Downtown Cornerstone Media
Apr 28

Pastors, Elders & Overseers

, 1 Timothy, Media, Sermons | by Pastor Adam Sinnett

1 Timothy


In 1 Timothy 3:1-7we see that one of the most significant areas within the Ephesian church that needed to be addressed was the leadership, in particular, pastoral leadership. There was apparently much confusion around pastoral leadership: What is a pastor? What are the qualifications? What should they be primarily concerned with? This is particularly important as Jesus came into world to live, die and rise in order to create the church (Mt16:18). Revelation tells us that all of human history is marching toward the day when the church will be presented to Jesus as is bride. Therefore, the matter of who leads the church in the interim is of great importance. It is not an exaggeration to say that the health of every local church depends on quality, faithfulness and teaching of its pastors.

Audio | 1 Timothy 3:1-7


In 1 Timothy 3:1-7we see that one of the most significant areas within the Ephesian church that needed to be addressed was the leadership, in particular, pastoral leadership. There was apparently much confusion around pastoral leadership: What is a pastor? What are the qualifications? What should they be primarily concerned with? This is particularly important as Jesus came into world to live, die and rise in order to create the church (Mt16:18). Revelation tells us that all of human history is marching toward the day when the church will be presented to Jesus as is bride. Therefore, the matter of who leads the church in the interim is of great importance. It is not an exaggeration to say that the health of every local church depends on quality, faithfulness and teaching of its pastors.


This morning we find ourselves in the middle of our study through First Timothy, a 2,000 year old letter from the Apostle Paul to his friend, traveling companion and partner-in-mission. The reason Paul wrote this letter to Timothy is that the church(es) in Ephesus were in a state confusion due, in large part, to false teaching (i.e. false ideas about God, Jesus, the Gospel and more). This false teaching was marked by biblical creativity rather than biblical faithfulness. The Ephesian church, therefore, began to wander from the gospel of Jesus Christ and, instead, follow their own personal preferences and self-made ideas about God, which Paul refers to as “myths and genealogies, which promote speculations”. (1:4) As we’ve seen, Paul loves the church in Ephesus, as he spent three years there helping to plant it, and it is breaking his heart to hear they are wandering from the truth of the gospel. Since the church is torn apart by this false teaching, Paul writes this letter to Timothy and commissions him to begin putting the pieces back together.

Today we’re going to see that one of the most significant areas within the Ephesian church that needed reconstruction was the leadership, in particular, pastoral leadership. There was apparently a lot of confusion around pastoral leadership withing church at Ephesus: What is a pastor? What are qualifications? What is the primary thing they should be concerned about? This is particularly important because  Jesus came into world to life, die and rise in order to create the church (Mt16:18). Revelation tells us that all of human history is marching toward the day when the church will be presented to Jesus as is bride. Therefore, the matter of who leads the church in the interim is of great importance. It is not an exaggeration to say that the health of every local church depends on quality, faithfulnessand teaching of its pastors. No church will rise above health and maturity of leaders which is why Bible has lot to say about church leadership Angry/cynical pastors tend to produce angry, cynical people.  Godly/humble pastors, tend to produce godly, humble people. Proud/mocking pastors, tend to produce proud mocking people. Kind,but theologically shallow pastors tend to create kind, but theologically shallow people. As a pastor, this puts the (healthy) fear of the living God in me.


First, everything in this list should be true of all Christians in some measure. Every follower of Christ should aspire to this. Being sexually pure, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, nor violent, nor quarrelsom, nor a lover of money is not for elite, varsity Christians, but all who claim Jesus as their God and King. Therefore as we go through this, keep that in mind this morning.

Second, single/married men, this is the kind of man God calls every man to be. This is your guide whether you are a pastor or not – at hom, at the office, in traffic, in your neighborhood and among your church. Not every man has the privilege of having a godly man mentor them, but every man gets some mentoring from the Apostle Paul here.

Third, single women, these are kinds of attributes that you should look for in a man to marry. Do not settle for less. Do not make excuses for men whose lives are not reflected in some degree in these verses.

