The High Call of a Pastor-Elder
Church leadership is at the center of New Testament teaching because the people of a congregation will rise only to the maturity of their leader. This was made clear when Jesus told Peter to, “Feed my sheep.” Sheep are by their nature, followers – Willing to follow a good shepherd into greener pastures and likewise willing to follow a poor shepherd into danger. Thus, the man who takes the mantle of shepherd becomes responsible for the children of God.
Knowing this, the apostle Paul wrote both Timothy and Titus, advising them of the spiritual traits and spiritual conduct necessary for a man in church leadership. In all, there are over forty items specified. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul provides a short list of qualifications, which must be met before a man is considered for church leadership.
The Definition of a Pastor-Elder
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 church’s 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.
Elder “presbuteros” is used nearly twenty times in Acts and the various epistles in reference to a unique group of leaders in local churches. The church at Antioch for example, where believers were first called “Christians”, sent Barnabas and Saul to the “Elders” at Jerusalem with a gift to be distributed to the needy brethren in Judea (Acts 11:29-30). This demonstrates that Elders existed and that the believers in Antioch recognized their authority. Likewise, nearly every church in the NT is said to have had elders. For example, Acts 20:17 says, “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.” Peter wrote to a group of churches stating, “I exhort the elders among you… shepherd the flock of God.” (1 Peter 5:1-2).
In the NT, Bishops and Pastors are not distinct from Elders; the terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. 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.”
The Responsibility of a Pastor-Elder
Phillip Keller wrote, “No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction, than do sheep.” The job of a Pastor-Elder requires complete dedication and supernatural diligence. A lazy shepherd is an ineffective shepherd, and an ineffective shepherd is responsible for the demise of Christ’s sheep. In 1 & 2 Timothy, Paul instructed Timothy on the many responsibilities incumbent to a Shepherd of Christ’s flock:
- Correct those teaching false doctrine, calling them to purity, a good conscience, sincere faith (1 Tim 1:3-5)
- Fight for divine truth and for God’s purposes, keeping his own faith and a good conscience (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 of submission and to raise up godly children, setting an example of faith, love, and sanctity with self-restraint (1 Tim 2:9-15)
- Carefully select spiritual leaders on the basis of giftedness, godliness, and virtue (1 Tim 3:1-13)
- Recognize error and those who teach it, and point these things out to the rest of the church (1 Tim 4:1-6)
- Be nourished on Scripture and its sound teaching, avoiding all myths and false doctrines (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 to it that they are mature and 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 true godliness, helping people discern between godliness and hypocrisy (1 Tim 5:24-6:6)
- Flee the love of money (1 Tim 6:7-11)
- Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (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 works, and to be 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 so that he may reproduce himself in faithful men (2 Tim 2:2)
- Suffer difficulty and persecution willingly while making the maximum effort for Christ (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 and useful to the Lord (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, but be kind, teachable, gentle, and patient even when he is wronged (2 Tim 2:24-26)
- Face dangerous times with a deep knowledge of the Word of God (2 Tim 3:1-15)
- Understand that Scripture is the basis and content of all legitimate ministry (2 Tim 3:16-17)
- Preach the Word always, reproving, rebuking, exhorting with great patience and instruction (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)
These forty-two items can be summed up in five categories. Paul commanded Timothy to 1) Be faithful in the preaching of biblical truth, 2) Be bold in exposing and refuting error, 3) Be an example of godliness to the flock, 4) Be diligent and work hard in ministry, 5) Be willing to suffer hardship and persecution in service of the Lord.
The Qualifications of a Pastor-Elder
In 1 Timothy 3:1-13 Paul lists seventeen character qualifications, which a man must pass before being considered for the position of Pastor-Elder. 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:
1. Aspiration. Aspire is from the Greek word “orego,” meaning to, “reach out after or stretch oneself,” including the internal and external acts. 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.
2. Above Reproach. The Greek word “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.
3. Husband of One Wife. The Greek phrase “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.
4. Temperate. The Greek word “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.
5. Prudent. The Greek word “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 sarcasm, humor, and mindless vanities.
6. Respectable. The Greek word “kosmios” refers to 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.
7. Hospitable. The Greek word “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.
8. Able to Teach. The Greek word “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, thus standing as a premium qualification in ascertaining whom God has called to a particular office.
9. Not Addicted to Wine. A man must not have a reputation as a drinker, talk loosely about alcohol, or be known to frequent places for the purpose of indulging himself in alcoholic pursuits. A man who consistently consumes alcohol quickly becomes a poor example to those with a weaker conscience and thereby removes himself from consideration for leadership. A church leader must consistently ask: what rights can I lay down in order to better serve the flock of God?
10. Not Pugnacious. The Greek term “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.
11. Gentle. The Greek word “epieikes” describes the man who is considerate, forbearing, and gracious. This is a man who is pardoning after being sinned against. He does not keep a list of wrongs and does not hold a grudge.
12. Uncontentious. The Greek word “amachos” references a peaceful and non-quarrelsome man who promotes unity amidst church members and qualified leaders.
13. Not a Money Lover. The Greek word “aphilarguaron” is an alpha privativ 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 false teaching. A true Pastor-Elder ought to have a record of giving financially and never intimate that vocational ministry is his primary goal, accepting God’s providence in this matter.
14. 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 to gladly fulfill their biblical roles. This mandates consideration of a man’s wife as it relates to his own pastoral calling.
15. Children Under Control With Dignity. The Greek word “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.
16. Not a New Convert. The Greek word “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.
17. 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.
The Starting Point
This outline for the high call of the pastor-elder is what people should expect from their leaders. Much more could be said about the process of getting into ministry, and what individual churches may consider to be the finer doctrinal points to be taught in their local church. However, no church should ever lower the bar from where Scripture sets it. Church leadership should be entered into with great humility and care (James 3:1).
The following books were used to put together this outline. It is our highest recommendation that churches put together a similar outline and document it as what pastors and elders must be in order to be appointed.
Alexander Strauch, “Biblical Eldership”, Lewis & Roth, 1994
Homer A. Kent, “The Pastoral Epistles”, Moody, 1958
John MacArthur, “Pastoral Ministry, How to Shepherd Biblically”, Nelson, 2005
John Macarthur, “The MacArthur Commentary”, Moody, 1995
Phillip Keller, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”, Zondervan, 1970