Posted by: watchman | July 18, 2009

First Timothy 3: Qualifications?

Things are going to start slowing down as we get into the thick of this letter.

The passage we are looking at this time has been often used in churches to determine the preparedness of a person for the ministry. But is that what is really being listed here? In the next several days, I will be taking each of the things Paul lists one at a time and applying them to ministry today, as I see it.

Here is the passage:

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full [a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
-I Tim. 3:2-7

Usually where this topic comes up is when a pulpit search committee is trying to figure out who their church’s new pastor will be or when somebody is trying to nitpick their current pastor.

In talking to leaders about some of the things they have gone through, I have heard stories about how these verses have been used to slander and harm leaders and their families. I am certain that this is not the intention that Paul had for this passage. It is not an opportunity to get around Jesus prohibition on judging.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of a church disciplining a pastor because his/her teenager, went off and did something dumb. The Pastor, they say, “does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” We’ll get more into that when we examine that particular passage.

For now, let’s just remember what the context of this passage is. I think the definitive passage for this list is verse 6, in which Paul tells Timothy to encourage others to pursue the “noble task” of church leadership. People should be encouraged to become overseers, not discouraged by the absolute enormity of the level of personal and familial piety that is expected.

I have a difficult time seeing this list as a list of qualifications, honestly. It seems to me that only one qualification is necessary – the call of God. If God calls me to do something and everyone else says “no,” I’m going to do it anyway. In fact, Paul says human input is not necessary for him (Gal. 1:1). The other thing I do not see mentioned here is the call of the Church, which would also seem to be an obvious and necessary qualification. Certainly, Paul could trace his ministry origins to the call of God (Acts 9) and to the call of the church (Acts 13:2).

Instead of qualifications, I think Paul is giving Timothy a generalized character sketch of what makes a good overseer. You can tell a lot about a person’s values, just by looking at their life, their families, and their actions. This would be a great help to Timothy in avoiding problem people before they received too much responsibility.

So, in going forward, let’s be sure that we do not get too nitpicky with the passage. For, we may lose track of the forest, for the trees.



  1. […] We’re looking at the First Timothy 3 character sketch for church leaders. You should read this as a primer, before getting into the details. Now the overseer is to be above reproach – I Timothy 3:2 (TNIV) […]

  2. I agree with you in premise, but there is only one thing to consider…that the “call of God” is subjective. Since the Body is the Church, I would prefer to receive their validation…if they say you are fit, you are fit. If they don’t think you are, why would one want to be there?

  3. I would tend to agree with you Jay. However, 2 things bother me:

    1. Galatians 1:1 is really tripping me up.
    2. I submitted to the local church on several occasions where, looking back, I had it right and they were dead wrong. There were some outside of my local church that were more in tune with the call of God, but I went with the authority of the local church each time.

    So, I don’t know. It is true, we cannot be lone gunmen in the world, but we are responsible for our own paths and Christ is responsible for the church’s path. That is where I land.

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