Character and Leadership

By James M. Rochford

Highly gifted leaders sometimes make a big impact for Christ in the short term. Yet, because they lack character, the results are disastrous. Like the flash and bang of a firework in the night sky, they impress people momentarily, but their effect for Christ does last.

We might think of our spiritual gifts like the bulging muscles of a bodybuilder. At the same time, our character is similar to the skeletal structure. If a Christian develops his gifts and influence without also developing in his character, the results can be embarrassing at best and devastating at worst. Like a bodybuilder using steroids, they look powerful right up until their bone snaps in half under the stress of the barbell! The results are painful and gruesome to watch. We might think this illustration is an exaggeration. However, those who have seen the fallout of a fallen Christian leader see that the results are often far worse!

Leaders who refuse to develop their character simply aren’t influential in the long run. Sometimes they crash and burn, being exposed for having a secret double life on the side. Meanwhile, others do not have a major moral failure, but will push themselves and others harder and harder, looking to manufacture the results they so desperately desire. Instead of waiting on God to produce the fruit (1 Cor. 3:5-10), they will turn to self-effort by pushing others to make something happen. Because they lack character, this replicates in the people who follow them, also resulting in disaster.

To all gifted leaders: Beware! Like King David, you can find yourself being disqualified from serving God simply because you lacked the correcting hand of the Holy Spirit in your life. Could this happen to you? Of course. After all, what makes you any different from the failed Christian leaders before you?

This must be why Paul spends so much time teaching on character when identifying leaders. While leaders need to be able to functionally lead the church (1 Tim. 5:17), this isn’t Paul’s emphasis in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Instead, he focuses on character and stability. Consider the qualities he gives for elders and deacons in the church.

1. Above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6-7)

“Above reproach” (anepilēmpton) means “unaccusable.” A similar term (anegklētos) occurs in Paul’s writing to Titus (Titus 1:6-7). Christian leaders should not have any flagrant sin that people could use against them. This implies that they have a long track record of loving others in ministry, demonstrating that they have earned the trust of those closest to them.

Clearly, all leaders can face accusation. Even Jesus was accused of being deranged (Mk. 3:21), deceitful (Jn. 7:12), drunk (Mt. 11:19), and demon-possessed (Mk. 3:22). Likewise, Paul was constantly slandered by his enemies (Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 4:13; 10:30; 2 Cor. 12:20; Acts 21:28-30). However, here’s the key: Their lives were so full of character that these accusations carried no weight.

Questions for reflection: Do the people who really know you feel like they can trust you? Do they feel good about following you, or do they worry that you’ll let them down?

2. Husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6)

This can hardly refer to a prohibition against polygamy because that would be so obviously “unacceptable among Christians that it would hardly seem necessary to prohibit it.”[1] Furthermore, it doesn’t require that an elder should be married, because Paul (and Jesus!) were unmarried leaders (1 Cor. 7:7-8). Surely these men weren’t disqualified from leadership!

Instead, the “husband of one wife” (mias gunaikos andros) literally means a “one-woman kind of man.”[2] The expression refers to a lifestyle of sexual integrity. This would include pornography use, flirting, and even emotional or physical affairs. No one wakes up one day and says, “I think I’m going to go commit adultery today!” Instead, this is a slow slip in the heart. If we sense that we are tacitly moving away from God in this area, we need to be quick to recognize it and bring it out into the light.

Questions for reflection: Is it possible for you to have a fall in the area of sexual integrity? If so, where are you personally vulnerable?

How would we know when we have begun to cross the line into flirting or even having an emotional affair with the opposite sex? At what point should this be confessed to a friend or our spouse?

3. Temperate (1 Tim. 3:2)

“Temperate” (nēphalios) can refer to alcoholic sobriety. But since alcoholic sobriety is mentioned later (1 Tim. 3:3), Paul must have the second definition in mind—namely, being “self-controlled” and “level-headed” (BDAG, p.672). Strong leaders do not panic when circumstances are chaotic. They communicate strength to others by modelling trust in God’s promises rather than their circumstances.

When a young boy tumbles to the ground, he will often look to his mom or dad to see their reaction. If the parent responds in horrified terror, the child will often mimic this response. But if the parent yells, “Wow, good fall!” the child will often smile, brush himself off, and get back to playing. Of course, the people you lead are fellow adults—not children. However, we’ve seen a similar principle: People often follow the emotional reaction of their leaders. If you respond with hysteria or intense negativity, the people you lead will most likely respond the same way. Conversely, if you respond with a level-head, others will often respond the same way.

Questions for reflection: How have you responded to times of crisis in ways that have inspired courage and hope in others?

How could not being level-headed negatively affect ministry? Why would it be difficult to follow a leader like this?

