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Understanding the Qualifications of a Leader

Updated on May 29, 2011

Whoever Aspires To The Office Of Bishop Desires A Noble Task

“The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunk, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way—for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3:1-7).

The two words used to identify leaders in the church, namely bishops and elders, were synonymous and applicable to the same person. The title elder, made reference to one’s dignity and status, while bishop related to one’s function or duty. The former referred to one’s person and the latter to one’s duty (Ac 20:17, 28). The primary task of a pastor/elder in the church is to fulfill and uphold 1 Timothy 3:2-7. The passage specifies the biblical qualifications/expectations of this spiritual office in connection with the following six levels of the pastor/elder’s relationship:[i]

Social Qualifications

In respect to those within the church, the pastor/elder must be “above reproach.” His life and character should not leave him open to attack. And if a charge is leveled against him, he should be able to withstand his adversary and silence his critics. As to those outside the church, he is to be “respectable” or of good reputation. Needless to say, the outside world is privy to the behavior of the pastor/elder’s life. The genuineness of his daily dealings with unbelievers will either define or malign his public office. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” The pastor/elder’s actions should speak louder than words. He must ‘walk the talk’ in order to influence and inspire unbelievers toward the Christ life.

Moral Qualifications

In a world where morality is compromised and under constant attack, the pastor/elder must be blameless. He is to be “married only once” in a society where divorce and remarriage is rampant and goes unchecked. He must maintain a high standard in the marital relationship in regard to his love, care, and faithfulness to his wife. He must also be temperate, “not a drunkard, not violent, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.” He must refrain from any indulgence in secret that would undermine his character, ruin his public witness, and disgrace the church he serves. For we can best be sure our sin, even our secret sins, will find us out (Num 32:23; Ps 90:8). Bottom line, the question of his morality must go unchallenged within the walls of the church and the world at large.

Mental Qualifications

The pastor/elder must be “sensible” or sound-minded. In order to develop a well-balanced state of mind in his inner character, he must be tempered daily with self-discipline. A well-ordered life is the outcome of a well-ordered mind.[ii] The life of a pastor/elder should reflect the beauty of orderliness of God.[iii] He should not only possess the ability as “an apt teacher,” but also the readiness to teach—a desire and constraint to entrust to others the truth that the Holy Spirit has taught him from the scriptures (2 Tim 2:2). This necessitates that he must be a serious student of the scriptures. And his instruction must have the support of a holy and blameless life before God and the church.

Personality Qualifications

The pastor/elder must not be violent or quarrelsome, but “gentle.” He should not be given to or dabble in contentious controversies that lead to ugly disputes and damaging division. He should not be a peacekeeper, but peacemaker, seeking ways to resolve painful problems and diffuse explosive situations (Mt 5:9). He must be “hospitable,” a friend to strangers (Mt 25:35-39; Heb 13:2). He must not be “a lover of money” or covet it “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10a). He must strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, trusting God to meet his every need (Mt 6:33), or he may pierce himself and wander away from the faith chasing after riches (1 Ti 6:10b).

Domestic Qualifications

The pastor/elder who is married must “manage his own household” in a Godly manner “keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way.” He must be in sync with his wife sharing these spiritual aspirations and willing to make necessary sacrifices. While caring for the church, it is his responsibility to not neglect his own family. The family is his first priority. After all, his wife and kids validate his ministry, “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5). Anyone who aspires to this office has got to have his house in order—not a flimsy house of cards, but one built on solid rock (Lk 6:48-49).

Maturity Qualifications

Spiritual maturity is indispensable to a pastor/ elder’s life and experience. It’s not a position for the new convert or neophyte[iv]—for novices are in danger of pride and prone to fall into the condemnation of the devil. A recent convert lacks the wisdom and stability essential in providing good leadership. Under the authority of the pastor/elder, any promising candidate for a leadership role should be given opportunities to serve at a humbler and less prominent task that would develop his natural and spiritual gifts. He should not be placed on the fast track to leadership lest he be puffed up, but should be proven faithful in the little responsibilities before tackling the greater tasks ahead (Lk 19:17). The idea being that to all those who have been trustworthy in the small things, more will be given or placed under his authority (Lk 19:26).


