What Characteristics Should a Pastor Possess?


What characteristics should a pastor possess? Teaching elders—also known as pastors—and ruling elders are both called to teach1 and shepherd the flock.2 The distinguishing feature between teaching elders and ruling elders is that teaching elders teach and preach as their primary work,3 which is why our Book of Church Order states that “only those elders who are specially gifted, called, and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders.”4 Consequently, the three most important descriptors of a pastor appear to be preacher, teacher, and shepherd.

Regarding preaching, Nehemiah 8:8 provides a clear definition of preaching a sermon when it states that “they read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”5 In order to rightly handle the word and to avoid searching the Scriptures without understanding, a pastor must have the Holy Spirit poured out on him and be gifted at explaining the meaning and application of the text.6 Beyond preaching, as a teacher and shepherd, a pastor should:

  • Desire to be a pastor for the right reason—to glorify God—and not for personal gain.7
  • Keep a close watch on himself and on his teaching, knowing that he will be judged with greater strictness.8
  • Understand and teach the doctrines of God.9
  • Be well thought of by outsiders.10
  • Make disciples and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.11
  • Train himself for godliness, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.12
  • Pray for all people13 and at all times—both long periods of prayer14 and short prayers.15
  • Labor amongst and for the flock.16
  • Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak.17
  • Protect the flock both from wolves that try to come in amongst us and from those who arise from within our own congregation who speak twisted things.18
  • Care for the church of God and pay careful attention to all the flock.19
  • Shepherd as part of a plurality of elders, who together serve as undershepherds of the Great Shepherd.20

That’s a long list. But wait, there’s more! We must remember that the characteristics of being a preacher, teacher, and shepherd are in addition to the characteristics we desire for every christian. Therefore, beyond the above listed characteristics, a pastor should also:

  • Know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent.21
  • Be born again and filled with the Holy Spirit.22
  • Love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love his neighbor as himself.23
  • Confess his sins to God who graciously forgives.24
  • Have a personal, intimate relationship with God.25
  • Delight in the law of the Lord, meditate on the law day and night, and personally study the Bible daily.26
  • Have wisdom from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.27
  • Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.28
  • Rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings and not surprised at meeting trials of various kinds.29
  • Fight the good fight of the faith and take hold of the eternal life to which he was called.30
  • Wear the whole armor of God to be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.31
  • Count others more significant than himself in humility and do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.32
  • Imitate God and walk in love, as Christ loved us.33
  • Strive for the unity of the church by walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.34
  • Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.35

Who can fulfill such a long list of pastoral characteristics? No one without God! Just like no one can be saved without God. Just like no one would be qualified for the office of deacon or elder without God.

Fear not, for our God is the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him.36 He is gracious and merciful,37 and He does all that he pleases.38 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,39 praying that God will give us—both the pulpit committee and all of us—wisdom and discernment,40 as we consult and deliberate to find a pastoral candidate who meets these biblical characteristics and is most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of our congregation.41 Pray that we will trust God and his timing.42 Pray that we will have the favor of the Lord our God, and pray that God will establish the work of our hands.43 Finally, pray that our Father’s name would be hallowed, that his kingdom come, and that his will be done.44 Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Matthew Rankin
May 8, 2023

  1. 1 Timothy 3:2–3 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 2 Timothy 2:24–26 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.  ↩
  2. 1 Peter 5:1–3 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  ↩
  3. 1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  ↩
  4. The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America. 47th General Assembly, June 24–28, 2019. Section 7–2.  ↩
  5. Nehemiah 8:8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.  ↩
  6. John 5:39–40 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 1 Corinthians 2:13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. Acts 4:8–10 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  ↩
  7. 1 Timothy 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 1 Samuel 8:3 Yet [Samuel’s] sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.  ↩
  8. 1 Timothy 4:16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  ↩
  9. 1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,  ↩
  10. 1 Timothy 3:7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.  ↩
  11. Matthew 28:19–20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  ↩
  12. 1 Timothy 4:7–8 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  ↩
  13. 1 Timothy 2:1–2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  ↩
  14. Nehemiah 1:4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  ↩
  15. Nehemiah 2:4–5 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”  ↩
  16. 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  ↩
  17. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.  ↩
  18. Acts 20:29–30 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  ↩
  19. Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  ↩
  20. Philippians 1:1–2 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Titus 1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. Hebrews 13:20–21 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.  ↩
  21. John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  ↩
  22. John 3:3–5 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  ↩
  23. Luke 10:27–28 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  ↩
  24. Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Psalm 51:1–2 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Isaiah 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.  ↩
  25. Proverbs 7:4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend, Proverbs 3:32 for the devious person is an abomination to the LORD, but the upright are in his confidence. Psalm 73:28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.  ↩
  26. Psalm 1:1–2 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. Acts 17:11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.  ↩
  27. James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  ↩
  28. 1 Timothy 6:11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  ↩
  29. James 1:2–3 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 1 Peter 4:12–13 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  ↩
  30. 1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  ↩
  31. Ephesians 6:10–20 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.  ↩
  32. Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  ↩
  33. Ephesians 5:1–2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  ↩
  34. Ephesians 4:1–3 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  ↩
  35. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  ↩
  36. Nehemiah 1:5–6 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.  ↩
  37. Psalm 145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  ↩
  38. Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.  ↩
  39. Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  ↩
  40. James 1:5–6 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  ↩
  41. The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America. 47th General Assembly, June 24–28, 2019. Section 20–2.  ↩
  42. Psalm 25:2–3 O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. 3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Psalm 31:14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 37:5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.  ↩
  43. Psalm 90:17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!  ↩
  44. Matthew 6:9–10 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  ↩