4. Prudent (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8 NLT)

The term “prudent” (sophron) is the opposite of being mentally unstable (Acts 26:25; Mk. 5:15; 2 Cor. 5:13). It can refer to “being in control of oneself” or “thoughtful” (BDAG, p.987). It describes a person who is “trustworthy and balanced in judgment, not flighty or unstable.”[3] Thus, it suggests that the person is mentally healthy.

Strong leaders need mental and emotional stability. They need to be reasonable and sensible even during times of intense stress. Before we are fit to lead, we need to get our emotional and mental issues under control, getting the help that we need.

Questions for reflection: Does mental and emotional instability interrupt normal activities in your life? Does it stop you from serving God and others? What steps can you take that might help in this area? (e.g. share with a friend, do some reading on the subject, see a counselor, see a doctor, etc.)

5. Respectable (1 Tim. 3:2)

“Respectable” (kosmion) is the root word for “cosmetic,” and it literally means “well-ordered” (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:4). It can be defined as “having characteristics or qualities that evoke admiration or delight” or having “an expression of high regard for a person” (BDAG, p.561). To put this simply, leaders need to have their functional lives put together. This would include holding a job, paying your bills, taking care of basic hygiene and your health. Believe it or not, but showing up late to work with bed head, bad breath, and body odor disqualifies you to others!

Questions for reflection: What are functional areas of your life that people in our culture might find discrediting? (e.g. work, school, health, hygiene, etc.)

If we don’t have our functional life in order (e.g. money, hygiene, etc.), in what ways do you think this could possibly affect our service for Christ?

6. Hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8)

“Hospitable” is really a poor translation of this Greek word. The word (philoxenos) literally means “loving strangers,” which goes far beyond merely hosting people in your home. Of course, hospitality is required of all believers (Rom 12:13; 16:23; cf. Acts 28:7; 1 Pet 4:9), and this is a good place to start. But this Greek term (philoxenos) literally means to care about strangers—most likely lost people. When leaders lose a love for the lost, their people often lose it too. The church becomes a place to take care of your own spiritual needs, rather than a place to reach others for Christ. Leaders who are weak in this area are often intimidated by meeting or talking to non-Christians. They become consumed with their own Christian sub-culture, rather than being consumed with a passion for the lost. When people see a leader’s love for the lost, they yearn to develop the same passion. After all, most evangelism is caught, rather than taught.

Questions for reflection: When was the last time you heard, No, from a person you invited to come to a Bible study? When was the last time you shared your faith and the person rejected what you were saying?

7. Able to teach (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:2)

“Able to teach” (didaktikos) means “skillful in teaching” (BDAG, p.240). This doesn’t necessarily imply a gift in teaching. Instead, this means that we’ve developed this ability through practice, repetition, and hard work (1 Tim. 5:17). Of course, the best teachers are also the best learners. Leaders who are unable to develop a love for reading and the study of Scripture become weak teachers, because they have nothing to share. But those who have a drive to study most often become stronger teachers. Their focus is on the content of God’s word, rather than their own charisma in teaching.

Questions for reflection: What is one step you can take to grow as a teacher of the word? How are you continuing to challenge yourself as a teacher?

Why would it be important for mature Christians to be teachable? What are signs in a person’s life that they are teachable?

8. Not addicted to wine (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7)

“Not addicted to wine” (me paroinon) literally means “not a drunk.”[4] This can be defined as “one who is given to drinking too much” or simply being “addicted to wine” (BDAG, p.780). Christian leaders are allowed to enjoy alcohol, but this must not lead to drunkenness or dependency on alcohol (or any other substance that affects sobriety). Leadership includes a significant deal of suffering, and leaders shouldn’t self-medicate or numb their minds. Likewise, they need to learn to take their emotional stimulation from God—not alcohol. Paul writes, “Do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Do you see the connection? When the Holy Spirit fills our hearts, we don’t see the need to get drunk to deal with our stress, our problems, or our insecurities.

Questions for reflection: Are you able to admit if you’ve had too much to drink? Or does it take an openly drunken episode before you can admit sin in this area? Are you able to have periods where you do not drink, or is this a constant part of your life? Are you able to give up your freedom to drink for the sake of others from time to time?

As Christians, we are permitted to drink alcohol: But how much is too much? What are signs that this has moved from a Christian liberty into being a sin? What are signs that we have developed a dependence on alcohol?

9. Not self-willed (Titus 1:7)

“Not self-willed” (me autheda) means “self-willed, stubborn, or arrogant” (BDAG, p.150). Peter links this trait with being rebelliousness (2 Pet. 2:10). Christian leaders shouldn’t always demand their way, but they should demonstrate the ability to defer to others at times. By “deferring to others,” we mean actively getting behind another person’s ideas to help them succeed. We agree with the old proverb, “We all get to have our say, but we do not all get our way.”