Fourth, wives, encourage your husband if you see him reflected here; if don’t see him reflected here, don’t belittle him, pray for him. Pray that God would use you to help your husband to become everything God calls him to be. If he’s a godly man he’s already praying that he would play this role in your life, as well.

Fifth, as a church, these are the kind of men we need pray for, look for, honor and encourage as pastors. While these characteristics should be common to all, these traits should be more common/consistent in a pastor’s life. An elder is a normal, run-of-the-mill faithful Chrisitan who stands out because he is actually what we expect a Christian to be. Pastors are not super Christians who live by some sort of higher code. Rather, God takes an ordinary guy, carves out his character, runs him through an inordinate number of trials, extends a lot of grace and, over time, corners him through circumstances of life and – boom – the church has itself a pastor.


We’ll address this quickly as this is familiar to some of you but brand new to many.

First, from very beginning the church had pastors appointed for oversight, leading, feeding and protection. The book of Acts records that the gospel would be preached, some woudl express faith in Christ, those who did were brought together for worship, prayer and study of the Sciprutre and then the apostles appointed elders. On first missionary journey Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23) Titus was left in Crete to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5) Here, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the Apostle Paul is very specific about traits that would qualify leaders as pastors in Ephesus.

Second, Eph 4:11-12, Jesus gave the gifts of pastors and teachers. Jesus doesn’t give unnecessary gifts. If gave these gifts to the church, must mean the church needs them. In the fourth chapter of his letter to the church at Ephesus, he explains why Jesus gave these gifts to the church: (1) to equip » i.e. to equip you to do what God made you do to; if you’re a XN, you’re in the ministry; (2) to build up » i.e. help us grow and mature through teaching of the Word, leadership, prayer.


3:1-2a “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach…”

“The saying is trustworthy” cf 1:15, 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8

Paul beings five statements in this way through the Pastoral Epistles (1/2 Timothy and Titus; cf 1:15, 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8). What’s interesing is that all others deal w/ aspects of the gospel, while this statement alone deals w/ pastoral leadership. By including eldership alongside the importance of the gospel, he is highlighting that this is a big deal. To God, church is most precious thing on earth, bought w/ blood of his Son and that makes pastoral leadership a “noble task”.

“overseer” episkopos (“overseer” or “bishop”) and presbyteros (“presbyter” or “elder”) are two titles for same office. We see this expressed in a number of ways throughout the New Testament. First, Paul instructed Titus to appoint “elders” adding that a “bishop” must be blameless » Titus 1:5-7. Second, Paul sent for elders of Ephesian church, but calls them “bishops” » Acts 20:17,28 (cf 1Pe5:1-2) In other words, overseer, elder, and pastor are terms that were used somewhat interchangebly interchangeably. You could say that elderis title and overseer is the job description. After all, what do elders do? They shepherd, lead, guide and teach (i.e. the oversee God’s flock.)

“aspire” to stretch oneself or to reach out your hand for. i.e. will have legitimate, God-ordained aspiration. This is not a reference to selfish-ambition for power or prestige of office, but recognition that this is a noble task and privilege. Christians have a really awkward relationship w/ aspiration and ambition. Often we don’t know what to do with it. But, in my experience we can so careful about ensuring we’re not operating out of selfish ambition that we neglect to stoke within ourselves godly ambition. Result? We don’t do anything. For the called man, Paul is telling us that the pastoral ministry is not just best option, it is the only option. They should “Want to do it” and “aspire” to it.

“noble task” work, service. This deep, inward compulsion is not about the “office” itself but the “task”. The second half of the sentence clarifies first half. The pastoral office is not a career path where you go to gain a life but where you go to give your life away for Christ and sake of others. It is not a 9-5 job you can just walk away from and forget every night. It’s a noble task. It’s noble, but its work. God wants men w/ deep inner aspiration and desire to shepherd, lead, protect people of God. This means that common caricatures of pastors are wrong. Being a pastor is not about merely being a friend, patting people on the back, occassional prayers and wishing people well. Jesus gives the church pastors to save people from hell, to herald the good news of the gospel, to shepherd God’s people in their relationships with the living God and to make them Christ-exalting spiritual aliens in world.

Yet, desire alone not enough. This aspiration must be matched with godly character and spiritual maturity. A man who is truly called is marked by both internal aspiration andexternal disciplined preparation.

