In order to pray for your pastor in a way consistent with God’s Word, our prayers should be shaped by what Scripture says about the qualifications, responsibilities, and unique pressures that attend the pastoral ministry. Only when we are properly informed about what the pastoral office entails will we adequately pray for our pastors.
In the next few posts we will examine specifically the pastor’s qualifications. While it is true that all Christians should pursue the character qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9, each of these virtues must be in the life of the pastor in some measure. We will survey these two passages in subsequent posts, but first a word about the necessity of a qualified ministry.
The Importance of Qualified Pastors
I am grieved by the stories of pastors who have disqualified themselves from the ministry because of serious sin. I’m sure you share the same anguish when you hear of a pastor who has left his wife for another woman or who has been caught in some financial scandal that has brought disgrace upon Christ’s name and forced a man to relinquish his post as God’s servant-leader.
Although the sin of well-known pastors will have wider impact than the sin of a lesser-known leader, pastoral failure is always tragic, regardless of the pastor’s relative popularity. In every case, the effects of the pastor’s sin will reach deep into the lives of God’s people, upsetting the faith of many and even devastating the faith of some.
But I’m also grieved when I find men in pastoral ministry who, while not guilty of what we tend to classify as “gross sin” are nevertheless unqualified when it comes to the character credentials outlined in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. A controlling love for earthly comforts, unrestrained lust, an abusive temper, a tendency to quarrel with others, incompetency in preaching and teaching, strained relationships with neighbors, selfish ambition, and a legalistic, overbearing home life are all grounds for disqualification from the pastoral ministry.
Yet, each of these blemishes on the pastor’s character is far more difficult to discern than the open rebellion of an adulterous relationship or obvious financial scandal. In order to be qualified as a shepherd and maintain a ministry that is, as Paul says, “above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2), a man must meet all of these requirements.
Exemplary, but Not Sinless
Yet, in giving these qualifications, the apostle Paul is not suggesting that a pastor is perfect and never sins. The reality is that pastors—like all other Christians—will wrestle with their own sin, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully. Even Paul, with his mature grasp of the gospel and after years of faithful service to Jesus Christ, groaned over his struggle with remaining sin (Rom 7:16-25).
Sin did not gain an upper hand in Paul’s life so as to disqualify him from ministry, but it was always there and it was always tenacious. The existence of indwelling sin and the necessity of remaining qualified is why Paul labored to discipline himself and his appetites (1 Cor 9:24-27).
The qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, therefore, do not imply that a pastor will never battle with indwelling sin or never commit actual sins. Far from it! The word translated “above reproach” describes the general tenor of one’s life rather than the status of spiritual “arrival.” Indeed, a pastor who thinks he has “arrived” in terms of sanctification or pastoral competency is much closer to disaster (see 1 Cor 10:12), than one who recognizes his indwelling sin, yet, by God’s grace, seeks gradually to conform his life to God’s requirements for a ministry of church oversight. We could say it like this: the qualifications Paul outlines in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 highlight the direction, not the perfection of the pastor’s life.
But a pastor must be qualified and, in order to conduct an effective and enduring ministry, remain qualified. This is exactly where the importance of congregational prayer comes into sharp focus. While not downplaying the responsibility of the pastor to pursue his own holiness and to take the blame for his own sin, could it be that some pastors are failing because their people are not praying for them according to God’s Word?
We might pray for our pastor’s successful and growing ministry, but how many of us are praying regularly through Titus 1:5-9, pleading with God to uphold His servant in every area Paul mentions? Few of us, I suspect. And how many of us assume that because our pastor is currently qualified, that he will remain qualified throughout his pastoral career? Yet, these kinds of attitudes and assumptions tend to dampen our fervor to pray for our pastor the way we should. It is only by God’s grace that a pastor is qualified to enter the pastoral ministry, and it is only by God’s grace that he will remain qualified. Biblically-informed prayer for the men who shepherd our church, then, is the need of the hour.
In the next few posts, we will discuss how to pray for your pastor according to his specific qualifications.