Questions for reflection: What is the difference between having a self-will and having a strong-will? Is being strong-willed a bad quality? How would you help a strong-willed person learn how to lead more effectively? (Think about Jesus: He was strong-willed but not self-willed.)

10. Not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7)

“Not quick-tempered” (me orgilon) means “inclined to anger” or “hot-headed” (BDAG, p.721). Christian leaders need to work with people who are immature, insensitive, misguided, or downright antagonistic. This can test your patience! Those with an uncontrolled temper can easily discredit themselves. When you have an explosive temper tantrum, it puts everyone on edge and trust is broken. Some fiery words cannot be taken back, and they often etch themselves into the minds of others. Christian leaders may get angry (Eph. 4:26; Jn. 2:13ff), but they should be “slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19). As a leader, you should control your anger, rather than letting your anger control you.

Questions for reflection: How does it make you feel when one of your Christian brothers or sisters lashes out at you in an angry rage? How do you think your anger has affected others around you?

If you sense yourself losing your temper, what are some practical “off ramps” you can take to avoid a temper tantrum?

If you lost your temper and lashed out at someone, what could you do in the aftermath to mend your relationship(s)? What steps might be helpful?

11. Pugnacious (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim. 3:3)

“Pugnacious” (me plēktēs) literally means “not a striker.” This can be defined as being a “bully” (BDAG, p.826). This includes the fact that leaders should “not practice browbeating people with threats of violence.”[5] Christian leaders should not be prone to physical or verbal abuse (i.e. slander, put-downs, cussing someone out, etc.). You should only take an aggressive approach for the sake of others—not to build up your own agenda or ego.

Questions for reflection: How can you discern the difference between taking an aggressive stance for the truth versus being intimidating or browbeating others?

12. Gentle (1 Timothy 3:3)

“Gentle” (epieikēs) refers to “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom,” and it can be described as being “kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG, p.371). This is the type of leader who “is flexible rather than rigid.”[6] As a leader, you should work tenderly with people most of the time—not being dismissive, demanding, or domineering. People can be fragile. We need to show much care in working with them. Strong leaders know that their words and actions carry a lot of weight with their people, and they view this as a great responsibility.

Questions for reflection: How frequently do you raise your voice or rebuke others? How frequently do you think a Christian leader should be rebuking his or her people?

13. Peaceable (1 Tim. 3:3)

“Peaceable” (amachon) comes from the roots “not” (a) and “fighter” (machē). Christian leaders need to fight from time to time, but they aren’t seeking fights or enjoying these encounters. The wise leader knows when to fight, and when to choose diplomacy, preserve unity, or overlook an offense.

Questions for reflection: Ken Sande says that there are three types of people who enter into conflict: (1) peace-makers, (2) peace-breakers and (3) peace-fakers. That is, some people like to fight; some people like to avoid fighting and pretend that everything is fine; and some people strive for actual peace. What are signs of each?

14. Devout (Titus 1:8)

“Devout” (hosios) is one of the words sometimes translated “holy.” This simply means that leaders should be committed and passionate for spiritual matters. They should embody a zeal for God’s will and God’s ways. People like this serve as strong models for others in Christian community. These people are not drained by serving God, but rather, they are contagious in spreading their excitement to others.

Questions for reflection: What are common causes that kill our zeal for following Christ?

What are some ways we might regain zeal if we’ve lost it?

15. Loving what is good (Titus 1:8)

This term (philagathos) implies that a leader’s lifestyle should demonstrate that they enjoy what God values as good (Rom. 12:2). These leaders have cultivated an ability to critique their culture without becoming self-righteous, cold-hearted, or prudish. They recognize the underlying worldview in what they read, watch, or listen to.

Questions for reflection: What are ways to develop in your ability to have an intellectual critique of your culture? How can we critique false cultural narratives without losing a love for people in the process?

16. Free from the love of money (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7)

“Free from the love of money” (aphilarguros) comes from “not” (a) and “love” (philos) and “silver” (arguros). Thus, it refers to “not being a lover of silver.” In contemporary terms, this quality “warns against devotion to materialism.”[7] Christian leaders show with their lives that they value spiritual things more than money. Since elders are supposed to handle the money in the church, they should have a history of strong character in this area.

The church needs models to lead the way in the area of simple-living. Mature leaders should only accept an average income with the rest of their community, be generous financial givers, and live a simple lifestyle. Spiritual leaders are also keenly aware of the fact that their example plays a large impact on others around them. People generally do not go above the examples set by their leaders.

Questions for reflection: In what ways is God growing you to become a more generous financial giver?

What steps can we take now that might help us overcome materialism later on?

How would you respond to someone who said this? “I’ll start giving when I am more financially stable.”

How would you respond to someone who said this? “I think I’m going to buy it… After all, I can afford it.”

