Church Leadership – 1 Timothy 3

Read the Passage: 1 Timothy 3

Characteristics of Pastors (3:1–7)

Paul wrote this letter to give instructions regarding church order, which included church leadership (cf. 1 Tim. 3:14–15). As Paul had warned the Ephesian elders years earlier (cf. Acts 20:29–31), so false teachers had arisen within the church, likely even ascending to positions of leadership within the church. With his prior charge to confront false doctrine (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3–4), and Paul’s earlier disciplining of false teachers who may have been leaders (cf. 1 Tim. 1:20), Timothy now needed instructions regarding on how to identify church leaders. Earlier, in his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul taught that God gifts or calls church leaders in order to equip believers and to edify the Body of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:11–12). From these verses, and other similar passages (i.e., Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:29–30; 1 Pet. 4:10–11), it is clear that a call to church leadership is the result of spiritual giftedness.

In this chapter Paul gives instructions about two church offices—pastors and deacons. In 1 Tim. 3:2 Paul uses the title “bishop” to describe the leader of a church; note, however, that the terms bishop, pastor, elder, and overseer are used interchangeably in the Bible (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Pet. 5:1–2). Scripture describes the role of a pastor as leading, preaching, teaching, and caring for the church. Different men will excel in various degrees with these skills, but all pastors must fulfill these roles. In 1 Tim. 3:2–7 Paul lists sixteen characteristics of those who pastor the church. These 16 traits are not one-time qualifications that a man must meet in order to be a pastor; rather, they are characteristics that a man must manifest daily as he serves to lead the church of Christ. Note that these characteristics ultimately describe Jesus, who is head of the church (cf. Col. 1:18).

The sixteen characteristics that Paul lists in 1 Tim. 3:2–7 are a challenging list. Perhaps the most important characteristic is the first one—that is, blamelessness (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2). The idea here is that charges of immorality cannot be brought against a pastor. In this list, Paul explains that pastors must be blameless in regard to their marriage, their behavior, their motivations, their family, and even among unbelievers. Among the characteristics Paul mentions, two stand out being more externally-oriented than the rest. First, Paul writes that pastors must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). This is important, for the preaching and teaching of the Bible is a pastor’s primary responsibility. As with the other characteristics in Paul’s list, an ability to teach is one way in which pastors are like Christ. Second, Paul writes that pastors must not be new converts, as authority may corrupt them.

Characteristics of Deacons (3:8–13)

A second position within the church that is described in the New Testament is the role of a deacon (cf. Acts 6:1–6). In 1 Tim. 3:8–13 Paul lists eight characteristics of deacons. As is the case with pastors, so it is with deacons that these are not one-time qualifications, but characteristics on which deacons must work to continually manifest and develop. Moreover, these characteristics of deacons ultimately describe Christ, who Himself “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Most of the characteristics of deacons are similar to those listed for pastors, with the notable exception of deacons being described as those who hold “the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9). This refers to deacons having a firm grasp of foundational biblical doctrines. Note, too, the given characteristics of deacons’ wives (cf. 1 Tim. 3:11).

Church Conduct (3:14–16)

In concluding this chapter Paul reminds Timothy of his reason for writing—that is, to give instructions on how to organize the church. In 1 Tim. 3:15 Paul writes that “the church of the living God [is] that pillar and ground of the truth.” This is a helpful reminder, for all too often Christians lose sight of the reason why the church exists. The church is designed to be the Body of Christ—that is, the visible presence of Jesus—in the midst of the fallen world. As with secular organizations, there are many good things that the church can do in the world. However, the most important thing that the church can do is to speak and to manifest the truth. As Jesus taught, “[God’s] Word is truth” (John 17:17). 1 Timothy 3:15 implies, then, that the most important task of the church is to uphold and to teach the truth of God’s Word, especially including the truth of the gospel message (cf. 1 Tim. 2:16).

Application Questions:

  1. How can the church discern which of its members are qualified to be leaders in the church? How do secular and religious leaders differ in leadership characteristics?
  2. What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? Do all believers have a spiritual gift? How can we identify our own spiritual gift(s), as well as those of others?
  3. Which of the characteristics of a pastor that Paul lists in 1 Tim. 3:2–7 do you believe is most important? Which is relatively least important?
  4. Why are pastors described as needing the ability to teach (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2), while deacons are described as needing to have a grasp of key doctrines (cf. 1 Tim. 3:9)?
  5. What does Paul mean in writing that the church is the pillar and the ground of truth? How does the church differ from other humanitarian organizations?