Why Does a Pastor Being “Above Reproach” Matter?


Several years back, a journalist named David Castro had this to say about whether moral failings should disqualify individuals from public service:

Moral failings by themselves do not render politicians unserviceable. It is possible for political leaders to be extremely effective and do good work, despite moral and ethical shortcomings. Such frailties do not necessarily impede the practice of politics. It is the public reaction to such failings that causes the problem in effectiveness. … It is more important for the people themselves to own their system and ask the flawed individuals within it to make progress than to continue a childish search for perfect role models who do not exist and never have.[1]

Amazingly, Castro cast the blame for the ineffectiveness of “morally-challenged” political leaders not on the damage caused by the leaders themselves, but on what Castro considered the “childish” response of the general public to those moral failures.

While I wholeheartedly disagree with Castro’s perspective, I think we need to admit that his view represents the new public consensus. In the eyes of many, it is no longer character that counts, but whether or not the leader can “get the job done.”

That perspective on leadership may prevail in the world, but it must never prevail in the church. In the church of Jesus Christ, character matters for leadership. No character, no qualification to lead.

The clearest place to see this is 1 Timothy 3:2, where Paul writes this about the character required for overseers (elders/pastors): “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach.”

Being above reproach is the first in a list of qualifications for the man who aspires to serve as an elder in the local church. Really, being “above approach” is a summary qualification. All the other qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:2-7—one-woman man, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, apt to teach, sober, gentle, peace-loving, and generous—really serve to flesh out what being “above reproach” looks like.

We can summarize the list this way. An elder is a man against whom no one can lodge a serious criticism. The idea is that there is no aspect of his life that people could look at and reproach him for being a ______ man (you fill in the blank: dishonest, greedy, lustful, worldly, etc). And Paul is strong here. He says that an elder must (in the Greek, dei, “it is necessary”) be above reproach.” In other words, it is better to have no elders than to appoint men who are not “above reproach.”

Why is this the case? Why is the first qualification for pastors that they be “above reproach”? It’s simple. Unlike modern politicians, pastors aren’t in the efficiency business. Pastors are called by God to help others become like Jesus. And you can’t give away what you don’t possess.

So along with David Castro, the world may bask in its immoral but efficient leaders. But it must never be that way in the church. Those who lead the church must be “above reproach”—not perfect, but not detrimentally flawed—not sinless, but obviously sanctified.

[1] From an article by David Castro entitled “As Weiner Falls: Reflecting on Character, Morals, and Political Leadership. Accessed online at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/13/1230580/-As-Weiner-Falls-Reflecting-on-Character-Morals-and-Political-Leadership# on 05/10/2022.

Peter Hess

Peter Hess is the pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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