The Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Growing in Character

Hiking TrailThis is the 10th post in a series that starts here, intended to encourage young men who are thinking about pastoral ministry.

Pastors are men of character. Some jobs don’t require you to be honest, morally pure, and humble. Most professions have no expectation for your marriage or family life. The instructions in Scripture hold pastors to a high standard.

Don’t let the character requirement scare you off. If you are a Christian growing in the Lord, you are able to meet these qualifications with God’s help. But you must be serious about it.

You have to recognize and admit your weaknesses. You must be willing to develop new thought patterns, attitudes, and habits that reflect godly character. And you must protect yourself in areas where you are vulnerable to temptation and a lack of self-control.

You are establishing patterns right now that will stay with you for life. You are becoming who you will be in 10 years. What kind of person are you?

Are you lazy or diligent? Proud or humble? Greedy or generous? Self-centered or considerate of others? Do you indulge in impure imaginations or do you fight to keep your thoughts pure? Do you follow others into foolishness and sin, or do you stand firm on doing what is right? Do you love yourself or do you love God? Do you serve your own interests or do you serve God and others?

If you’re a Christian, God is already at work in you, showing you you need to grow. Developing godly character is not just for pastors. Every Christian is growing. Whether you’re going to be a pastor or not, you will glorify God by growing in your character.

What is character? It’s who you are as a person. It isn’t about your outward appearance, though your character will affect how you look. Character is the real you. It’s what you are inside. Character makes you do what you do when no one is telling you what to do.

Examples in the Bible
The Bible is full of examples of character, good and bad. Often you’ll see a person in Scripture who has both good qualities and weaknesses. That’s human nature!

One example is David. As a young man he was a shepherd. His job included guarding the sheep from hungry predators. 1 Samuel 17:34-35 says he fought a lion and a bear who wanted to have lamb for dinner. David’s character included dependability and courage.

David’s courage went to another level when he faced Goliath with a handful of rocks and a leather sling. But the source of his courage was a deeper motivation. Goliath had “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36). David cared more about God’s glory than his own life. With God’s help, he defeated the giant. Read the whole story in 1 Samuel 17.

David became king. He fought and won many wars, all for the cause of God. However, as with every man alive including you and me, he had a weakness. Being a man of character includes knowing your weaknesses and protecting yourself from falling. David had a weakness for a beautiful woman.

Although he was a married man, he looked, lusted, and indulged his desire for a woman who was not his wife. 2 Samuel 11-12 tells this sad tale. Thankfully he recognized his sin and received God’s forgiveness. But much damage had been done. Many people were affected by his actions and David’s leadership was never the same.

We can learn powerful lessons from both the good and the not-so-good elements of David’s character. He was known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). He displayed devotion to God, bravery against enemies, and was motivated by a great cause.

But he also failed to protect himself where he was vulnerable. He gave in to temptation. He committed a great sin. David’s life shows us good character but also the importance of guarding our character.

As you read through the Bible, look for examples like this. Notice how the heroes of the faith related to God, how they showed faithfulness to God, but also how they failed. Learn from them the kind of man to be and the kind of man not to be.

A Pastor’s Character
By now if you’re reading these posts you’ve looked at the list of qualities in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Did you look up definitions? Discuss them with your pastor? If not, take some time to do that. Remember, even if you don’t know you’ll be a pastor, these are qualities any young man should develop.

Do any of the characteristics in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 stand out as areas where you need to grow?

Be honest: are there any where you are weak or vulnerable? Where are you likely to be tempted? Is there one area of your life Satan could use to hinder you from being a young man with godly character?

Where you’ve failed, ask and receive God’s forgiveness. His grace is greater than your sin. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more” (Romans 5:20).

This is a good time for a conversation with your parents, a good friend, and your pastor. Ask these people to point out areas of character where you need to grow. Be honest about areas of vulnerability and ask them to pray for you. See if they can recommend any helpful resources for overcoming sin struggles.

God is At Work In You
Ultimately, godly character is produced by the Holy Spirit in you. Another place in the Bible that instructs us about godly character is Galatians 5:16-24.

Verses 19-21 give a list of character traits produced by our sinful nature.

  • The first three have to do with sexual thoughts and acts outside of God’s plan for marriage – immorality, impurity, and sensuality.
  • The next two involve worshiping and seeking power from gods other than the one true God – idolatry and sorcery.
  • Several of these traits involve conflict and animosity with others – enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying.
  • The last two involve alcohol and partying – drunkenness and carousing.

Let’s move now to the list of godly character traits, those produced by the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. We won’t categorize these. Just look at them as they appear in Scripture.

  • Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

The Holy Spirit produces these traits of godly character in your life. This happens when you are yielded to Him and you expose your mind and heart to the truth of His Word. So it’s important to read the Bible regularly (ideally every day!) and choose to submit your life to be the kind of person God wants you to be.

You don’t have to manufacture godly character. God is at work inside of you, cultivating character traits that will show up in your life. You’re not on your own! He will enable you to be the kind of man who can serve in pastoral ministry.

Character Determines Influence
Godly character is essential to spiritual leadership. Paul told Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). That instruction is for you too! Develop character so people will take you seriously.

Paul also urged Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (vs. 16). Pay attention to your own life first – your walk with God and your character. Then you can teach others.

A pastor is not a super saint. But he is serious about developing and protecting his own character so he can influence others. Ultimately, godly character is Christ-likeness. Every Christian should develop attitudes and actions that resemble Jesus. Growing in character is not just one step, but happens all along the pathway to pastoral ministry.

You’ll also need to develop pastoral skills.

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