“above reproach” This is an umbrella term for all that follows. To be “above reproach” is the overarching requirement of a godly leader, especially a pastor. It means that you are free from any offensive or disgraceful sin of character or conduct. A pastors pattern of life commends, not condemns, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a life without blame. Now, importantly, it is not faultless or perfect (otherwise there would be no pastors), but these qualities should be present. Rather, they must be a model for church to follow and not give others reason to attack reputation of church. Has sort of character that if hear something bad about them, you automatically know something is wrong in the heart of the accuser.


(1) Personal life
(2) Home life
(3) Spiritual life
(4) Public life
(5) Ability to teach

All, but one, of these qualifications deal with character. Pastors lead and serve from a base of godliness. The most important quality is not intelligence, education, personality, vision, admin, courage, humor, friendliness. The most necessary and desirable quality for any leader, especially a pastor, is that of integrity in all of life.

#1 Personal life: How’s your personal life? How’s your character?

3:2 “husband of one wife” literally, “one woman man” (i.e. strictest marital fidelity. Faithful, monogamous, sexually pure, and committed to his bride. If you are called to pastoral leadership, it will show up in your marriage. This includes not having multiple wives or having other relationships (emotional or sexual) or habitual using pornography. Now, this is not outlawing single pastors (e.g. Jesus, Paul) or those who have been divorce on biblical grounds. Rather, the principle here is purity.

3:2 “sober-minded” stable, thoughtful, balanced, doesn’t make rash or impulsive decisions.

3:2 “self-controlled” w/ God’s help, increasingly mastering life, tongue, moods and passions. You have control over yourself and your desires, able to keep objective perspective in face of difficulty.

3:2 “respectable” Living a life that makes Gospel attractive and causes others to hold you in high regard. It should go without saying that this is not something that can be demanded (“respect me”), but is gained through a humble, sacrificial form of life and leadership.

3:2 “hospitable” opening home and life to others

3:3 “not a drunkard” free from addiction or enslavement to any kind of substance.

3:3 “not violent, but gentle” doesn’t have short fuse, quick temper, or a bully with words of physical force. Gentle here does not mean he’s soft, but that his strength is under control, reasonable, humble, peaceable. A pastor cannot be weak. He has to be able to confront, but be able to do with with compassion.

3:3 “not quarrelsome” A godly leader, especially a pastor, shouldn’t be a cynical contrarian who is always playing “devil’s advocate”. Nor should he be a know-it-alls who is always expressing his insecurity by trying to one up you and, generally, promoting controversy where ever he goes. Ask yourself: Are my relationships marked by gentleness and kindness or trouble and conflict? What would others say?

3:3 “not a lover of money” Not materialistic. In control of material appetites.

There are a couple important things to highlight here. No one is saved, nor earns their relationship before God, by following this list. We are not saved by our good works, but saved for good works. We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Genuine faith in Christ will express itself in many, and more, of the ways listed above (in some measure). When God tell us “don’t” sin he’s really saying “don’t hurt yourself”. Sin always leads to suffering; holiness always leads to deep happiness and joy. God is not trying to steal our life from us, but intends to make our life flourish.

Q: What role do we play in our obedience and character formation?

We tend to get nervous when we come across lists like this. Is this something I do or God does?

Phil 2:12-13 “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”

When confronted with a list like this, we can have a tendency to say, “I can’t do this. This is something God has to do in me.” Now, that’s true, depending on what you mean. Often we have this idea that sin in our life should be defeated spontaneously and instantaneously w/out any effort on our part. If it hasn’t been defeated, then we assume that God hasn’t done his part. By saying that, we are essentially blaming God for our sin (after all, he hasn’t changed my heart). Clearly, it’s true God can change us like that,remove temptation and miraculously transform sinful habits. Yes! But, that’s not how he normally operates. Most sins are not defeated spontaneously. For example, Jesus says (Mt 5:29) “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” That does not happen spontaneously.

Look again at Phil 2:12-13 “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure…” God works so that our will and work are effect. God works in us byempowering our will to work to oppose sin and live for his good pleasure.

