Biblical Leadership: Setting the Example

by John MacArthur

People skills are invaluable in leadership. Imagine how difficult it would be for a man to lead if he was timid and indecisive. Or consider the wreckage produced by a leader who is arrogant and brash. In either case, his private life might be orderly and disciplined, but his lack of ability in the public realm would hinder his leadership. The way a man deals with others determines how, and whether, they follow him.

Last time, we examined the biblical qualifications of a Christian leader. He must be a man of private integrity, not given to impurity or excess, but instead moderate and disciplined.

Equally important are those public aspects of his character that affect how he ministers to other believers. First Timothy 3:2-3 says that an overseer must be “hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.”


The Greek word translated “hospitable” is composed of the words xenos (“stranger”) and phile? (“to love” or “show affection”). It means “to love strangers.” Thus biblical hospitality is showing kindness to strangers, not just friends. In Luke 14:12–14 our Lord said:

When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

I realize that showing love toward strangers requires vulnerability and can even be dangerous—some might take advantage of you. While God doesn’t ask us to discard wisdom and discernment in dealing with strangers (cf. Matthew 10:16), He does require us to love them by being hospitable (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9).

When I consider my responsibility to love strangers, I am reminded that God received into His family we who were “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Since God has welcomed those of us who are Gentiles, how can we fail to welcome strangers into our homes? After all, everything we have belongs to God. We are simply His stewards.

A Skilled Teacher

An elder must be a skilled teacher. That’s the one qualification that sets him apart from deacons and the rest of the congregation.

You might wonder why Paul includes this qualification in a list of moral qualities. He does so because effective teaching is predicated on the moral character of the teacher. What a man is cannot be divorced from what he says. “He that means as he speaks,” writes Richard Baxter, “will surely do as he speaks.” [1]

Paul repeatedly reminded Timothy of the priority of teaching (1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:2, 15). While all believers are responsible to teach others the truths they have learned in God’s Word, not all have the gift of teaching (1 Corinthians 12:29). Those who aspire to church leadership, however, must be so gifted.

What criteria identify a man as a skilled teacher? There are several:

What kind of man should be in church leadership? A man of sincere devotion and genuine love for others. That mentality is, in itself, a high standard to live by, but it’s one that every church leader must be held to. Other Christians look to the leader for an example to follow, and God holds him accountable to provide one.

Imagine taking your family to a new church. The teaching is decent, so you keep attending. You get to know some of the elders, hoping to learn from their examples and grow spiritually. Meanwhile, your kids get involved in the youth ministry, and your family becomes immersed in the church.

But as the weeks pass, you realize that big problems lie beneath the surface. Several elders tolerate major sin in their lives, and they disagree on virtually every issue. The congregation is confused on important doctrines. Factions form, and everyone picks sides. To make matters worse, your family members are becoming disjointed and quarrelsome, likely affected by the poor church leadership.

Would you stay? Probably not. It would be difficult for you and your family to grow spiritually in that environment. Churches need leaders who live according to biblical principles and who are unified in sound doctrine. Otherwise, believers have no one to guide them in following God’s design for the church.

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives Timothy God’s standard for church leadership. Picking up where we left off on Monday, an overseer is “not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money” (1 Timothy 3:3).

Not a Drinker

The Greek word translated “addicted to wine” (paroinos) means “one who drinks.” It doesn’t refer to a drunkard—that’s an obvious disqualification. The issue here is the man’s reputation: Is he known as a drinker?

The Greek word translated “temperate” (1 Timothy 3:2) refers in its literal sense to one who is not intoxicated. Paroinos, on the other hand, refers to one’s associations: Such a person doesn’t frequent bars, taverns, and inns. He is not at home in the noisy scenes associated with drinking. A man who is a drinker has no place in the ministry because he sets a poor example for others by choosing to fellowship with immoral men instead of God’s people.

Not a Fighter

A leader of God’s people cannot settle disputes with his fists or in other violent ways. The Greek word translated “pugnacious” means “a striker.” An elder isn’t quick tempered and doesn’t resort to physical violence. This qualification is closely related to “not addicted to wine” because such violence is usually connected with people who drink excessively.

A spiritual leader must be able to handle things with a cool mind and a gentle spirit. As Paul said, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome” (2 Timothy 2:24).

Easily Pardons Human Failure

Instead of being pugnacious, a leader must be “gentle.” The Greek word translated “gentle” describes the person who is considerate, genial, forbearing, gracious, and easily pardons human failure.

In a practical sense, a gentle leader has the ability to remember good and forget evil. He doesn’t keep a record of wrongs people have committed against him (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5). I know people who have left the ministry because they couldn’t get over someone’s criticizing or upsetting them. They carry a list of grievances that eventually robs them of the joy of serving others.

Discipline yourself not to talk or even think about wrongs done against you because it serves no productive purpose. It simply rehearses the hurts and clouds your mind with anger.

Not Quarrelsome

The Greek word translated “peaceable” means “reluctant to fight.” It refers not so much to physical violence as to a quarrelsome person. To have a contentious person in leadership will result in disunity and disharmony.

Free from the Love of Money

Love of money can corrupt a man’s ministry because it tempts him to view people as a means through whom he can acquire more riches.

Here’s a simple principle I’ve used to keep from loving money: Don’t place a price on your ministry. If someone gives you a financial gift you didn’t seek, you can accept it from the Lord and be thankful for it. But if you pursue money, you’ll never know if it came from Him or from your own efforts, and that will rob you of the joy of seeing God provide for your needs.

All these traits are essential for Christian leadership, since every leader sets an example that others imitate. If the example is one of godly character, then the leader’s ministry will edify the body of Christ. As he strives to be hospitable, honorable, peaceable, forgiving, and unselfish, other Christians will do the same. The result is an environment of purity, humility, and genuine love among brothers—fertile ground for the growth of the church.

2 Blog Articles by John MacArthur, Parts 1 and 2 Used by permission.



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