whether in the ministry or the office, dealing effectively with other people is always the main challenge of a leader. Take for example what Paul included in his catalog of qualifications: “not quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:3). A leader’s patience will be tested to the limits at certain times. In some ways, a leader’s task can be a thankless job. Her motives can be misinterpreted by others, which could lead to hurt feelings, even offensive words. Under such pressures, a leader must not be quick to ignite a quarrel. At the same time, the opposite is also true. A leader must not be quick to initiate conflicts. The Greek words for “not quarrelsome” in fact imply that the pastor is not a violent person or bully. The pulpit (literally and figuratively) must not be used to browbeat people who have offended the leader.


Talent Qualifications


For pastors, the one talent qualification is the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). This requirement is understandable because the main task of a pastor is to preach and teach the Word of God. The general principle here is that leaders must possess the required competencies in their area of service, whether in the ministry or the office.


Because of this need,  my general advice to early-career young people is to prioritize additional learning rather than salary. In their choice of jobs, budding leaders should prioritize work where they will grow professionally even if the pay is lower. When they have gained superior qualifications, they will be able to earn much more in the long run compared to those whose talents have atrophied. Even beyond salary considerations, those who have sharpened their abilities will be more satisfied with the quality of their work and life.


Before we end this chapter, I want to draw your attention to one trait of a leader that Paul mentioned. And that is that a pastor must not be “recent convert” lest he is consumed with pride (1 Timothy 3: 6). Leaders need the experience to mature. Paul did not give an absolute number of age or years after conversion before a Christian can be a pastor or ministry leader. This is because there is some latitude in this regard. The age of the church and the number of members among many factors will govern the appropriate level of experience of its leaders. Likewise, in the office, each successive leadership rung demands various levels of experience. However, leaders must exhibit some degree of maturity compared to their people. It is a truism that no church or organization can grow higher than the spiritual maturity of its leaders.


Discussion Guide

1. How are you growing in personal holiness?

2. How well do you relate to others?

3. In what ways are you developing your talents?

4. When would you consider a person mature enough to lead a ministry?



[1] Whitney, D., Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life,

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