So, the real question becomes how does he empower our wills to oppose sin? Answer: Truth – the truth of who He is, what he has done, will do. The truth of the danger of sin, the beauty of holiness, the trustworthiness of God, the enabling of His Spirit, the promise of help and provision, our identity in him, the supreme satisfaction found in Him. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – Jesus (Jn 8:32)

As God’s truth gets pressed into our will, by Spirit-filled trust, he changes how we view sin and fight against it. So, yes, we’re doing it – we’re saying no to sin, we’re avoiding temptation, we’re putting sin to death, we’re resisting, we’re actively waging war.  But, God is ultimate mover. God’s truth getting pressed into our will, effecting, motivating, empowering us for the battle. His grace motivates us to trust him and distrust ourselves. The better we know Him, what he like, the more we will become like him – but we have to it out.

So, how does this apply to the traits above. We can grow in:

sexual purity » because we see thru false promises of satisfaction thru impurity to better promises of satisfaction in Christ.

sober-minded » because we trust Jesus is good and in absolute control, no matter how out of control life might seem.

self-controlled » because we’ve learned to not lean on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge him.

respectable » because thats the inevitable result of trusting God for all he is for us in Jesus.

hospitable » because when we were strangers to God he freely welcome us, in Jesus.

not addicted » because when we need to escape we know the only reliable, satisfying refuge is God himself

not violent but gentle » because God didn’t treat us violently, but gently, in Jesus.

not quarrelsome » because we have nothing to prove by winning an argument, our righteousness is in Christ.

not a lover of money » because we have everything we need in Jesus Christ, we’re heirs of all things

In other words, God works it in, by grace through faith, we work it out. This is how he forges our relationship with Him – and makes us increasingly like him.

#2 Home life

3:4-5 “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

A pastor is called to leadership in two families. The one qualifies him for the other. Clearly Paul is asking a rhetorical question here. Answer: He can’t. The word “manage” means to care. The argument is pretty straightforward. You cannot care for God’s family if you can’t care for own family. The quickest way to determine whether man is qualified to lead w/in church is to watch how leads his family. Why does God target home? Because home is hardest place to live out the Christian life. You can pose at office. Play church on Sunday. Pretend w/ community. But, the home reveals the true measure of man.

Think about this. Paul is not saying that these men need to run Fortune 500 company, entrepreneur or successful small business. Rather, he says, “I want to know how that guy lives out his faith at home – and how he encourages his family to do same.” Don’t find the guys most successful in community » Find the guys who are most successful at home. If he’s a good shepherd of his family, chances are that he will be a good shepherd of the church. If wife and kids gladly follow and flourish under his leadership, chances are the church will too.

Parents: Even best pastor cannot change his child’s heart. Salvation is by God, not by parenting. You can’t parent a child into conversion. But, parents are called to dazzle their kids with Jesus so that it makes it really hard to resist him. Parents should shepherd, love, teach, correct and discipline in a way that makes the gospel as attractive as it is and, then, leave results to God.

Single guys: If you feel called to vocational ministry, that will involve your entire family. Make sure any girl you’re interested in knows about this potential desire of yours.  She doesn’t have to have the same call, but she does need to be willing to gladly follow. If you love Jesus, love the church, love the gospel, you will make it very easy for her to follow you. Just make sure she knows what the Spirit is potentially doing in your soul.

#3 Spiritual life

3:6 “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”

Pastors should be converted and live lives that give evidence to the genuineness of their faith. Pastors should be road tested. What’s in view is primarily maturity in faith, not mature chronologically. You can be an immature 70 y.o. There are young men who are very spiritually mature and able to be elders. This is why Paul doesn’t give an age or cut off. “You don’t need physical gray hairs, but they need some spiritual gray hairs.” The main danger in view here is that too much responsibility too soon leads to pride and arrogance, like Satan. How’s your spiritual life? Does your life give evidence of the faith you profess?

#4 Public life

3:7 “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

Here Paul speaks about the reputation of a godly leader and pastor with non-Christians and those outside the church. They should be seen as a man of integrity, not only within the church, but outside church as well. Is he the same guy on Sunday with the church and during the week on Twitter? Do those outside see something different in how you live or just say “You’re no different than me”? If they hear that he is going to become a pastor, will others be surprised or think, “Yeah, that totally makes sense”?

