What is a “good” pastor?

If you have been part of a local church or among the leadership of a local church, then you have probably thought or said something about the quality of a pastor or pastors.

I love my pastor because he showed great care for me when my daughter was in the hospital last year.”

That pastor is not so great because he doesn’t seem to connect well with guests and first-time visitors each Sunday.”

That pastor is awesome because he doesn’t seem like a typical pastor.”

Whatever you might think about your pastor, or pastors generally, I’d like to invite you to consider the reality that pastors do indeed have a tremendous impact on the local church. In fact, one way to know if a church family is healthy and if they will grow healthier over time is to learn about the pastor or pastors who lead them.

Biblically qualified pastors or elders or “undershepherds” is one mark or feature of a healthy church, and Christians are wise to think more about this subject. Learn more about building healthy churches by visiting 9marks.org.

What are the biblical qualifications of an undershepherd (i.e. pastor or elder)? When you think of a well-qualified pastor, what comes to mind? Do the qualifications you are thinking about have any Scriptural support or are they based on your life experience or your preferences? How would you know if a man was qualified to serve as a pastor? How would you know if a man should be removed pastoring your local church?

Thankfully, the Bible gives a thorough list of pastoral qualifications and the Bible provides examples of good pastors.

  • A pastor or elder should have a clean reputation (1 Tim. 3:2, 7; Titus 1:6-7).
  • If He is married, he should be a faithful husband and his wife should be godly and faithful as well (1 Tim. 3:2, 4; Titus 1:6).
  • He should manage his household well (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6).
  • He should be self-controlled and financially temperate (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Titus 1:7-8).
  • He should be hospitable and mature in his Christian walk (1 Tim. 3:2, 6; Titus 1:8).
  • He should be doctrinally sound and able to teach sound doctrine to others (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9).

If you see men among your church family who meet these qualifications, then you should praise God for them. For such men are a gift from Christ to His people (Eph. 4:11-12), and they are a blessing to your soul (Heb. 13:17). If, however, you are sitting under the shepherding care of a man who fails to meet one or more of these qualifications, then you should have grave concerns.

We are warned in Scripture about false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 Jn. 4:1) and false gospels (Gal. 1:6-9). Furthermore, God blames congregations for listening to those who lead them astray (Gal. 1:6-9).

It is vitally important that every member of a local church understand these qualifications. If some church members measure the quality of pastoral leadership by some other standard, then an unqualified man may seem more valuable than he truly is, or a highly qualified man may seem less than desirable.

May God raise up more qualified pastors/elders and may He cause many churches to be healthier through the efforts of such men. May God also help church members to value and appreciate good pastors/elders by measuring them by biblical standards.

“Elders” by Jeramie Rinne

I think this is a great resource for both aspiring elders/pastors and formally recognized ones. This book was an honest and biblical introduction to what an elder is and what an elder does, applicable to every Christian.

If a man is considering becoming an elder himself, or if he is currently serving as an elder and considering his affirmation of other elders, this book will be a great help. Also, if a church member is considering what his/her expectations ought to be regarding his/her elders, this book will be exceedingly beneficial.

Rinne doesn’t assume anything (one of the great things about this book), and he asserts early on that one of the first “elder-related” duties is to “investigate whether you should in fact be an elder, based on the Bible’s qualifications.”

He goes on to say, “Don’t assume. Even if you have served as an elder before, allow God’s Word to vet your candidacy” (pg. 18). These are shocking and (hopefully) sobering words for anyone who is considering what it means to be an elder. The Bible lays out various character qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) for those who would serve or are serving as elders, and Rinne walks through them all.

There is a conspicuous qualification for elders that is not necessarily related to a man’s character, namely the ability to teach. There is much more that an elder/pastor must do and even more that he can do, but the central focus of his task is teaching.

Summarizing the charge of pastoring (being an elder), Rinne says,

“Overseers [or elders] teach, pray, and serve so that their brothers and sisters might know Jesus more intimately, obey him more faithfully, and reflect his character more clearly, both individually and as a church family” (pg. 40).

This is the biblical job description and heartfelt desire of every godly elder/pastor who serves among a local congregation.

Rinne’s candid and biblical approach is commendable and refreshing. So much of what passes for Christian literature today is hardly recognizable as Christian. Church growth resources are pragmatic, concerned nearly entirely with strategy and systems. Against this backdrop, Rinne is a bright and beautiful light. He begins with the biblical definition and description of an elder, he continues by challenging elders to function according to the biblical mandate, and he ends with a biblical call to glorious service in Christ’s name.

In my own local church (as of July 2018), I am the only officially recognized elder. Other men are informally doing the work of elders, shepherding fellow church members, but the biblical office of elder is not clearly recognized among my congregation.

