Today, we’re going to discuss Paul’s instruction regarding qualifications for pastors and deacons. But first, I have to express my love for this book of the Bible. Paul has sent Timothy to Ephesus to be his representative and teach the church there. It reminds me of a student graduating and a teacher sending them off to do the work that teacher had so faithfully taught. You can hear Paul’s encouraging tone to Timothy throughout this first letter to his spiritual son and I’ve always appreciated the compassion he has toward his student.
In 1 Timothy Chapter 3, Paul is explaining to Timothy the qualifications of an “overseer” in the church. There are a few different words used for this depending on which translation you’re reading, so you may see bishop, or pastor, or simply church leader in your bible. Since you’re reading this list for yourself, we’re not going to focus on these characteristics, but rather we’re going to briefly discuss the reasons for having such a long and specific list of qualifications to lead the church.
Let’s remember that the church is only about thirty years old at the time that Paul wrote this letter. Like, the whole Christian church was only a few decades old. This was all new material to everyone. As we read through this list of qualifications - faithfulness to a spouse, having a good reputation, bing hospitable, not drinking too much, not being violent, etc - it seems elementary to us, but that’s because it’s been taught to us and we can read it in the bible. Paul, with the Holy Spirit leading him, was laying out the groundwork for church leadership to his student in what would become a blueprint for church leadership throughout the church age.
Let’s look at verse 1. It says, “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires to do a good work.” It doesn’t say, “Good for them,” or “That’s a great thing to want.” It says that person desires to do a “good work.” This is not a light hearted task. Being an overseer, as Paul says, is not about titles and glory. It’s about work.
The overseers are entrusted with the spiritual growth of the flock, entrusted with maturing the salvation of the believers under their care. This is not a job for the faint of heart, which is why the list of qualifications is so long. These overseers must be able to remain steadfast in the face of conflict always asking the question, “What is best for my flock, not for me?”
In addition, these overseers must be able to maintain their focus on Christ in the face of persecution. Think of the early church. In Acts, the church suffers persecution that scatters them across Asia and the Middle East. Paul writes several times, warning the churches that they will face persecution. Not “if”, he said, but “when you face persecution.” In Revelation, Christ Himself dictates letters to the churches describing times of persecution. Under Roman rule in the early days of the church, Christians were tortured and killed. In the later days to come the church will also face persecution, according to Matthew 24. Now, imagine being the shepherd of the flock during those times. You can’t be underqualified.
An overseer is responsible for growth in the church both spiritually and in numbers. They are responsible for the direction the church walks in, for the ministries the church provides to the community, and for maintaining peace and order within their congregation.
There’s one more thing an overseer must be able to do. You see, every pastor will step out of their ministry position at some point. Whether it’s because God calls them elsewhere, or it’s time to retire, they will leave. Pastor Tim won’t be our pastor forever, just like Ron Barnard couldn’t be our pastor forever before him, and just like Jack Dial couldn’t be our pastor forever before him. An overseer must be able to reproduce himself within his flock. Which means, as much effort as he puts into maintaining his own qualifications, he must always be looking outside himself and caring for the discipleship of the flock.
It’s a big job, maybe the biggest. So here’s my challenge to you today. Think of a spiritual overseer in your life, and reach out with a message of encouragement to that person. Believe me, they need it.