Character in Leadership is Essential to Gospel Influence.

Three Greek words are used interchangeably to describe one position of leadership in the church. In English, these are translated as pastor, teacher, overseer or elder. 1 Timothy 3 describes the character that should exist among leadership families.


This and other passages setting out the structure of the church are not wooden and impersonal when studied and preached in their context. Remember what we've already studied in 1 Timothy:

  1. Chapter 1 lays out three mandates in the church's philosophy of ministry: teach doctrine, evangelize, and defend the faith.
  2. Chapter 2 reveals the primacy of evangelistic prayer. A church that relies on doctrine and structure alone will die a slow death without evangelism. Men and women each have roles and influence in the church.

Before we dive into the details of the chapter, we will make some observations about the nature of a leader's character.

Character Is...

Paul lists no less than 15 qualifications for spiritual leaders, all of which are relational in nature. The character lived in the personal life of a leader will come to affect the whole church. Since the church will become like its leaders, they must mirror the character qualities laid out in the Word of God.

Distinct from Duty

This passage is not merely about duty or responsibility. It is more about the character of a born-again, gifted leader. Leaders can get very busy, but full calendars without good character are worthless to the church.


Instructions for leaders comes right on the heels of 1 Timothy 2:15, which addresses the significant influence of mothers in the homes. The future leaders of the church are now children in our homes, where their shepherding begins.


Chapter 3 also follows on the heels of an evangelistic emphasis. The mandate for character underpins the mandate for mission. Leaders with godly character will lead the people to live out the same character, and the church as a whole will have a greater evangelistic light in our culture. If we have no character, we have no mission.


The character of a church begins with the character of her leaders. Each age group is addressed in 1 Timothy, beginning with the character of the leaders. God's people become like those who shepherd them. As we follow our leaders, everyone in the church should and will aspire to the same character qualities in a gradual and organic way.

This is critical to our existence and our mission. The people of the church must hold their pastors, elders, and deacons accountable. Paul's experience with the Ephesian leaders illustrates this need. He spent three years mentoring these leaders (Acts 20:27-31), yet by the time he wrote this letter, two of them were compromising on the Gospel. That is the reason he has to address the leaders' character.

Paul writes another "trustworthy" summary statement as he nears the end of his writing career: "if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires" (1 Timothy 3:1). There should be certain men within the church who long to be leaders. Where God leads, He provides. The leadership we need is already here among us in gifted individuals.

Next week we will unpack the external and internal elements of the calling to leadership. The rest of the passage (1 Timothy 3:1-7) breaks down into two sections: the aspiration and qualification to be a leader in the church.

Application Points

  • Mothers, treasure your influence and rear your children to be our character examples. Remember that you may be shepherding future shepherds of God's church. Fathers, your wives need your supporting love, compassion, and prayer. Stay governed by the Spirit and stay in the Word.
  • Pray for your leaders. Satan would like nothing better than to bring them down and the church with them. Hold your pastors, elders, and deacons accountable to the character laid out in this chapter. Follow them as they follow Christ.
  • Don't fear and worry about where our future leaders will come from. God provides gifted leaders that the church needs. Pray that they would recognize and follow their gifting.
  • Men, do you aspire to be leaders? Are you progressively growing in the character described in 1 Timothy 3? Everyone in the church should aspire to this kind of character.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 – Another passage addressing church leaders.
  • Hosea 4:9, Luke 6:40, 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 – People become like their leaders.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:1 – Follow your leaders only if they are following Christ.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Be Strong in the Lord"

Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage;
your mighty Defender is always the same.
Mount up with wings, as the eagle ascending;
victory is sure when you call on his name.

Be strong, be strong, be strong in the Lord,
and be of good courage for he is your guide.
Be strong, be strong, be strong in the Lord,
and rejoice for the victory is yours.

So put on the armor the Lord has provided,
and place your defense in his unfailing care.
Trust him for he will be with you in battle,
lighting your path to avoid every snare.

Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage;
your mighty Commander will vanquish the foe.
Fear not the battle for the victory is always his;
he will protect you wherever you go.