By God’s grace, we are seeing some significant growth in this area, and there are many church members who are beginning to understand the biblical teaching of what an elder is and what an elder does. I believe it may not be too much longer before we will be able to formally recognize at least a couple of other men among us as elders.

For now, I am prayerfully seeking to live out the call Rinne gives to elders throughout his book. I am teaching my people what qualifies a man to be an elder, and I am calling them to settle for nothing less (especially in me). I am seeking to know and be known by members of my congregation, though I am simply not able to know all of them as well as I can know some of them. I am striving to serve the word of God throughout the weekly activities of our congregational life, especially on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings (we do not currently have a Sunday night service).

Additionally, I am trying to call absentee members back into the fold, trying to lead with patience and kindness, and trying to be an example among the flock over which God has placed me. I do feel both the burden of pastoring and the weight of such a glorious task.

May God help me, and may He raise up many godly men to serve as elders/pastors among local churches.

See this book on Amazon by CLICKING HERE

A Pastoral Word about Mother’s Day

Pastors have a responsibility to speak truthfully and honestly about all things… especially those things about which we are often far-too-sentimental. Therefore, Mother’s Day can prove to be a somewhat difficult occasion for pastors.

On the one hand, I want to celebrate motherhood and encourage the already lofty spirits of those proud mothers in attendance. On the other hand, I want to remember the experience of those women in attendance who may not have such good feelings about Mother’s Day. In fact, I know some women who avoid church services on Mother’s Day precisely because of their ill feelings.

Mother’s Day is certainly a time for us to thank our own mother, congratulate mothers, and admire motherhood generally. There is much to be admired about motherhood, and all of the women who have given themselves to this role are worthy of thanks.

As with all things in creation, God defines motherhood. God created motherhood before the Fall and curse of sin, commanding the man and his wife to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28); therefore, motherhood is rightly understood as part of God’s good creation.

Motherhood can be a joyful experience. Children are a blessing from God (Gen. 29:31, 30:22; Ps. 127:3), and there is great wonder in watching them grow and learn and become adults… right before our eyes.

And yet, because of the Fall, motherhood is full of pain as well (Gen. 3:16). Some mothers may dread the arrival of Mother’s Day because it is another aching reminder of a child lost or a child aborted or a child estranged from the family they once knew. Maybe some mothers have deep regrets regarding their own past failures.

But isn’t this how things always seem to be in our fallen world? Aren’t we always looking at beautiful pictures through the broken glass of damaged frames?

Aren’t we always looking at beautiful pictures through the broken glass of damaged frames?

May God bless those mothers who are overjoyed by the blessing of motherhood.

May God bless those mothers who are overwhelmed by the pain of motherhood.

May God bless those women who aren’t mothers at all. Your femininity is certainly not incomplete without children, and God is the good heavenly Father who knows what is best for you.

 

Do you embrace godly authority?

If anyone aspires to the office of overseer (or ‘pastor’ or ‘elder’), he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).

Authority is not a particularly good word in our modern western culture. Many people decry the abuses of authority we encounter all around us, and rightfully so. However, the abuse of something good doesn’t make a good thing bad.

The Bible’s entire storyline is centered upon good and right authority. Essentially, when humans embrace God’s authority they flourish; when humans rebel against God and try to establish authority elsewhere they suffer. Adam and Eve exemplify this reality at the very beginning of the Bible, and the rest of the story is a continual picture of God calling humans to submit to His appropriate authority.

In the local church, we discover God’s good authority expressed through mutual submission to the Bible. Furthermore, we also come to understand God’s design for all sorts of authoritative relationships in our lives. This is especially true in the biblical office of pastor or elder. God delegates authority, and God calls all people everywhere to embrace and encourage godly authority.

Should you care about Doctrine?

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine…” (Titus 2:1).

Doctrine is probably not a word you’ve used in the last several weeks, and it is not likely a word you intended on using anytime soon. However, doctrine is more familiar to you that you might realize.

The word “doctrine” means “teaching,” or “principles,” or maybe even “creed.” Your doctrine is the stuff you have learned and now believe as true and useful for life. Your doctrines might include mathematic rules, guidelines for logical reasoning, and truisms that keep you on the right track. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is an example of a doctrinal truism. We know that apples aren’t magic, but eating an appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables will help us be healthier.

Christian doctrines are summary statements of what the Bible teaches. Christian doctrine, when it is sound, is faithful to the Bible and useful for Christian living. While many people might see the study of doctrine as a dry exercise reserved for some intellectual bookworms, it is actually the life-blood of a healthy local church.

Pastors are to teach sound doctrine, every Christian is to learn sound doctrine, and every Christian is responsible to pass sound doctrine on to those who are coming after them. In so doing, Christians will live faithfully to the glory of God.

Preparing to Preach

Pastors do many things, but the thing a pastor must prioritize above all others is preaching. Jesus commanded Peter, “Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:17), and Peter must have had that powerful moment in mind when he perpetuated the command by telling other elders/pastors to, “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pet. 5:2).

