CHARACTER: The Foundation of Effective Ministry

character paul records why character matters

When discussing the proper foundation for ministry, we do not look to fancy suits, speaking ability, or a wealth of higher education. Rather, we look beneath the surface to the condition of the heart.

Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Timothy 3:2-7 are similar in purpose and content. In each Biblical passage, the Apostle Paul lists qualifications for church leaders. His words teach us a powerful principle for healthy leadership.

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:2-7, NKJV.

Paul was an elder in the faith and the father of many churches. Writing to Timothy, a young pastor, he establishes a standard of excellence expected in leadership. He lists a series of qualities that all leaders should seek to practice.    

Most of the qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3 concern a leader’s character and inner life. Many of the negative qualities listed find root within a person (such as drunkenness, violence, greed, or pride). Rather than require a list of grand accomplishments or records of royalty, Paul requires that leaders live pure lives. He knew that a lack of discipline and self-control in a leader’s personal life would lead to a lack of discipline and self-control in public ministry.

  • Without properly tending to our inner lives, we won’t have the ability to do anything well.

Those we lead depend on us to take care of ourselves so we can give them the leadership attention they require.[1] We will not last in ministry without prayer, personal Bible study, and spiritual devotion with God.

In his epistle to Titus, Paul continues to write about the foundation of effective ministry.

For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. Titus 1:7-9, NKJV.

Here, the Apostle Paul does not list a long line of supernatural characteristics that leaders must have. Rather, he lists qualities such as hospitality, holiness, and a firm grasp of sound doctrine.

  • In Paul’s writings, character is stressed as the most significant qualification for leadership.

Paul expects leaders to be true people, faithful first in a life lived like Christ. Before a person is ever called to ministry, they are first called to love Christ, know Christ, and be like Christ in both attitude and behavior.

In both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul uses the word blameless. He refers to it three times in these two Biblical accounts. In Greek, the word means “not laid hold of,” “above reproach,” or “not subject to accusation.” The idea is not that a leader is sinless but that they display mature, consistent Christian conduct that gives no reason for anyone to accuse them of anything.[2] The word describes a leader that is above reproach. The word describes a person whose Christian testimony is free from the taint of scandal – someone who is upright, sound in character, and without any serious moral blemishes. Simply put, it means leaders must have a reputation for unimpeachable integrity.[3]

Paul’s challenge is clear. It is paramount that we learn to lead our personal lives with integrity and Christian character. Only with a foundation of character and a commitment to righteousness are we able to manage our churches well and build legacies worth passing on to the next generation.

“Shepherds have a profound impact on the direction and wellbeing of their sheep. Therefore, it is imperative that a leader possess a good character if he or she desires that his or her followers also have good character.” –Andrew Seidel


[1] Denise VanEck, Leadership 101 (Grand Rapids: Youth Specialties/Zondervan, 2005) 74.

[2] The Nelson Study Bible, NKJV. Earl D. Radmacher, Th. D., General Editor. Thomas Nelson Inc: Nashville, TN. Pg 2045, commentary notes. 

[3] John MacArthur, The Book on Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010) 163.

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