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Standards for Shepherds: Be Temperate and Prudent

Copyright 2011, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
This article originally appeared here at Grace to You.

What qualifies a man for pastoral ministry? Based on the abundance of self-appointed and unaccountable leaders in modern evangelical churches, it seems many church-goers either don’t know or don’t care. The fellowships they attend may profess Scripture’s authority in their doctrinal statement, but their practice reveals that it’s nothing more than a token badge of orthodoxy. Churches truly submitted to the authority of God’s Word look for qualified leaders and hold them to biblical standards.

The apostle Paul could not have been clearer about what biblically qualifies a man for pastoral work or leadership in the church. In 1 Timothy 3.2–3″ data-version=”nasb95″ data-purpose=”bible-reference”>1 Timothy 3:2–3, he writes:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.

While those qualifications seem pretty straightforward, many people in both the pulpit and the pew have overlooked or ignored them altogether. They have allowed their congregations to be overrun by pastors and elders who lack the proper training, the proper accountability and—worst of all—the proper character to hold the position. And rather than follow Paul’s instructions, these ecclesiastical mavericks have fashioned their churches in their own rogue likenesses.

God’s people need the protection that comes from knowing what His Word says about what to look for in a pastor, and what to avoid. To that end, we’ve been examining the qualities and characteristics Paul uses to describe a godly shepherd.


Paul writes that the godly shepherd is temperate. The literal translation of the word nephalios is “unmixed with wine.” But since Scripture condemns drunkenness, not drinking, it is likely Paul was using the word metaphorically, referring to the need for shepherds to be alert, vigilant and clearheaded. In that case, it’s not merely a prohibition against alcohol, but anything that would dull his senses, distract his attention or inhibit ability to rightly discharge his duty.

John MacArthur explains Paul’s point this way:

Drinking is only one area in which excess can occur. Overeating has been called the preacher’s sin, and often that’s a just criticism. If a man cannot exercise self-control and discipline over something as basic as his physical appetites, he proves that he is irresponsible, immature and unfit to lead. A leader who displays uncontrolled excess of any kind weakens his testimony and cripples his usefulness. Paul’s point is clear: Godly spiritual leaders must be moderate and balanced in every area of life.[1]

In short, the godly shepherd is not given to excess.

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John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and president and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. He has written nearly 400 books and study guides, including The MacArthur Study Bible.