As we train pastors, we need to know what we’re trying to do before we can do it very well. A couple weeks ago I shared some thoughts on the ideal church in our urban 10-40 Window context. The logical next question is “what kind of leader is needed for this kind of church?” Or, “what is an ideal pastor?”
A Christian: An ideal pastor is first of all a Christian; he has himself believed and been transformed by the power of the gospel, and is continuing to grow in his Christian maturity and ongoing repentance. He displays the fruit of the spirit. He is a man of prayer. He is not a recent convert; he is among the most spiritually mature men of the congregation. He is passionate to know God and make him known.
Committed to the Local Church: An ideal pastor loves the local church, serves the local church, and embraces the biblical priority of the local church in God’s mission. He does not view ministry in the church as in any way inferior to other ministries one might do but is instead eager to invest his life as an under-shepherd of God’s people.
Exemplary Character: An ideal pastor is holy and above reproach – he has a reputation that is a credit to the church, there is no valid accusation of wrongdoing that can be made against him. He is upright – he keeps his word; he can be counted on to make wise, fair, righteous judgments for the church. He is sober-minded and not arrogant – level-headed, restrained in his conduct, able to think clearly; humble, listens to others, accepts criticism and counsel, and is considerate. He is disciplined, self-controlled, and not a drunkard – keeping his physical desires in check by consistent self-restraint; does not engage in any activity to excess and is disciplined in his pursuit of spiritual things. He is not violent, but gentle and is not quarrelsome or quick-tempered – He is peaceable; he does not insist on every right or privilege he is due, but is yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant. He is willing to rise above injury and injustice, he is reluctant to fight, he does not promote disunity or disharmony. He is a husband of one wife – maintaining singular devotion to his wife with affection and sexual purity in both thought and deed. He manages his own household well and keeps his children submissive with dignity so has faithful children – his home is exemplary; he is clearly the spiritual and practical leader in the home, he is actively involved in rearing his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. He has control over them and they treat him with respect. His wife commends him for the task of ministry and shares his conviction about it. He is a lover of good – he is willing, even at the cost of self-denial, to do good; always ready to do what is beneficial for God and others with personal sacrifice.
Ambassador for the Gospel: With his lifestyle, his relationships, and his words he is active in making the gospel known to unbelievers. He is respectable – with outward characteristics that earn people’s approval and high regard. He is well thought of by outsiders – not a separatist; has relationships in the unbelieving community and has an unimpeachable reputation with them. He is hospitable – he has a “love of strangers;” gladly welcoming people into his home, especially new people, strangers, and unbelievers.
Significant Experience in a Healthy Church or Churches: An ideal pastor has a strong foundation for healthy church ministry because he has been a part of a healthy church, including exposure to the inner workings and decision-making of the church through intern, staff, and/or leadership roles. The leadership of the church(es) of which he has been a member commends him for ministry.
Theological Knowledge, Clarity, Conviction, and Discernment: The ideal pastor is a thinker and reader, who has a studied understanding of what the Bible teaches, how it fits together, and how truths have been promoted and heresies confronted in church history. He is committed to the centrality of the gospel in doctrine, life, and ministry. He holds firm to the trustworthy word by evaluating all teachings with conviction driven by exegetical logic. He is able to give instruction in sound doctrine because he has studied it, believes it, and can articulate it clearly. He is also able to rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine because he is discerning and believes truth matters.
Leader: The ideal pastor is prepared for the work of an overseer; he has shown competence in leadership and administration. He has a track record of inspiring and mobilizing followers.
Communication Gifting: The ideal pastor is able to communicate the gospel with great clarity to the specific kinds of people who will be listening in his context. He is able to teach – he studies faithfully, knows Scripture, is able to communicate, so he is able to instruct others from God’s word with clarity and understanding. He can hold the interest of a group while teaching Scripture and build them up in God’s word. Ideally, he is able to serve the church by communicating biblical truth in both spoken and written form.
Ministry Designer: He is not trying to implement tertiary ministry plans from another place and context. Instead, he has the competence to design and implement primary ministry by connecting Scripture directly to the context in which he ministers. In other words, he has not been taught a contextualized model, but rather how to do contextualization with biblical faithfulness. He has been equipped with all of the tools he needs to design the right ministry for the present context and any future contexts.
Hard-Working: An ideal pastor has demonstrated a high capacity for laboring with zeal in his ministry, his study, and other employment. He is not lazy, and is able to manage competing demands for his time and keep the right priorities. He has right attitude about work and is willing to do what is necessary in his ministry context, including the labor of the ministry and potentially bivocational employment in some contexts.
Financial Integrity: An ideal pastor is not a lover of money – regardless of income or financial status, he is not focused on or controlled by money, he is not materialistic or greedy. He is faithful in regular, proportional giving to the church. He is not greedy for gain – he does not seek to abuse his office to make money; he can be trusted with the finances of the church. He sees his ministry as a stewardship, not an entitlement. He does not through nepotism use the church for his family’s benefit. He repudiates the prosperity gospel in all of its forms.
Multi-Lingual: An ideal pastor must be able to communicate effectively with the people of his city, which increasingly demands a multi-lingual ministry, likely including the dominant language(s) of his ministry context, biblical languages for exegesis, and English for accessing Christian resources and connecting with the global Christian community.
In thinking about the “ideal pastor” we must hold two essential truths in tension. On the one hand, those who would lead God’s church must do all they can to train, to prepare, to excel. The weight of the office and the biblical qualifications demand nothing less.
On the other hand, inasmuch as we use such criteria to set an agenda for training, we affirm that God’s work in the world is not accomplished by “ideal pastors.” Our sovereign God brings strength through the weak, fixes through the broken, and delivers treasure in earthen vessels so that all the glory belongs to him.