[i] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986 rev. ed.), 49-58. The six qualifications of bishop/elder are adapted and distilled from Sander’s chapter entitled, “Pauline Sidelights on Leadership.”

[ii] Ibid., 53. Sanders explains that as to the outer conduct of the pastor/elder, he must be respectable, decorous—“the word is kosmos, the order that emerged out of chaos at the fiat of God.”

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid., 56. According to Sanders, the word neophyte is a figure taken from nature meaning “newly planted.”

© 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.

Recommended reading:

Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer (Sanders Spiritual Growth Series)
Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer (Sanders Spiritual Growth Series)

Christianity needs powerful voices in today's world, voices from strong leaders guided by God and devoted to Christ. Spiritual Leadership will encourage you to place your talents and powers at His disposal so you can become a leader used for His glory.



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    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      7 years ago from California


      Be mindful that I focused on the "qualifications of a leader" based on 1 Timothy 3:1-7. My exposition centered on this text. You will find that writer, the Apostle Paul, does not deal with this subject in this particular passage either. That does not mean that the apostle's position ignore's remarriage after the death of a spouse all together.

      The apostle does address this subject "further on" in 1 Timothy 5:14 saying, "So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us." In Romans 7:2 Paul says, "Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband." And in 1 Corinthians 7:39 he wrote, "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord."

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Your explanation on remarriage does not address the death of a spouse. According to your position, a leader would not have the freedom to remarry after the death of a spouse?

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      8 years ago from California


      Despite the fact that the question of remarriage today holds as the dominant view, “Yes we can,” the historic view of the church come as a surprise for those who have not investigated the subject. Based on the first five centuries of church history on divorce and remarriage, there was an essential unanimity of the Greek (Eastern) and Latin (Western) church fathers in viewing remarriage as adultery. The overall consensus is very clear concerning the belief of the early church regarding this subject "In all, twenty-five individual writers and two early councils forbid remarriage after divorce.” The contrast in views on remarriage between the early church and most modern churches are poles apart.

      Such writers include early Greek fathers such as Hermas, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen and later Greek writers such as Basil, Gregory, Nazianzus, Appollinarius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and John Chrysostom. The early Greek writers should be heavily weighed since they knew Koine Greek as their mother tongue and thus understood the nuances of the New Testament language better than anyone could today. Of the early church writers who wrote in Latin, a similar picture exists: Tertullian, Ambrose, Innocent, Jerome, and Augustine concurred that remarriage after divorce is biblically forbidden. Only one writer, Ambrosiaster, who wrote in the late fourth century, disagreed. It has been noted, however, that Ambrosiaster permitted remarriage for innocent men but not women. He also appears to be strongly influenced by Roman law, which was quite permissive about remarriage. Yet the overall picture is very clear about the beliefs of the early church, "In all, twenty-five individual writers and two early councils forbid remarriage after divorce" (Wenham and Heth, Jesus and Divorce, p. 38).

      Anytime we come to a clear biblical roadblock between the modern and the early church perspective, we should yield wisely to their directions and proceed with great caution. Though the scriptures stand as our final arbiter of truth, we must be aware that we often read the bible through the lens of our own period. Protestants claiming sola scriptura should note one writer’s comment: For their interpretation is, for the most part, unconsciously, conditioned to a large extent by the Christian education and environment from which they come—that is, by the tradition (here used in the customary meaning of the word) of their particular denomination. A great part of the differences in exegesis among them is to be explained by different doctrinal presuppositions. It will serve us well to carefully read and research the church fathers, far removed from our own time and culture, lest we be in serious danger of an unknown blind spot—the foregone presumption that we have the right of way today. James Dunn puts forth a valuable hermeneutic, "If those closer to the thought world of Paul and closer to the issue…show no inkling of the current interpretation, that interpretation is probably wrong."

