Up to this point, we have looked at five of our six categories of biblical qualifications for leadership. That includes the spiritual, calling, capability, family, and emotional qualifications. In this post, we will look at the final category which is the “character qualifications” of the leader. These are the qualities that pertain, particularly, to the outward reputation of the leader.
Character Qualification 1: Above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6, 7)
The first character qualification is that the leader must be “above reproach.” This means that their character and integrity are such that no criticism will come about to discredit them. This does not mean that people will not try to discredit a leader. That happens all the time. It happened to Jesus! What it means, however, is that the leader will be found blameless before such criticisms, and his character will remain intact. There will be no credible blame of fault placed on him or her, which would require public reprimand or censure.
This qualification is especially necessary in our modern “cancel culture.” People who hate Christianity are looking for every opportunity to discredit people’s integrity, in order to remove their ability to have a public voice. While biblical Christianity will always be a target of this “cancel culture” and the “woke” generation, our personal character should be able to stand up to any accusation or attack which comes at us.
Character Qualification 2: Self-controlled (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8)
While the ESV (my Bible of choice) says “self-controlled,” a more apt definition of the Greek word here, “sophron,” would be “prudent.” It means that we are thoughtful about our actions and live a moderate life.
One Bible Lexicon1 says this is being,
careful or wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment or common sense.
It goes on to say it is,
avoidance of extremes and careful consideration for responsible action
To be self-controlled simply means that you are thoughtful about all of your outward, public actions, remembering that everything you do is a reflection of Christ to the watching world.
Two secular thinkers who used this same Greek word in their writings were Aristotle and Aeschin. Aristotle said,
the prudent [sophron] person is intentional on the what, the how, and the when of doing what should be done.”2
I think that “intentional” is a great definition of being self-controlled.
Aeschin wrote that this kind of person is
moderate [sophron] in lifestyle so as not to be tempted by bribes.3
If we are not intentional in every area of our lives, then we will find it easy to stumble in our character and witness before others.
Character Qualification 3: Respectable (1 Timothy 3:2)
If you are going to be a leader in the body of Christ, as well as a public face for the church in the world, you must be respectable before men. Another translation would be “honorable.”
According to our lexicon4, this means,
having characteristics or qualities that evoke admiration or delight, an expression of high regard”
While it is true that we should not be working for men or trying to gain their approval, the reality is that too often we want to throw off any need for human approval. The way we dress. The music we listen to. The places we frequent. The language we use. While these things (and many more) might not be sinful in and of themselves, they will lower us in the eyes of people. The leader should be respectable. That means we live in such a way that our lifestyle wins people’s approval.
And remember, this is not a call to simply “put on a show” in front of people. You cannot be a hypocrite who lives one way in front of people, and another way in private. To be a biblically qualified leader your life must actually be respectable; not just a pretense when people are looking.
Character Qualification 4: Dignified (1 Timothy 3:8)
Going hand in hand with being respectable is the call to be dignified. This is a different Greek word that carries the same connotation. The leader must live in such a way that they are worthy of respect. It means “noble” or “honorable.”
If we are representatives of the Kingdom of God – not as servants, but as sons/daughters of the King – then “noble” ought to describe how we live. We should carry ourselves as royalty.
(For an extended look at this idea, I recommend the book “The Supernatural Ways of Royalty” by Kris Vallotton.)
Character Qualification 5: Not a drunk (1 Timothy 3:3, 8, Titus 1:7)
Paul writes the same idea to Timothy and Titus, by saying “not a drunkard.” Then he repeats the idea, again, to Timothy by saying “not addicted to much wine.”
Without getting into a full discourse on whether or not a Christian can drink alcohol, I will suffice it to say this: if you are going to lead the church of God, getting drunk (or putting yourself in a situation where you might be tempted to get drunk) is out of the question. If you have a glass of wine at dinner or an occasional drink at social functions, that is between you and the Lord. However, if you occasionally drink too much, your public witness will be destroyed and you are disqualified from leadership. I have seen too many “great” pastors destroy their ministries over a love for alcohol. Complete abstinence is better than compromising yourself with temptations to have “just one more.”
Going back to the idea of being royalty, we should remember the words of King Solomon to his son:
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” Proverbs 31:4-5
Addiction Can Go Beyond Alcohol
Secondly, however, is this idea of not being “addicted.” This can go way beyond alcohol. There are many pastors and leaders who struggle with addiction to many things, as a way of escaping the stress and anxiety of the ministry. I know pastors who are addicted to drugs — some to things like smoking marijuana, others to things like prescription meds such as pain killers and anti-psychotics. (Please note that I am not against medications given under a doctor’s supervision, but I am talking about those who have legitimate addictions and “self-medicate” without legitimate medical oversight.) Others are addicted to junk food (my major temptation to feel better), binge-watching television, video games, and other forms of escapist entertainment.
I believe it is in reference to many of these things which Paul writes to the Corinthians,
All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 (emphasis mine)
If you are addicted and controlled by anything other than the Spirit of God, then you need to seek help and overcome it before stepping into ministry leadership.