#5 Ability to teach

3:2 “able to teach”

Of all the character qualifications, this is the only non-character trait. What does that tell us? That means that pastors are essentially teachers. Of what? God’s Word. What distinguishes the pastoral ministry is the pre-eminence of the Word of God. Clearly there are many things the pastor should be be able to do, but there is one thing he must be able to do – teach. Of all the things that Paul could have listed, this is the only nonnegotiable skill or talent. In other words, elders must have an extra-ordinary ability to open God’s word and apply it to God’s people – that is the most important element of pastoral ministry.

If you think about it, doesn’t this make sense? The only authority a pastor has is a derived authority from the Scriptures. That is where the authority orginates. In the Scriptures God tells us who he is, what he is like, how to be reconciled and more. The Scriptures present us with the objective truth of God that we otherwise would not know. The Scriptures reveal truth that we don’t have within ourselves, thus it is crucial for a pastor to know, love and be able to explain and apply God’s Word to God’s people.

That doesn’t mean the pastor is great behind a pulpit. Not every elder is. This could also refer to 1:1s, communities, classes, etc. But every elder needs to be able to explain God’s truth to followers of Jesus and non-Christians. A pastor should be a man who knows and loves the Bible, knows and loves the doctrines of the Bible, and has the ability to explain and defend them.

Q: How does this square with our modern day understanding of what a pastor should be, even within the church?

1934. Brown and May. 5 pastoral roles. Teacher. Preacher. Worship leader. Pastor and Administrator.

1986. 14 pastoral roles. Top3 Planning. Leading worship. Sensitivity to church. Followed by spiritual development of church, pastoral counseling, visiting sick, raising financial support, providing administrative leadership, getting church involved in programs, supporting mission to the world, involved in social justice issues.

What we can take from this? Namely that technical and managerial competence dominate what it means to be a pastor. Today, a faithful and successful pastor is not defined by his character and ability to teach and apply the Bible. Rather, the faithfulness and success of a pastor is measured by his ability to administrate, organize, and relate to others. In most cases the pastorate has been reduced to little more than a helping profession wherein all the pastor is expected to be is a god friend. When the pastorate is reduced, the church is also reduced. The church just becomes a service provider. In the end, the older model of the pastor serving as a broker of turth is sidelined by the new administrative and managerial functions.

It is no wonder that – over the last 20 years – the average workload of a pastor increased from fifty+ hours a week to over sixty hrs/wk. 1500 pastors leave ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or in-fighting w/in their churches. There is a danger of being preoccupied w/ the wrong ministry (anything but a primary emphasis on the Word and prayer) -It means death for a church, whether quick or slow. If Pastor is preoccupiedw/ little time to study/prep/pray then the church won’t be fed. You’ll know thats happening to me b/c I’ll start telling lot of stories and talking about myself b/c that is the only topic I need little time to prepare to talk about.

SUM: In light of this being not only for pastors, but for all believers: How is your personal life? Home life? Spiritual life? Public life? Potential pastors, ability to teach? Next steps?


Jesus is our ultimate pastor and overseer — all earthly pastors are under-shepherds. “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:25 (NIV)

He is the Ultimate Teacher who is Himself the Truth. He is the Ultimate King who rules and manages his own household perfectly. He is the Ultimate Church Planter who builds His church. He is the Ultimate Protector who stands against the enemy and prevails. He is the Ultimate Servant who gives his life as a ransom for many. He is the Ultimate Overseer who guards your soul from danger. He is the Ultimate Shepherd who brings all His sheep home – not losing one of them.

As those truths get pressed into your will, you will change, if you work it out. If you’re convicted, run to him for fresh grace this morning. If you’re not in relationship with the Pastor and Overseer of your soul, fly to him this morning. Pray for me. Pray for more elder candidates. Pray for potential church planters. Pray for our church. Pray for the other churches of our city that love Jesus and want to make his name known. May Jesus fame be had here, in Seattle, now and forever.

Recommended Reading:

Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch
Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry, Dave Harvey
Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon
The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter