Just about every new believer—especially new male believers—has a moment when they ask a really big question: “Am I called to be a pastor?”
I asked that question a long time ago. It actually rattled around in my head for years. Emily and I spent a great deal of time alternately avoiding it and praying about it.
Certainly I have some gifts that lend themselves to such a role. I can teach and preach. I’m not a schmuck, and I’m consistently trying to work on my character, with God’s help and power. But I am not called to be a pastor.1 And that’s okay.
You probably aren’t either. That’s okay too.
But you know who is? My pastors, and presumably, yours.2 And I am glad for it.
The quality required for qualification
I appreciate a good preacher and teacher. Ditto organization and administrative abilities. But skills do not a pastor (or elder) make. One word sums up the qualities the Bible points to as defining a pastor: character.
I write about this in significantly more detail in I’m a Christian—Now What?, but character is an overarching theme within Scripture as it relates to leadership.3 The book of Proverbs repeatedly points to the importance of character (Proverbs 10:9; 11:2; 12:15; 13:10; 16:18; 22:1), as does the most-cited passage on this very issue.
First Timothy 3:2–7—the oft-cited passage in question—ruffles feathers. And it should, but not for the reason that most people are ruffled by it.4 1 Timothy 3 should ruffle our feathers because of the high bar it sets on character. In the book, I explain it like this:
This passage contains somewhere in the neighborhood of fourteen characteristics of a faithful leader. Of those fourteen, only one is an actual skill—the ability to teach. Everything else focuses on character. In fact, the first line, which says that an overseer, or a pastor, must be above reproach, is the master definition. Being a person of good character, of integrity, is essential to being a Christian leader, and everything else Paul wrote in this list is a specific example of how that integrity is demonstrated in a person’s life.I’m a Christian—Now What? A Guide to Your New Life with Christ (Lexham Press, 2023), 96.
What I appreciate about healthy pastors
The healthiest pastors I know—whether as friends or as a member of the congregation—have this in common. They really do look like what I wrote above. That “above reproach” thing isn’t a show. They really get that our character makes or breaks us. They understand that humility is essential. And these guys actually try to grow in these areas, including through simple things like trying to have friends.
Why does this matter? Because it’s how the church is meant to function. We’re at our best when we have this in mind. And things go horribly wrong when we get off track. We’ve seen the fruit of that sin too many times. It has no place in the church, nor does any attempt to excuse it.
It’s good you’re probably not called to be a pastor
“Am I called to be a pastor?” is a big question. But for most of us, it’s got a pretty clear answer: probably not. If you’re a new Christian, definitely not (see 1 Timothy 3:6). If you’ve got very evident character issues—if “above reproach” doesn’t describe you—then absolutely not.
But that doesn’t mean that “no” is forever. The beautiful thing about character is that it can be cultivated. So do that with God’s help. Read your Bible. Pray. Find people who will help you see your strengths and weaknesses and work on them. Invest in relationships for the sake of relationships. And who knows what the Lord might do? If you concern yourself with your character, your calling may take care of itself.
And if you never find yourself in the role of a pastor? Thank God for the pastor he gives you.
- Certainly not right now, and definitely not vocationally. If that changes, the Lord will need to bring that up with my wife.
- Assuming, of course, you haven’t found yourself in a church culture that’s authoritarian and cultish. If that’s the case, please flee as fast as you can.
- That’s the entirety of chapter 7, y’all.
- The question of whether or not the office or role of pastor/elder is for men only or also open to women. It’s an important question, but not the issue at the heart of this article.