Imagine you’re on the search committee of your church looking to hire a new pastor. During the process, you come across a man with impeccable character. He’s faithful to his wife. He’s a good manager of his home. He’s a gifted teacher. He’s above reproach. So, the committee makes a recommendation to the church, and the church hires him as their next pastor. Sounds good, right? Not so fast.
Did you know it’s possible to hire a man like the one described above and make a significant mistake? Did you know it’s possible for a man to possess all those qualities and still miss one of the major qualifications listed in the NT for a pastor?
Do non-Christians like him?
Does he have real, vibrant and deepening relationships with non-Christians? Is there evidence that he does? If so, who are these unbelievers? What are their names? Identify them. Do non-Christians respect the man under consideration? Scripturally speaking, is he “well thought of by outsiders”?
A Man’s Relationship to His Community
Now why does that matter? It matters because this is one of the biblical qualifications for a pastor. In fact, TWO of the qualifications for an elder in the NT make direct reference to this. But for some reason churches don’t ask that question before hiring a pastor. And failure to do so is a mistake that carries with it serious implications!
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul says an overseer MUST BE:
2. Well thought of by outsiders
Both of these qualifications pertain to a man’s relationship to the world around him.
1 Timothy 3:2 requires elders to be “hospitable.” This does NOT primarily mean a pastor enjoys having church members over to his house for lasagna. It does NOT mean that he enjoys helping other Christians. The Greek word used for “hospitality” is philoxenos, which means “the love of strangers.” Hospitality is making place for the stranger, the sojourner, and outsider. For an elder to be hospitable, he must be personally missional. The idea of a “missional pastor” is not a modern invention. It’s a biblical requirement. And for a pastor to be missional, means at least four things:
1. He has a missional heart: He desires to engage a lost world.
2. He has a missional life: He does what he says.
3. He has missional skill: He’s gifted at interacting with unbelievers.
4. He wants a missional church: He’s committed to developing a missional culture in the church he leads.
Second, he’s well thought of by outsiders. He has a good reputation with unbelievers. He’s regarded as a friend. He’s liked and respected. Non-Christians don’t have a bad word to say about him. And this is because he’s respectful to non-Christians. He works hard to cultivate, real, genuine relationships with people. He has a pattern of love, care, integrity, and vulnerability with his neighbors. He’s real, and they know it.
Moreover, his preaching, communication, and leadership always assume that non-Christians are present. He avoids “us vs. them” language. He avoids excessively “pious talk”. He’s not disrespectful or dismissive in his comments about outsiders. He shows charity and grace toward those with whom he disagrees. He interacts in his city and community with real insight, knowing the cultural idols that hold sway. He has learned to speak into that context with gospel clarity. He helps others show hospitality toward non-Christians. He’s willing to confront pharisaical tendencies among believers, not just the irreligion and pagan ideas of non-Christians. In short, he’s sensitive to all forms of unbelief and sin, and is broken-hearted about it.
If you’re looking for a pastor, hire a true friend of sinners.
Jesus was a friend of sinners. Pastors should be no less. Because the church is God’s missionary people, the elders who are called to lead the church must be missionary leaders. God spare us from pastors who are not personally and relationally engaged with the lost! And that doesn’t mean a pastor invites them to his church once in a while. It means he invites them to his house. He knows them. He loves them. He’s friends with them.
So, I don’t care how knowledgeable a man is. I don’t care how many books he’s written. I don’t care how well he can preach. I don’t care how spotless his life is moral speaking. If he’s not a friend of sinners, there needs to be work before he becomes a pastor. Don’t hire that man! If you do, you may wake up and discover that your church enjoys having an address in the city, but not making a difference there.
Jonathan Christman serves as Lead Pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. He is married to Tina and they have two children. You can connect with Jonathan on Twitter @jwchristman