      I have a heartfelt compassion over Charles Stanley's marital situation, but it doesn't hold him along with other teachers above the Word of God. In fact, Charles Stanley told the congregation in 1995, “If my wife divorces me, I would resign immediately.” In spite of agreeing to withdraw the divorce suit and work towards reconciliation. Things reportedly seemed hopeful by 1998, then fell apart again. In February 2000, she again filed for divorce, and a judge issued a final decree May 11, 2000 ending the 44-year marriage. But the grounds for Charles Stanely’s divorce was reported to be the marriage was “irretrievably broken.” Reportedly, Charles Stanley remained eligible to be pastor of First Baptist Church as long as he did not remarry. According to the Apostle Paul, "for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the God's church?" (1 Tim 3:5). Any able Bible teacher knows in his heart of hearts that "those who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (Jas 3:1). That's the discipline.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Your translation "married only once" is incorrect. The literal translation from the greek is a "one woman man." And taking in the historical context in which Paul wrote this epistle to Timothy, polygamy was rampant and that is what Paul was addressing. A bishop, or elder, was not to have more than one wife. Furthermore, this position you hold is not historically accurate, in that it has only been around for about 150 years. Christianity is nearly 2,000 years old. In the theological position you are espousing, you would disqualify Brother Charles Stanly from the pulpit for his divorce several years ago?

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      8 years ago from California


      Indeed it is a tough truth for the tough times in which we live. Although divorce is rampant, it is a reality that must be embraced within the church.

      If we could only see through or get past the titles of leadership and faithfully exercise our God-give gifts - be it in a non-titled yet serving role - divorcees can and will remain effective in ministry. They can comfort those from failed marriages and broken homes with the comfort they have received from Christ himself.

      The good news is that there is a valid and needed life of service after a heartbreaking and devastating divorce. God is in the business of forgiving, restoring, and reinstating us back into the body of believers with a renewed purpose and/or mission. By his unfathomable grace, all sinners are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but are saved to serve sans one's status or position.

      Thank you for your comment. I'm blessed by your visit.

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 

      8 years ago

      Gicky Soriano, Excellent! This well defines the qualifications of a leader. In order to lead one must do so by example! The scriptures you have provided substantiate those qualifications.

      With so many divorcing and remarrying today (leaders included) it is clear that the Lord would set forth a standard that would stand the test of times. It takes a strong man or woman to adhere to God's principles of marriage & family, commitment and monogamy!

      Divorce does not mean that they can not actively participate in ministry... Wonderful powerful exegesis!!!

      "Anyone who aspires to this office has got to have his house in order—not a flimsy house of cards, but one built on solid rock (Lk 6:48-49)."

      Thank you for sharing, In His love & Blessings!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this superb article. I enjoyed it. I agree with you that a leader in the church should not be divorced. Not to say the pews can't and hopefully will be full of divorcees—Lord knows we need healing. But a minister is held to a higher standard. Good work!

    • Gicky Soriano profile imageAUTHOR

      Gicky Soriano 

      9 years ago from California

      David, I read your HubPages profile and understand where you are coming from based on your pastoral and marital history. First, let me say thank you for not only visiting my hub, but also interacting with the delicate and controversial subject at hand: the moral qualifications of a church leader in regards to his marital status. Your present understanding leads you to stand by two truths: (1) You believe that the phrase “only married once” is not interpreted correctly, but that it means “to only be married to one person at a time,” and (2) you validate your position stating that Jesus said “a person had a right to divorce a spouse who had been unfaithful.” Due to its lengthy and loaded subject, I will deal with your second point separately in another comment or in another hub. For the moment, the phrase “only married once” is what we will tackle grammatically and scripturally.

