The Kind of Man Pastors Must Be

By Doug Ponder    |    April 17, 2023


Every semester, no matter the class, I intentionally try to touch upon the kind of men that pastors must be. Admittedly, this is a very broad topic. If I had the time, I could focus an entire class on a single facet of the pastoral office and what it requires.

For example, a pastor must be a truly redeemed man. In 1 Timothy 3:6, the apostle Paul says that a pastor must not be a recent convert, which assumes that he is, in fact, a convert. This may seem obvious, but it’s mighty hard to lead anyone to Someone you haven’t actually met. This is not a new problem. Hundreds of years ago, the Puritan Richard Baxter said, “Take heed to yourselves, lest you should be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual workings of that Gospel which you preach; and lest while you proclaim the necessity of a Saviour to the world, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits! Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish, while you call upon others to take heed of perishing!”1

Every pastor must also be a godly man. It is no accident that the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5 and Titus 1 focus not exclusively but primarily on the character of the pastor. As the 19th Century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne is reported to have rightly said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”

Likewise, every pastor must be a zealous man, not unlike our Lord himself, who was consumed with zeal for the glory of God (John 2:13–17). This takes the form of pastors who desire nothing but Christ and hate nothing but sin. John Wesley once said that he could change the world if he had a hundred men like that. For the truth is that anyone can learn doctrine, and many people are quite gifted, but you cannot fan knowledge or giftedness into flames where there is no spark of zeal for the Lord.

A pastor must be a knowledgeable man. To be sure, a certain kind of knowledge puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1), but God says that his people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). In other words, zeal alone is not enough. As Paul once said about his Pharisaical friends, “[T]hey have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10:3–4). That is why a pastor must study diligently to show himself approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, but one who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

Every pastor must also be a patient man. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, we must “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” For how can a man care for the people entrusted to his care if he has forgotten the patience of Christ with him in his many failings?

A pastor likewise be a courageous man who not only holds fast to the Word of God but who is willing to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). He must be a man who keeps on speaking the truth, even when it is very costly to do so—like the apostles in Acts 4 and Acts 5, or like Moses in Hebrews 11, who chose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin, for he considered the reproach of Christ a greater prize than all the treasures of Egypt. Indeed, it was the boldness of the apostles that set them apart as men who had spent time with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Every semester, no matter the class, I intentionally try to touch upon the kind of men that pastors must be.”

—Doug Ponder

Without a doubt, a pastor must be a family man, one who is faithful to his wife (1 Tim. 3:2) and manages his family well (1 Tim. 3:4), so that his children generally grow up to be people who love the Lord (Titus 1:6). “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Tim. 3:5), which is the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15)?

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to talk about how every pastor must be an above-reproach kind of man, a sober-minded and self-controlled man, a respectable and hospitable man, a gentle and non-violent man, a convictional but not quarrelsome man, a content and non-greedy man, a lover of the good, the upright, and the holy (1 Tim 3:1–7; 1 Peter 5:1–3).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every pastor must not be an arrogant man (Titus 1:7), but a humble one—a man who hears all these qualifications and says, “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor. 2:16)? And then, instead of looking down in despair, he looks up and clings even more tightly to Christ, remembering that Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) but “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

  1. Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 14 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 53.
Doug Ponder

Doug Ponder is professor of biblical studies at Grimké Seminary and is a teaching pastor at Remnant Church in Richmond, Va.

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