Many of us are familiar with such names as John MacArthur, Joel Osteen, Conrad Mbewe, or even Pope Francis. They all are spiritual leaders – properly, they are pastors. But how faithful are they as pastors? Can we comfortably evaluate them from afar for our spiritual benefit? Is this a matter we ought to consider when we next click that Facebook link to watch them speak or to listen to their sermons? Should we judge their value to us only by their sermons? In our digital age, these, among many other questions, are pertinent issues that affect not only who we listen to online, but how we interact with the largely unknown pastors who may not have an online presence. These unknown pastors happen to be most of our local church pastors. Many easily trust or dismiss pastors based on a few sermons, especially those based on a favorite or least favorite subject that they listened to somewhere online.
However, there is more to pastors than their sermons. We can so quickly and easily judge and categorize certain pastors solely based on a one-sided interaction with them. This is where we listen to their sermons but never interact with them beyond that. For all the blessings of the world-wide web (and they are many), this is one of its dangers - thinking we can be safely and sufficiently fed by an online presence. Secondly, we tend to assume that we know enough about the pastors. Sometimes, being thousands of miles away from them, the best we know about their personal lives is probably limited to the names of their immediate family members, that is, wife and children. We may have little to no information about their domestic life. We do not consider that this is important to us and has a direct impact on our conduct. How is their marriage life and how has it been of spiritual benefit or injurious to us? Have we witnessed how they bring up their children? Have we seen them address strangers, show or deny hospitality to people, how they make decisions concerning the lives of church members? Even more importantly, have we observed how they live their lives through prosperity and adversity?
Are all these requirements necessary when all we need is simply a person to speak, on average, once a week? Isn't it too rigid a list for qualifications when we are following someone who claims to be a pastor and can demonstrably teach? As Christians, we must, for the sake of our spiritual health, be part of a local church. The Bible shows the necessity of being under the ministry of local church pastors. Paul mentions to his disciple in 2 Timothy 3:10, 11 at least nine qualities or marks which the young leader carefully learned from him. If, like Timothy, we are to become 2 Timothy 3:17 people, we must first sit under pastors who have these nine qualities. We must carefully observe them, for we will learn from them. We have an obligation to investigate those who claim to be pastors in the following ways:
1) Their doctrine:
The greatest distinctive that separates pastors from all other ministries is the requirement "able to teach" which is mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24 and further explained in Titus 1:9. Paul was an apostle, but Timothy was not. The young student had learned from the apostle both what and how to preach. The Lord Jesus Himself was the Teacher. During His first advent He taught His disciples using parables and explaining their significance. He taught multitudes by His heart-piercing sermons. He used prophecy to teach concerning His death, its meaning and the eternity future. He referred to the Old Testament Scriptures to teach. Paul, in line with Christ did the same as he taught about the Lord Jesus. Thus, he calls Timothy, a pastor, to learn and do likewise. The call stands to date. Pastors must be knowledgeable in doctrine and teach it well, rightly dividing the word of truth. They must go back to the 66 books contained in the Bible as the only reliable guide for the faith and practice they teach. In giving heed to the word they teach, pastors are promised salvation for their souls and for those under their attentive care.
2) Their conduct:
This refers to how Christian doctrine affects the entire life of a believer resulting in a life of holiness and grace. By entire life, I mean both private and public, domestic and communal. Thus, we find that in all passages speaking about pastoral qualifications, there is a heavy emphasis on marriage, family, children, personal holiness, relationships with strangers, gentleness, having a good report, blamelessness, and the like. No doubt Paul's life exemplified a mature Christian leader who was devoted to God and His kingdom. Pastors likewise ought to be men of repute, having a good report from those they associate with. Their manner of life must be like that of Paul who was not ashamed to challenge Timothy to imitate him. Pastors, are you imitable in conduct?
3) Their purpose:
What was Paul's chief aim? It was to glorify the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Paul's life was Christ-centered. Paul's death, for all we can tell, was because of His faithful confession of Christ. Paul considered all things as loss for one aim - the excellencies of the knowledge of Christ. He preached Christ and His kingdom to all who he could reach, even his enemies. Pastors, like Paul, must make Jesus Christ their chief aim, in preaching, in living or in dying. Any pastor who has his focus on other things, be it health, prosperity or himself is not worthy to be a pastor. Such is an impostor!
4) Whether they are patient:
Before Paul's conversion, he became impatient with what he thought to be a heretical sect of Judaism. He persecuted its members, pursuing them afar in order to drag them into trial courts and prisons. When Paul was converted however, he patiently waited until the apostles could accept the genuineness of his radical change. He was in the Arabian desert for years learning more about Christ. In his ministry, he faced situations that tested his patience, but he had grown. Patience is the grace that God grants to enable us to humbly wait, learn and grow through life's various situations. James speaks of patience as that ingredient which the believer needs to be mature or be complete, lacking in nothing. Pastors who serve various members must therefore be patient men. They must learn to undergo difficulty without grumbling. They must patiently deal with trials. They must not be hasty or rash in decision making. The church is God's property and must be treated with utmost care and patience. Pastors must be long suffering, waiting for the Lord's intervention when a matter is not clear or within their Scriptural jurisdiction.
