How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man
How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Why Should You Pray for Your Pastor?
Praying for Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 1: The Necessity of a Qualified Ministry
Praying For Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 2: A Holy Ambition and a Holy Life
Praying for Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 3: Self-Control, Family Life, and Money
In the previous post we considered the qualifications of pastoral self-control, a sound family life, and financial integrity. In this post we will discuss the vital pastoral qualifications of humility and a man’s ability to teach.
Qualification #7: Humility
It is no wonder that Paul would include humility in his list of qualifications for pastors (Titus 1:7). Spirit-wrought humility is a virtue apart from which no other grace can flourish. Paul knew well the truth conveyed by his apostolic colleague: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). If a pastor nurtures a life of pride and arrogance, he will be forming a ministry to which God is directly opposed.
A frightening prospect, to be sure, yet how many pastors are feeding attitudes of self-importance and giving themselves to self-promotion; using the gospel to highlight their ministry rather than using their ministry to highlight the gospel? How many pastors, thinking too highly of their own spirituality, resist accountability and friendship with other godly men? And how many pastors have been finally dismissed from the helm of leadership because of unchecked pride?
Sadly, too many stories of failed pastors illustrate the devastating effects of pride. Arrogant condescension toward church members, a penchant for making unilateral decisions, an unhealthy longing to promote one’s ministry, and a sense of entitlement are the sure signs that pride has taken the upper-hand in a man’s life, and his ministry and spiritual life will eventually unravel.
It is for this very reason that Paul does not allow a new believer to be installed as a pastor (1 Tim 3:7). A man who is young in the faith does not yet have the spiritual maturity to discern or fend off Satan’s strategies to enflame his pride. But if a pastor labors to cultivate genuine humility before God and others, he will receive ministry-empowering grace from God and establish a strong foundation for a lifetime of service to Christ.
It should be obvious, then, that a congregation that prays for their pastor will pray diligently for his humility. But we need to know specifically how to pray. God-given humility won’t be a kind of pseudo-meekness where the pastor is constantly indulging in self-effacing talk or downplaying his gifts. No, true spiritual humility is often far less overt than the counterfeit.
In fact, you may find that a pastor who is really humble won’t talk much about himself at all. He will also be willing to take the advice of others (Prov 12:15) and forego personal fame for the sake of ministry (like Jesus, see John 7:1-10). He will be gentle with his people (2 Tim 2:24-25), open to accountability, rebuke, and correction (Prov 17:10), and, unlike the Pharisees, not too concerned about receiving the honors and accolades that come with his position (Matt 23:6). As one author wisely notes, “Shepherd leadership requires humility before God and responsiveness to God’s people. It resists pretense, posturing, and privilege” (Laniak, Shepherds after My Own Heart, 249)
Yet ultimately, a humble pastor will seek to conduct ministry according to God’s Word. Scripture tells us that true humility begins, not with how we treat people, but how we treat the Scripture (see Isa 66:2). Those who speak from themselves—that is, on their own authority and not from the Bible—are clearly seeking their own glory (John 7:18). A humble pastor will be, therefore, constantly evaluating his work to make sure that he is overseeing a ministry that is driven primarily by Scripture, not his own ideas.
There are twin incentives for praying for your pastor’s humility. First, humility will produce the blessed character qualities mentioned above. But secondly, by praying for your pastor’s humility, you will do much to set him on a straight course in all the other qualifications. A humble pastor will be less likely to trust himself and more ready to take instruction and receive accountability, which will enable him to grow in the other character credentials Paul outlines for Timothy and Titus. “If this disease [of pride] is healed,” observes Edwards, “other things are easily rectified.”
Qualification #8: Able To Teach
Finally, a pastor must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). This requirement does not merely refer to a man’s gifts as an engaging communicator. Possessing such skills might be helpful, but Paul’s primary concern here is that a man be able to accurately and compellingly teach true doctrine (1 Tim 1:3; 4:11; 6:2; Titus 2:1).
A pastor who is “able to teach” must be able to instruct the congregation in the truth of Scripture while also correcting—gently at times, yet always decisively—those who oppose sound teaching (2 Tim 2:25; Titus 1:9-11). A pastor’s teaching ministry will be both a pulpit ministry (2 Tim 4:2) and a discipleship ministry (2 Tim 2:2), and in each of these areas, a competent, qualified pastor will be able to rightly apply the truth of the gospel to the lives of his people and those who attend the church but are not yet Christians (see 2 Tim 4:5).
The ability to teach is a non-negotiable. It is not enough for a man to be pious, hard working, and tender-hearted toward others. Personal godliness is necessary but not sufficient to qualify a man for pastoral ministry. Nor is it enough to possess the ability to instruct a congregation in personal morality. As pastor John Newton (1725-1807) once noted in a letter to a friend, “A minister may be diligent in his work, regular in his family, resident with his people and attentive to them, and in many respects exemplary in his outward conduct, and yet not preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
In other words, it is possible that a man may fulfill every other qualification in Paul’s lists to Timothy and Titus and yet not preach the gospel in a way that edifies saints and convicts and saves sinners. Until this problem is remedied, a man remains unqualified for pastoral ministry.
Nevertheless, while it is essential that a pastor possess the ability to teach, it is also possible and desirable that he grow in this ability to teach. Our prayers should therefore consist of humble petitions to God that he would continually equip our pastors with greater biblical insight, exegetical skill, verbal proficiency, and spiritual power.
Notice, however, that I did not suggest that you should pray that your pastor become like some other famous pastor or that he should adopt another pastor’s preaching style. Certainly there are things pastors can learn from another’s ministry, but it is unfair and unwise for members of a congregation to expect that their pastor would become like another pastor in terms of personal style. Rather, we should desire that our shepherd grow in his ability to understand and communicate the biblical text in the context of his own style and personality.
There are also practical items we can pray for under this heading. Perhaps the most important is that God would provide adequate time for study and preparation. Over the years I have noticed that relatively few Christians fully comprehend the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional toll that biblical study and sermon preparation take on the preacher.
Some scoff at the idea that a pastor should take much over five hours to prepare a sermon. And lazy pastors who throw their messages together in under ninety minutes or hypocritical pastors who neglect to apply the truth to their own hearts may not suffer too much in this area. But those pastors who desire to be certain of what Scripture teaches, to apply it to their own hearts through mediation and prayer, and teach it effectively will always feel like they need more time for study.
So, pray earnestly that God would grant your pastors the time they need for reading, study and preparation. It will be to your great benefit if your pastor has sufficient time to study: he will grow as a preacher, and his messages will be a source of blessing to you and your brothers and sisters in the congregation.
Your pastor needed God’s empowering grace to be found qualified for pastoral ministry, and he needs that same grace to remain qualified for ministry. It is easy to forget the latter half of this truth. We might think that once it is established that a man is qualified for the work of gospel ministry, his character is locked in place and he is no longer in need of God’s sustaining mercy. Yet, this is no small mistake. If we continue in this wrong thinking, we will rarely feel the need to pray for our shepherd’s daily need for Christ and the fruit that only He can provide, including the fruit of pastoral qualification (see John 15:5). But if we recognize that our pastors need God to maintain their status as qualified overseers, we will more readily align prayers to God according to Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Now that we have examined the pastor’s qualifications, we turn in the next chapter to consider how the knowledge of our pastor’s roles and responsibilities should guide our prayers on their behalf.