      When examining the qualifications of a bishop or deacon, it is important to look at the overall idea of the passage as well as the specific grammar and construction. These qualities were meant to show that a leader in the church must be a godly man. The elders of the church were to act as examples of Christ-like living to the church and the community at large. This is seen in Paul’s first qualification in 1 Timothy 3:2, which most believe to be the key to all of the other specifications, “Now a bishop must be above reproach.” This condition sets the tone for the remaining qualifications, including the question of one’s marital status.

      The meaning of the phrase, “married only once” (NRSV) or "husband of one wife" (NASB), if you like, comes at the heels of the first qualification clearing up the controversy of whether a pastor can be divorced or not. There is nothing mysterious about the Greek phrase mias gunaikos andra, which simply and literally means "one woman man." Kenneth Wuest expresses this view in his translation of this passage, “He must be a one-wife kind of man in that he isolates and centralizes his love upon one women and that forever.” Living in a culture where the temptation toward unfaithfulness was rampant, Paul made it clear that an elder in the church was to be a “one woman man”—loyal to his wife and to her alone.

      In 1 Timothy 5:9 the same phrase is used in reference to a widow who has only been married once "Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once." There is no controversy with the interpretation of the phrase in this passage, meaning that the widow should have only one man. The word translated "husband" in 1 Timothy 3:2 is the Greek word aner which means “man.” There is no reason to give it a different meaning in 1 Timothy 3:2. Therefore the normal use of the language and the phrase “married only once” means that a bishop must be a man (husband) of only one woman. This verse sets forth a moral qualification that anyone who aspires to a position of a bishop or deacon should not be divorced or remarried.

      There are several New Testament principles that help us to understand that this is the correct interpretation. Divorce represents a failure in the home, so that even though a man may be forgiven for any sin involved, he remains permanently disqualified for leadership in the congregation (1 Tim 3:4-5; 1 Cor. 9:24-27). 1 Timothy 3:4-5 sets forth a fifteenth qualification for a prospective bishops, "He must manage his household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way—for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?" A man whose marriage failed certainly would be suspect of not ruling his house well.

      We must understand that God is giving us the highest of standards for a man who would be Christ's "under shepherd" and pastor His congregation. Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” A man whose marriage fails regardless of who was at fault cannot present a proper example to other believers. Granted he may be a godly man after his divorce, but unfortunately the stigma of divorce will forever mark him and make his familial leadership abilities suspect and thereby disqualifying him for this responsibility.

      We must understand that no one man is so important to God that He would set aside truth and righteous principles simply to use that man. The word of God applies equally to all and it is our acceptance of it and obedience to His truth that validates a person as qualified to serve the Lord. In this instance, “Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22). God's very nature makes it impossible for Him to bless error and put His approval on anything that is tainted or impure. And when it comes to the issue of divorce, the Bible always casts a negative light upon the subject presenting it as a failure. “For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel” (Mal. 2:14-16).

      Others reason that if it can be established that God will allow divorce and remarriage then a divorced man would technically and legally entitled to be a bishop. However, this is not sound reasoning and misses the point of God giving the qualifications of a pastor. We need to keep our focus on the subject being addressed by the passage and contextually the passage is addressing the minimum qualification of the highest position in a congregation that being the one who would “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). God's pastor must be of the highest character as presented in 1 Timothy 3:1-9. The last stated qualification sums up the whole of fifteen previous stating he must be of good report of those both inside the church and outside in the community.

      Although some argue that this interpretation is unnecessarily harsh and unfair, supporters of this view contend that the very existence of a set of qualifications for a bishop or deacon indicate that not all people are to be eligible for these leadership roles, but that this in no way should eliminate them from other sorts of ministry. Yet when it comes to serving God in a highly visible role inside and outside the church, Paul's warning stands clear; a godly church needs godly leaders whose lives meet the godly criteria. We must be very careful whom we entrust with this responsibility.

    • David Schulze profile image

      David Schulze 

      9 years ago from San Antonio, Texas

      I believe the portion "Married Only Once" is not interrupted correctly. I believe it means to only be married to one person at a time because even Jesus said that a person had a right to divorce a spouse who had been unfaithful.


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