What God Is Looking For in a Pastor
In an evangelical culture dominated by mega-churches and celebrity preachers, many pastors today are tempted to judge the success of their ministries purely in terms of numbers. From budgets to buildings to book sales, bigger is always better, and Sunday morning attendance is the bottom line. In contrast, Scripture tells us that true success in ministry is not measured by a man’s ability to gather and keep a multitude (John 6:1-67)—true success is measured by his faithfulness to God (1 Cor 4:2).
This raises a vital question. What exactly is God looking for in a pastor? What are the criteria by which He measures the faithfulness of a man in his ministry? The following is a brief summary of biblical teaching on what God is looking for in a pastor. Because different men have different strengths and weaknesses, members of a given leadership team may display greater aptitude in some of these areas than others. But these seven marks of a faithful pastor serve as the divine standard of what the Lord expects of all who are called to shepherd His flock.
A Consistent Example of Godliness
First and foremost, a faithful pastor must be above reproach in his character (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), a consistent model of godliness for the people he is shepherding (1 Tim 4:12; 1 Pet 5:3). If the flock cannot look to him as an example of spiritual maturity (Heb 13:7), he is unfit for the office, being powerless to lead the people in a direction that he himself is not actively pursuing. Put simply, a man who preaches one thing and lives another is a walking contradiction—he cannot be trusted and will not be followed, for he cannot say with conviction: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things” (Phil 4:9).
The requirement is not absolute perfection, but the pastor must be a man whose life is worth imitating, a man who can echo the words of Paul: “Join in following my example” (Phil 3:17), and “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). From his faithfulness as a husband and father, to the fruit of the Spirit in his life, he must be a model of spiritual consistency, free from any blight that stains his reputation or calls his character into question. If the pastor is not a trustworthy example of godliness, nothing else matters.
A Diligent Student of Scripture
The pastor is a man under authority, and that authority is the Word of God. For this reason, he is not free to live his life, formulate his doctrine, preach his sermons, or shepherd the people according to his own so-called wisdom. Instead, a faithful pastor must come to the Scriptures, humbly recognizing that they are the infallible revelation of God Himself and therefore the ultimate and all-sufficient authority over all of life and ministry (2 Tim 3:16-17).
Humility before the pages of divine revelation compels the faithful pastor to be “diligent to present [himself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). In this process of laboring over the text of Scripture, he must come to discern not only the originally intended meaning, but also its significance for his life, his doctrine, and his ministry as a man of God. Diligent study is not easy, but its reward is well worth the effort.
A Faithful Preacher of the Word
In an age of ear-tickling pulpits (2 Tim 4:3-4), few things are as critical as an unwavering commitment to preach the Word of God (2 Tim 4:2). For this reason, the faithful pastor must devote himself to the task of biblical exposition. Expository preaching can be defined as the authoritative proclamation of Scripture in which the preacher clearly sets forth the divinely intended meaning of the biblical text and brings the implications of its timeless truth to bear on the lives of the people.
To proclaim this divinely intended meaning with authority, the preacher must first understand that meaning with precision. For this reason, the faithful expositor must first spend several hours in his study as an exegete (2 Tim 2:15) before he is ready for that single hour in the pulpit as a preacher (2 Tim 4:2). Once behind the pulpit, his preaching must be marked by an allegiance to the biblical text (2 Tim 4:2) and a clarity in its communication (Col 4:2-4). In trusting the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of those who hear, the faithful preacher must exhort the people to live out the truth being proclaimed to them (2 Tim 3:16-17; 4:2; Titus 2:15). Anything less than expository preaching will shortchange the people of God and fall short of the divine mandate.
A Discerning Guardian of the Truth
The church is called to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), and the primary responsibility for preserving truth and protecting the sheep belongs to its shepherds (Acts 20:28-31). In fact, one of the qualifications of an elder is the ability to “[hold] fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). The stakes are too high to leave the flock to fend for itself (Titus 1:10-11; Rom 16:17; Gal 2:4; 2 Tim 2:18; 2 Pet 2:1; 3:17).
