The biblical qualifications of pastor are outlined in two primary New Testament passages, 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus1:5–9. There are three terms used interchangeably in the New Testament to refer the highest office in a church: elder, overseer, and pastor (which means “shepherd”) all refer to the same office.
First Timothy 3:1–7 contains the biblical qualifications for a pastor: “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
We also find the biblical qualifications for a pastor in Titus 1:5–9: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
Putting the two lists together, we get the following qualifications of a pastor:
He must be a person of integrity and worthy of the respect of those both inside and outside the church (above reproach, respectable, blameless, upright, holy, loves what is good, have a good reputation with outsiders).
He must have self-control (be temperate, disciplined). This encompasses many of the things that come later in the list.
He must not misuse alcohol by getting drunk (not given to drunkenness).
He must be hospitable. He must be able to welcome people into his home and his life. He is not “stand- offish.”
He must be able to deal with people in a respectful way (not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not overbearing, not quick-tempered).
He must be good husband (faithful to his wife) and a good father (a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) In some circles this is interpreted to mean that a pastor must be married and have more than one child, but most interpret this to mean that, if a man is married or has children, then he must be a good husband and father. At the time Paul wrote, it would have been rare for an adult man to be single or childless. Elsewhere, Paul extolls the value of being single in serving the Lord, and he himself was single, so it is doubtful that being married with children is a qualification for church leadership (see 1 Corinthians 7).
Likewise, does this mean that a pastor’s children must be believers and, if one of them does not profess faith in Christ, then the father is disqualified as a pastor? The focus seems to be on children in the home and on their outward actions. Most children will adopt the beliefs of their parents, although they may reject those beliefs later in life. If a child living in the home rejects the faith of his father, then his father must not have done a very good job of fathering. He would do well to give up church leadership and focus all of his leadership efforts on his home. God can raise someone else to lead the church, but the father is the only one who can lead his home.
Furthermore, both passages assume that only men will be pastors. Paul addressed this directly in 1 Timothy 2:12, where women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men in the church. The pastor of a church, by definition, is called to teach men and exercise authority over them.
A pastor must believe and be able to communicate God’s Word (able to teach, holding firmly to the trustworthy message to encourage others by sound doctrine).
A pastor must not be “in it for the money” (not a lover of money, not pursuing dishonest gain). Money must not be the driving force behind a man’s desire to enter the ministry nor his guiding principle while in ministry. A pastor can use his position to unduly influence people to give him things and is often in a unique position to help himself to church funds and resources. Therefore, a pastor must be able to resist these urges.
Finally, in 1 Timothy, Paul says that a pastor should not be a new convert or he may become conceited with his quick “rise to power.” This qualification is not specifically mentioned in Titus. Some have pointed out that Crete was a much newer church, so anyone elevated to the position of pastor would perforce have been a relatively new convert. However, in the vast majority of situations today, there are men with a proven track record to choose from. Elevating a person to leadership too quickly is a trap for the man and the church he serves.
Other biblical qualifications for a pastor come from other passages of Scripture. Christ taught that leaders in the church must be servants (Luke 22:25–27). Peter highlights this in 1 Peter 5:3, mentioning that a shepherd must not “lord it over” the flock. A pastor who is power-hungry disqualifies himself.
No one is perfect, and no pastor perfectly embodies all of these character traits, but a pastor should be a man with a consistent track record. If an honest evaluation reveals an obvious shortcoming, then the man in question is not qualified to be a pastor.