Preaching is the essential role of an elder/pastor, for the distinguishing qualification for such a role is the “ability to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). This includes both instruction in biblical truth and refuting error (Titus 1:9). One can hardly imagine a weightier task on planet earth, especially considering that the local church is “pillar and buttress of truth) (1 Tim. 3:15). My own pastoral shoulders are sagging as I type these words.

And yet, the noble task of pastoring beckons me (and other men like me). Like a story that must be written, a word that must be spoken, a song that must be sung… I cannot not preach. Indeed, Christ gives the gift of pastor-preachers to the local church (Eph. 4:11), and it is a humbling and emboldening thing to be counted among this gift for a time.

Since preaching is such an emphatic feature of pastoring, pastors often spend much time and effort in preperation to preach. The constant thought for any good pastor is, “How can I best prepare to preach my best?” Not every preacher will come to the pulpit with the same skills, intellect, life-experiences, or tools. But every preacher should come to the pulpit with the same fear of God (Micah 6:8-9), bold trust in God’s word (Lk. 11:28; Jn. 6:68; Acts 6:7), and love for the people God has place under his shepherding care (Heb. 13:17).

While every preacher will experience his own unique path into pastoral ministry, and every preacher will benefit from a his own preparation routine, the responsibility is the same: Prepare to preach.

Don’t prepare merely to lead, to cast vision, to entertain, to host, to provoke, to make a presentation, or to only teach.

Prepare to preach. In doing this well, you will do all that you must do before God to honor the calling to which He has called you. Whatever God chooses to do with your preaching us up to Him (1 Cor. 3:5-7).

What greater measurement of success is there than that the God of all creation who entrusted you with His Gospel would say that you have preached that entrusted word well?

May God raise up quality preachers for and from His people, and may God grant those who now serve as preachers the grace to preach well.

5 Reasons You Need a Pastor

It has amazed me to recently discover how many Christians consider podcasting, television preachers, and radio sermons to be just as beneficial (sometimes more beneficial) than participating in a local church. As a local church pastor, this kind of foolish thinking is enough to deserve a poke in the eye. However, as a local church pastor, I cannot always allow my desired response to be my actual one.

So, for the benefit of anyone who will consider them, allow me to present five reasons why you need a real-life pastor.

1. You need a pastor to remind you that preaching is not just presenting a good message (1 Tim. 4:11-12). 

Your favorite podcast preacher will never speak to you with the same loving care for your soul that you pastor has. While your pastor may never speak as well as the other guy, your pastor will preach with a heart full of love for you – personally. Your pastor will pray for you by name, and he will have your spiritual health in mind as he shepherds you through preaching.

2. You need a pastor to remind you that Christians are real people (1 Tim. 4:12, 15).

That TV preacher isn’t real… at least you don’t see who he really is. Of course, I’m not saying that all TV preachers are lying fakers. What I am saying is that you will never get to see that TV preacher hurt, apologize, play with his kids, or decide between adding one more church responsibility or guarding his family time. You need to see a real man live an imperfect and godly life in front of you. Your pastor will both encourage and challenge you through his exemplary life.

3. You need a pastor to look you in the eyes (1 Tim. 4:15).

When have you ever run into that radio preacher at the grocery store, after having neglected to listen to his latest message? Ah, but you will have to look your pastor in the eye after you’ve neglected to participate in the last couple of Sunday morning worship services. That eye-to-eye encounter is more meaningful than you are likely to understand, and you are likely much less grateful than you should be for it. Your pastor will be an encouragement and motivation to you as you seek to live a more consistent Christian life.

4. You need a pastor to teach you stuff you don’t want to learn (Titus 2:1).

Even your favorite preacher or teacher is going to talk about stuff that you don’t really care for, or stuff you think you already know, or stuff you disagree with. But when he does it, you can just turn him off. You need to revisit things you think you already know. You need to think longer about some things than you already have. You need to read and consider passages of the Bible that challenge your existing beliefs. And all of this only happens when you have a pastor who loves you and who loves God’s word enough to pastor (shepherd) you well.

5. You need a pastor to say “no” to your face (Titus 2:15).

No TV preacher is going to tell you anything to your face, but he will certainly never be near enough to challenge you when you are playing with sin. Sin is devastating; it crushes hope, destroys harmony, and numbs your conscience. When you sin, you easily justify it. You need a pastor who loves you, who will demonstrate that love by forcing you to call your sin what it is, and who will help you go about putting it to death.

There are many more, but only a fool would say that these are insufficient to demonstrate your need (Prov. 1:7).

My pastoral advice: Find a solid, Bible-saturated, Christ-loving, God-fearing pastor; then love him, pray for him, encourage him, and thank God for him every day.