To guard the treasure of truth entrusted to him (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13-14), the man of God must be firmly grounded in sound theology and able to distinguish between truth and error. He must be willing to confront false teaching when it threatens the flock, gently correcting those who oppose the Word of God (1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 2:24-26; Titus 1:9), publicly warning the church of false teaching and those who espouse it (1 Tim 4:1-6; 2 Tim 2:16-18), and ultimately silencing those who refuse to repent of their error and divisiveness (Titus 1:9-11; 3:10-11; Matt 18:15-17). If faithful shepherds do not protect the sheep by preserving the truth, who will?
A Selfless Shepherd of the Flock
The all-encompassing stewardship given to pastors is to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to their care (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2-3; 1 Tim 3:4-5). In addition to feeding the people truth (2 Tim 4:2) and protecting them from the wolves of false teaching (Titus 1:9), the shepherd must watch over the souls of the sheep and selflessly devote his life to their spiritual welfare as one who will ultimately give an account for his ministry (Heb 13:17; Acts 20:24).
To provide this kind of care, the faithful pastor must minister the Word both publicly and individually (Acts 20:20), striving to present every man complete in Christ (Col 1:28-29). He must be available to pray for the people and offer comfort and counsel in times of need (James 5:14; cf. Acts 6:4), always exhorting and encouraging them to walk in obedience to God (1 Thess 2:11-12). And if one of the sheep strays from the flock by falling into sin, he must seek to restore him through loving and gentle correction (Gal 6:1; Matt 18:12-17).
As those who provide leadership in the church (1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17; 1 Thess 5:12), faithful shepherds must exercise their authority with humility (1 Peter 5:2-3), ever seeking the welfare of the people and submitting to the authority of God’s Word. In all things, they must act as selfless servants who recognize that they are but under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:2-4), the One who gave His own blood to purchase the flock of God (Acts 20:28).
An Effective Equipper of Ministers
Spiritual leaders are given to the church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). For this reason, one of the primary ways a pastor will strengthen the body is not by doing the work of ministry, but by training the people to do it themselves (Eph 4:13-16). In this way, the “ministers” in a given assembly are not its pastors, but rather its members. The shepherds must recognize this as God’s design and be faithful to equip the people to serve and edify the other members by practicing the “one-anothers” (e.g., Heb 10:24-25) and exercising their spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Pet 4:10-11).
In addition to equipping the congregation as a whole, pastors are responsible to reproduce themselves by training the next generation of shepherds. As Paul exhorted Timothy: “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). This commitment to training future pastors is absolutely essential to the long-term spiritual maturity of the Church and the faithful fulfillment of the commission to make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28:18-20).
A Humble Man of Prayer
In the early church, seven men were set aside to serve tables so the apostles could devote themselves to two specific priorities—the ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:1-4). Even though pastors today are not apostles, the underlying principle is clear—those who provide spiritual care in the Body of Christ must be characterized by a steadfast commitment to prayer (Phil 1:9-11; 1 Thess 3:12-13). Without it, a man’s ministry will prove to be fruitless.
For the shepherd who recognizes his limitations and feels the weight of his calling, this commitment comes naturally, for the constant cry of his heart is that of the apostle Paul: “And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16) The prayer of the humble pastor is not only an expression of his own personal inadequacy, but also a manifestation of his supreme confidence in the Lord. Where the pastor is insufficient in himself, he finds sufficiency in God, looking to Him always as the only source of strength and blessing in his life and ministry. Prayer for the faithful pastor, then, is more than a Christian discipline—it’s a way of life that permeates all of who he is and what he does as a man of God.
Matt Waymeyer serves as an associate pastor at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL and teaches NT Greek and Systematic Theology at The Expositors Seminary.