Re-post: Qualifications for the Pastoral Task: Godliness and Competence

After serving 21 years as a pastor, I spent 19 years as a general administrator of the Free Methodist Church. During those latter years I was regularly involved with annual conference committees that evaluated and developed persons who wished to become pastors.  

In the Free Methodist church it is the annual conference that ordains pastors and to whom they are accountable. An annual conference’s selection process leading to ordination is long, prayerful, and complex. It involves interviews, supervised summer assignments, questionnaires, recommendations, a check on educational achievement, psychological tests, and more.

What are the qualifications an ordination committee should look for? Here’s a simple list:

  1. Does the candidate manifest a clear sense of God’s call? That is primary. 
  2. Is the person’s life marked by impeccable character and suitable personality? That is, is he or she honest, intelligent, personable, hard-working, with a good sense of humor? The expectations are high.
  3. Does he or she have a good grasp of the Scriptures?
  4. Is there evidence of a solid work ethic? Does motivation come from within?  
  5. Can he or she speak / communicate well?

Three decades ago, while preparing the Staley Lectures which I gave at Roberts Wesleyan College, I was able to simplify these diverse criteria to my own satisfaction under two headings: godliness and competence. This insight came from a careful reading of Paul’s first letter to the young pastor Timothy.

Godliness is a personal attitude of respect for and devotion to God. A godly person lives in moment-to-moment accountability to God, whether alone or with others. We might say that the godly person is marked by “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Godliness shows in a piety that is genuine, not affected.

Godliness is not, however, a once-and-forever gift. That’s why the Apostle Paul exhorts the young Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (4:7b) and “pursue godliness” (6:11). Godliness is a dominant word in the pastoral epistles, representing a never-ending goal.

But godliness alone is not enough. To it must be added competence. Competence begins with a broad and deep understanding of the pastoral task. And skill in carrying out this diverse task must be developed continually.  

A godly pastor without competence might be ineffective and clumsy with his or her people. On the other hand, a pastor who is competent but lacks godliness might be efficient but lacking in authentic piety.

I saw while I was pondering I Timothy in preparation for the lectures that the core of competence is sound doctrine. In fact, Paul’s first issue in his letter is competence in countering those who teach false doctrine (1:3b).

Paul reminds Timothy that he himself had been appointed by God to be a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles (2:7). He exhorts Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (4:13). The proclamation of and accountability to truth and sound doctrine are at the core of competent pastoral ministry.

Competence also includes skill in relating to parishioners. ”Do not rebuke an older man harshly … Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (5:1, 2).

And it includes caring for administrative matters such as seeing to it that God’s people function well in community, and that believers’ special needs in the family of God are met (5:9-17).

Those who select and develop pastors who are godly and competent — in preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and skillful administration — understand that the essence of the pastoral task is to bless God’s people for all time.

Photo credit: Chris Miuccio (via flickr.com)

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