5) Their kind of faith:
Hebrews 11 is one of the greatest chapters on faith. We have faith defined as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of the unseen. We have in the chapter descriptions and examples of faith - how men obtained victory amidst doom, life amidst death, promise amidst despair, strength amidst inadequacy, favor amidst curses, knowledge amidst ignorance. Faith breeds hope and fosters love for God and man. Paul undoubtedly displayed this kind of faith as he performed his ministry among both Jews and Gentiles. He was one whose faith was not only theoretical, resulting in abstract philosophy, but practical, resulting in good works. Pastors must be men who embody the faith they preach. They must fully depend on God, believing His promises no matter the circumstances. They must hold fast, in doctrine and life, to the profession of faith, without wavering. In this manner they will be granted the grace to overcome the seductions of the world, to shield themselves from the fiery darts of Satan, and to fight the old nature of sin dwelling within. Consequently, they will lead those under their charge to a similar faith.
6) Their love for God and people
The most popular verse, John 3:16, declares unapologetically that God loved the world. Though sick with sin, and dead in depravity, God set His eyes and heart on this race called mankind. God, we are told later in 1 John 4, is love. Out of love, Christ willingly sacrificed His life for His bride. He took our sins, our dirt on Himself, and then He dressed us with His own righteousness, His pure garment. When justice had to be appeased, for God would not look the other way at sin, it is Christ who stood there to receive the full wrath of God on our behalf. He further secured our eternity, giving us all the benefits of it. This is true love. Paul displayed love for Jews. In his words in Romans, he twice wishes he were accursed for their sakes, though it is they who rejected the Messiah. Pastors also ought to be men of such love. They should be ready and willing to defend God's flock, to affectionately pursue the straying lambs, and to sacrificially offer their lives, in some way, for the people God purchased with His own blood. In this manner, they discharge their duty as servants who love the Savior.
7) Their endurance in life:
The Christian faith is presented as a race - a long race. The writer of Hebrews says that in this race, we must endure. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul speaks of fighting the good fight. This should remind us of the fight between Jacob and Christ at Penuel, where man fought with God and prevailed. Jacob endured and finished well. Paul endured his racecourse faithfully. In the book of Acts we have examples of his endurance as he, in chains, was being led to Rome. First, he was falsely accused by the Jews and imprisoned for a significant amount of time. He was then led to Rome by a Roman contingent. There were various attempts to kill him by devout Jews. Along the way they suffered shipwreck, but Paul trusted in God and this gave him needed strength to keep on fighting. He was bitten by a poisonous snake and shook it off as if it were a mosquito bite. Even when he arrived at Rome, he was placed under house arrest. This did not deter him from preaching God's glorious gospel to all. Endurance is a fruit of patience that enables a man to consistently brave through thick and thin. Like Paul, pastors must also be enduring men, persevering men. The work of a shepherd is full of fights, it is hard labor. Therefore, a man who is fit for this job is one who knows how to keep building amidst the constant cracks threatening the structure of God's house.
8) How they suffer persecution:
Paul told Timothy that all who desire to live godly lives must suffer persecution. This does not mean Christians ought to go searching for places or situations that place them under persecution in order to fulfill that verse. Rather, persecution is a constant companion of the Christian. Jesus Christ Himself warned His disciples that they would be persecuted. All this was because they chose to follow Christ rather than the world which hates Christ. The world, under Satan's influence, has been persecuting believers since the beginning, since Cain hated his brother, Abel. Paul's life was strewn with account after another of persecution. He was persecuted by the Jews for preaching Christ. He was persecuted by Romans and other Gentiles. He was persecuted by false teachers and false apostles. Persecutions were Paul's frequent food. And so it may be that pastors will face all manner of persecutions in this life - be it unjust imprisonment, being delivered up to enemies, or betrayal from dear ones. The local church however stands to benefit from observing a persecuted pastor. Members are encouraged in their own persecutions when they know their pastor understands them, even as all Christians take comfort in their once persecuted Lord.
9) How they handle afflictions:
I believe Paul here refers to those general misfortunes that happen to all men, as opposed to targeted cruelty from other men. Paul was no stranger to affliction undergoing shipwrecks, having a thorn in the flesh (though some take it to be persecution), sicknesses, hunger, nakedness, lacking wherewithal to meet with his needs, and the like. Yet how did he handle these? By contentment, rather than anxiety. He humbly accepted his lot. He trusted that God knew how to strengthen him to overcome these troubles. Pastors likewise must be men who know how to handle affliction well, with spiritual maturity. They must not waver, nor doubt, nor be faithless. In the face of need, they must trust in the sufficient Shepherd. In the face of illness, they must faithfully wait and learn from infirmity. In the face of natural disasters, they must acknowledge and worship God, and so be like Job.
In our day, true pastors are in short supply. Though the internet offers us aid even in matters of doctrine, it cannot replace the arena where pastors are evaluated, observed, and where their greatest opportunity for influence lays, that is, the local assembly. There are many who claim to be pastors but have no idea how to conduct themselves in a worthy manner. Some may teach heresy, while others may lack one or more of the qualities listed above. These qualities are given to us by God to help us discern between the true and the false, between the shepherds and the hirelings, between the good and bad servants, between the pastors and the impostors. As you observe them carefully, pray for your local church pastors that God would help them as they serve His church.