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What’s a good pastor?

The place to begin, of course, is with the qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Character matters more than skills and charisma. The most dangerous pastor is one whose gifting exceeds his character. I would rather have a pastor with mediocre gifts but a solid character than the reverse. Pastoring begins with the character qualifications outlined in Scripture.

The most dangerous pastor is one whose gifting exceeds his character.

But what else? Skills matter too, particularly the ability to teach (2 Timothy 2:24). This reminds us of the importance of Word ministry. “More than anything, your job as a church leader is to center your church on God’s Word,” I heard at a 9Marks Weekender. I agree.

The pastor must also possess the right motives: willingness and eagerness rather than compulsion and greed, and a desire to serve as an example rather than to domineer (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Here’s my brief summary of what the Bible says about what makes for a good pastor: a godly character, godly motives, and an ability to teach God’s Word.

A good pastor has godly character, godly motives, and an ability to teach God’s Word.

Notice how counter-cultural this is. It’s not that other qualities don’t matter. God isn’t against skills, gifting, and charisma. They just don’t rise to the top of his list. In fact, they can get in the way. God prioritizes qualities we tend to ignore: godliness, a focus on Word-centered ministry, and a desire to serve for the right reasons.

As I think about this, three lessons come to mind.

First, we’re blessed with more good pastors than we realize. Because we tend to judge based on success and numbers, we tend to think that there aren’t many good pastors out there. Years ago I heard a leader argue that 95% of pastors are losers. By that he meant that only 5% of pastors are capable of consistently leading churches to growth. But if being a good pastor means that one is godly, competent to handle the Word, and motivated by eagerness and a desire to serve, then we’re surrounded by more godly pastors than we realize. I’m often humbled by the number of good pastors I meet. Most of them will never be known outside their churches, but they’re known in heaven, and their ministry matters.

Second, search committees need a better set of criteria. In his book When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search, Chris Braun argues that search committees are sometimes ill equipped to select a new pastor. They are often tempted to poll for people’s preferences, and to try to please the majority. “You must be—and you must lead your church to be—centered on the Word, not driven and tossed with the whims and wish lists of individuals and groups,” he writes. Understanding what makes for a good pastor helps clarify the priorities of a pastoral search committee.

Finally, pastors like me can know where to focus our energies. Grow in godliness. Grow in our ability to understand and preach God’s Word. Grow in our eagerness to serve, and in the godliness of our motives. Everything else is secondary.

The payoff, according to Peter, is great. “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Serving as a good pastor may not be easy, but God’s glory, the good of our people, and the promised reward makes it worth it.

Pray for more good pastors, and pray for your pastor today!