A Pastor’s Character, Convictions, Competencies

In The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne suggest a three-fold schema for training church leaders: character, convictions, and competencies. I’ve found it helpful to apply these three categories to the various qualifications for the shepherd/elder/overseer in the Pastoral Epistles.

Character: The Lifestyle of a Pastor

Combining the list of character qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 with those found in Titus 1, we find sixteen:

  1. Above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)

In both 1 Timothy and Titus, the quality “above reproach” heads the list, not so much as an independent qualification, but as an overarching description of what is to follow. In every area of life, the pastor’s character should be beyond question.

  1. Husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)
  2. Sober-minded (1 Timothy 3:2)
  3. Self-controlled (1 Timothy 3:2)
  4. Respectable (1 Timothy 3:2)
  5. Hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)
  6. Not a drunkard (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7)
  7. Not violent, but gentle (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7)
  8. Not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3)
  9. Not a lover of money/not greedy for gain (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7)
  10. Lover of good (Titus 1:8)
  11. Not arrogant (Titus 1:7)
  12. Not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7)
  13. Upright (Titus 1:8)
  14. Holy (Titus 1:8)
  15. Disciplined (Titus 1:8)

Convictions: The Beliefs of a Pastor

In his letter to Titus, Paul insists that an overseer “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9). The “trustworthy word” refers to the body of teaching which can be summarized by the message of the gospel. In 1 Timothy, Paul implies that pastors must hold to this “trustworthy” word, for he requires that the pastor be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). If a pastor is expected to teach, he certainly must have a firm grasp of Christian doctrine.

Competencies: The Skills of a Pastor

Besides these character traits and convictions, the pastor must have two key competencies: teaching and leadership/management.


Unlike the deacon, the pastor/elder must not only have a firm grasp of the gospel, but he must be able to teach it to others (1 Timothy 3:2). In fact, the pastor’s grasp of the gospel must be so thorough that he is able to “rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).


It is clear from the very designation “overseer” that a pastor must possess the skill of leadership. Yet the testing ground of a pastor’s leadership is not his public performance, but his private influence—at home (1 Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:6). Paul makes this clear in his letters, both to Timothy and to Titus. If a pastor fails to exercise gospel leadership with those closest to him (his wife and children), he cannot be trusted to exercise gospel leadership with the church. If he demonstrates incompetence on the basic, private level of leadership, he cannot be trusted with this public sphere of influence.

Character, Leadership, and the Gospel

Character Matters

Why do we feel uncomfortable trusting a politician who has been unfaithful to his wife? or disappointed when a high-profile athlete–known and respected for “family values”– has been hiding an affair? Perhaps we feel this discomfort because we make an intuitive connection between a man’s character and our confidence in him as a leader.

The Link between Character and Leadership

But is this intuition fair? Does it really matter, for example, that a state leader is having an extra-marital affair, as long as he is able to make wise decisions for the state? Here is one reason we connect character and leadership: we realize that a person’s life cannot be divided into personal and public compartments. When a man cannot keep his word in private, he is unlikely to keep it in public. When a man is undisciplined in the way he spends his personal money, he is unlikely to be scrupulous in how he spends public money. Our intuition about character and leadership is well-grounded, for it is a person’s character that unites the public and private domains of life.

Church Leadership Must Be Gospel-Shaped Leadership.

It is no wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul writes much about character when giving the qualifications for leadership in the church (1 Timothy and Titus). The importance of a leader’s character fits with the whole theme of these epistles: when we grasp the gospel, we will live the gospel. In other words, a person’s character shows whether and to what degree that he or she has embraced the gospel. The person who can honestly affirm with Paul the gospel truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15) will be humble, joyful, and godly. In contrast, a person who is proud, self-righteous, or defiant betrays that he or she is failing to appropriate the gospel, or perhaps has never even believed the gospel at all.

The church is a group of people who have believed and are being shaped by the gospel, so we should expect that the gospel will be central to the lives of the church’s leaders—not only in what they believe but also in how they live and lead. Indeed, Paul’s qualifications for pastors/overseers and deacons indicate that this is exactly the case: the leaders of the church must live and lead in a way that is shaped by the gospel.