Character Qualification 6: Gentle/Not Violent (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7)
Although these are technically two qualifications for leaders, they go hand in hand with one another. The Greek word for “gentle” means that you are “kind, tolerant, or fair.” The Greek word for “not violent” simply means that you are not a bully.
In your interaction with people, you must have the reputation of being a kind person, who treats people with tenderness. You are tolerant of people, even if they are not easy to get along with, rather than pushing them around or bullying them into conformity or into agreeing with you.
Personally, this is an area I have to work very hard at. Not because I consider myself to be a bully, but because I have been told by many people that I am an intimidating figure and I have a naturally loud, booming voice. For some people, it makes me seem very unapproachable. Unapproachable is not an acceptable disposition for a leader!
If we are going to qualify to lead God’s people, we must have the same gentle spirit that Jesus had to all who came to him.
Character Qualification 7: Thought of Well by Outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7)
Again, it is easy for many leaders to think it doesn’t matter what other people think about us. However, not only are we called to be “respectable” and “dignified”, but Paul goes out of his way to let us know this does not just pertain to our reputation within the church. Our communities and those outside of the body of Christ should “think well of us,” if we are leaders in the ministry.
This is a difficult one for too many. Let me ask you: do you sincerely care about building relationships with non-believers, or do you simply want to hit them with truth bombs and run away?
Protesting Sin or Proselytizing Sinners?
Too often the church is accused of not truly caring about people. Many leaders only want to add notches to their belts, to make themselves look good to the body of Christ, rather than truly caring for the sinners. This has led to some ridiculous activities within the body of Christ. Just look at the various Christian groups who hold up signs of judgment at gay pride rallies, abortion clinics, and funerals of soldiers. They spew their hate-filled rage at people, thinking it is a holy work of the Lord, yet they have no love for sinners and no grace to offer the lost and hurting.
A most extreme example for me personally was when I was out one evening with a group of friends from Bible college, and we were met by a large “sin protest” in Fort Worth, Texas. We were confronted by these men and women, with their pamphlets condemning people to hell, and even after we informed them that we were Christians and studying to be ministers, they still wanted to tear us down and prove that God did not love us because we didn’t look or act like them.
Jesus was completely different!
Jesus was loved by non-believers. Tax collectors and sinners welcomed him into their homes for banquets. Massive crowds followed Him through the streets to hear Him teach and to be blessed by Him. In fact, it was His reputation with the non-religious that made the religious community suspicious of Him.
If we are going to reflect Jesus and be thought well of by outsiders, we must learn to prove our love for people first, before we prove to them how right we think we are.
Character Qualification 8: Not a Slanderer (1 Timothy 3:11)
To fulfill this qualification means that we not only love people when we are face to face with them, but we love people behind their backs. It means that as leaders we do not gossip about people. We don’t speak with malice toward those who disagree with us, and we certainly do not try to destroy the reputation of others before our congregations or our communities.
The Greek word here for “slanderer” is “diabolos.” This is literally the word for “devil.” To be a devil means that you are making yourself an adversary and bringing public charges against people to bring them down. To use modern language, it means that you are not the target of “cancel culture.” You have become “cancel culture,” seeking to destroy those you disagree with or disapprove of.
To be a slander means that you are using your mouth in a way opposite of the gospel. To preach the gospel is to speak the truth resulting in the good of others. To share gossip is to use rumors and accusations to cause harm to them.
(Although I will not discuss it here, there is a lot to say about pastors and leaders who want to argue theology for the sake of arguing. They will play “devil’s advocate,” intentionally speaking falsehoods to bring division or challenge those they don’t fully agree with. That, too, seems to fit the Greek definition of a slanderer.)
Character Qualification 9: Upright, holy, disciplined (Titus 1:8)
Again, this qualification could be divided into three, but I believe they go hand in hand and are listed in this order in the book of Titus, so we will keep them together.
The word “upright” means “righteous, just, or fair.” To be “holy” means to be “devout” and “pleasing to God.” And “disciplined means “having one’s emotions, impulses, or desires under control.”
This is a holistic qualification for a person’s character and public reputation. If we are to lead people as representatives of the Lord, we must be outwardly seeking to live a righteous life before men. This comes from an inward devotion to holiness in how we reflect Jesus through our lives. The day-to-day outworking of these things is that we discipline ourselves, daily, to become more and more like Christ in the world.
Paul says this was a conscious process of making sure the life we live fits the Gospel we preach:
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:27
To be a biblically qualified leader, we must be intentional in our character and the reputation we hold before the church and our community. There can be no hint of hypocrisy, in which we say one thing while doing another, and there can be no credible accusation standing against us that would destroy our own witness or the reputation of the ministry or church we lead.
God cares about how the world views us and why. While it is expected that they will hate us, persecute us, and seek to bring us down, that is not our way. If we are to reflect those characteristics back on the world, we are not ministering for the Lord. Instead, our lives must be known for love, building others up, and bring out what is best in us and in others. That is what will qualify us to lead.
1 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 987.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Anthony Scott Ingram.