17. Manages their household well (1 Tim. 3:5; Titus 1:6)

“Manages” (prohistēmi) is a poor translation of this Greek term. The concept of being a “manager” seems impersonal, cold, and formulaic. The term means “to exercise a position of leadership” and can mean to “rule, direct, be at the head (of)” (BDAG, p.870). This does not imply dictatorial leadership at home. Parents need to lead “with all dignity.” They look to garner the respect of their children—not demand or enforce respect with an iron fist. Like all Christian leadership, we lead our families through servant love and persuasion—only rarely making a display of authority. Even when we exert authority, this should only be done for the sake of our family members—not ourselves. Similarly, the “skillful pastor will give to the church the type of leadership that will encourage his people to follow him.”[8]

It very difficult to fake who we are at home. True spiritual leaders should have a character that is reflected in all aspects of life—not just their outward lives. Moreover, those in vocational ministry can become workaholics, neglecting their marriages and families. This is discrediting, disqualifying, and frankly immoral. Our spouse and children are a very important aspect of our ministry, and should be nurtured deeply.

Questions for reflection: In his book The Family Life of a Christian Leader (2016), Ajith Fernando raises a hypothetical scenario that has always stuck with us: Imagine if you treated the people in your church the way that you treat your family members, and imagine if you treated your family members in the same way that you treated the people in your church. How would your relationships be affected?

18. Not a new convert (1 Tim. 3:6)

“Not a new convert” (me neophutos) means “not newly planted.” This is probably relative to the age of the group (e.g. Acts 14:23), and Timothy was a young man (1 Tim. 4:12, ~age 30). This quality has “more to do with spiritual than with chronological age.”[9] Elders and overseers should be walking Christians long enough to be tested by God (1 Tim. 3:10), and they need to have experienced success without becoming arrogant. Paul writes, “Not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). The term “conceited” (typhoō) means “to wrap in smoke” or to become “beclouded.”[10] This carries the sense of being “blinded” by pride and arrogance.[11] Because of the context, it seems that Satan is the one who fell from pride, and consequently, these are “condemnations or spiritual traps Satan causes.”[12]

Questions for reflection: How have you responded to failure in ministry? How have you responded to success?

19. Having a good reputation with those outside the church (1 Tim. 3:7)

This expression specifically refers to having a “good reputation” (or more literally a “good witness”) with non-Christians. Those we recognize as elders should be viewed as good people by non-Christians in their neighborhoods and workplaces. Moreover, leaders like this should be sensitive to how non-Christians think and what would be spiritually interesting and attractive to them.

Questions for reflection: How is it possible to have a good reputation if some people simply disagree with Christianity and despise Christians? For instance, what if you had a neighbor who had these convictions? What is your role in developing a “good reputation” in such a scenario?

What are small steps you could take to develop a good reputation at your secular job or at school?

20. Just (Titus 1:8)

“Just” (dikaios) can also be translated as “right” or “righteous.” This means that leaders should be fair and impartial in their dealings with people (1 Tim. 5:21). People need to feel confident that leaders do not play favorites, which includes favoritism toward family members or friends.

Questions for reflection: How can you build trust with people who might be suspicious toward your motives as a leader?

What would you do if your friend (or family member) really was the best person for a certain ministry role? Would it be “unjust” to push to recognize them? What would you do in a situation like this?

What about deacons?

Paul gives eleven character qualities for deacons, but most of these are the same as elders. The major differences are that elders need to have (1) an older spiritual age and (2) a greater strength in the word.


After reading through the character requirements above, it’s easy to feel convicted or overwhelmed. We look at the goal and we think that we just don’t make the cut. But remember, we don’t change ourselves in spiritual growth; that’s God’s role. Change occurs when we begin by agreeing with God’s view, admitting fault, and then actively trusting that he will change us (1 Thess. 4:3). We also need to make ourselves available to God through the means of growth.

In our experience, God seems to tolerate quite a bit of sin in working through us. But there seem to be moments where God will draw a line in the sand on certain issues. Maybe God was using this study to correct you on your character. Will you respond to his correction and conviction, or will you justify your sin and deflect his correcting hand?

It’s also important to remember that God will typically only convict us on one or two issues at a time, rather than overwhelming us with our inadequacy. What are one or two issues that stood out to you? Focus on these, rather than being overwhelmed. In the words of Paul, “May the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful” (1 Thess. 5:23-24 NLT).

[1] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 109.

[2] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 109-110.

[3] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 110.

[4] In Greek, “me” is one way to show the negation in Greek.

[5] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 111.

[6] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 111.

[7] Donald Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 14, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 96.

[8] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 112.

[9] Emphasis mine. Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 113.

[10] Donald Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 14, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 97.

[11] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 113.

[12] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 113.