A Misguided Pastoral Motive

The Pastor’s Motive Is the Master

The reason many pastors fail at being leaders is that they want to be leaders. While that may sound strange, we must understand that leadership is not the ultimate goal or standard of success when it comes to gospel ministry. The plethora of books, conferences, seminars, and courses on the subject of leadership feeds a misguided passion in many pastors simply because the world has touted it as a quality and skill of the highest order that’s worthy of our greatest effort. Gospel leadership, however, is quite different. The Bible is clear that the way to be a good leader is not by developing skills to influence people and command organizations. Rather, the way to be a good leader is to be a good servant (Matt. 20:25–28; Mark 9:35).

Living according to this curious economy of leadership doesn’t start with a focus on serving others—it begins with serving the Master who established that economy, the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul expects that his young protégé desires to be such a servant: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 4:6). Here, being a servant isn’t described with the term that emphasizes submission and subjection as a slave (doulos), but the one used more generally for someone who serves another in some useful way (diakonos; see 1 Cor. 4:1–2; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4). Paul assumes that Timothy aspires to such a role in his relationship with Jesus. Thus, it must be the motive of every pastor not first to be a leader of people, but to be a useful servant of the Master. Leading people well will follow serving Jesus well.

Expositional Leadership

R. Scott Pace, Jim Shaddix

This guide shows pastors how to simplify and strengthen their ministry work by integrating the three core aspects of their roles—leadership, preaching, and pastoring—through expository preaching ministries.

But how does a pastor offer such useful service to our Lord? Though there are numerous ways this work plays out in gospel ministry, Paul lays out specific qualifications for being a “good servant” of the Master. And this is where pastoral leadership and biblical exposition begin to intersect in this passage. He first says that such servanthood will be realized “if you put these things before the brothers” (1 Tim. 4:6). Paul uses the term “these things” eight times in this letter to summarize the practical and doctrinal issues he’s been addressing, things like prayer, modesty, authority and submission, qualifications of pastors and deacons, and destructive legalism.

Like Timothy, every pastor must lead his people to believe rightly and live obediently when it comes to all the aforementioned issues and more. That begins with “put[ting them] before” the congregation through preaching and teaching. The language Paul uses here conveys the idea of gentle persuasion through humble reminders—the pastor lovingly explains and applies God’s word to his people so that they think rightly and live accordingly. Like a waiter, we serve our people nourishing meals; like a jeweler, we display before them treasured gems.1 We are good servants of our Master if we lead well by preaching well.

Not only is the pastor a good servant when he preaches well but he preaches well because he learns well. Paul says Timothy’s service for Christ and leadership of God’s people intersect in his preaching ministry because he’s been “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that [he has] followed” (1 Tim. 4:6). The idea of being trained is a metaphor for nurturing and tutoring children. Paul’s use of the present participle suggests that his concern is for Timothy to continue feeding himself spiritually so that he can be a good servant of Jesus by training his congregation in the faith.2

So often we hear of pastors who neglect the study of God’s word because of the many other pastoral responsibilities that demand their leadership. But studying God’s word for spiritual nourishment and preaching preparation contributes directly toward pastoral leadership! We lead well when we preach well, and we preach well when we study and learn well. When a pastor regularly pursues his Master by digesting the truth of his word, consuming his gospel and feasting on his rich doctrine, then he can lead his people to “know how [they] ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Then and only then can he be considered a “good servant” of his Master.

The Pastor’s Goal Is Godliness

Leadership is not an end in and of itself; it naturally implies a destination. It’s kind of like application and illustration in a sermon—these elements serve as means to other ends. We don’t just do application in our sermons; we apply something. We use application to demonstrate how the truth is to be lived out. We don’t just put illustrations in our sermons as rhetorical eye (or ear) candy; we put them in to illustrate something. We use them to either help us explain or apply the truth of the text. Neither application nor illustration stands alone in the sermon. We use them to accomplish greater purposes.

Godliness is made possible only through the gospel.

Christian leadership is often misunderstood in a similar way. It is not a stand-alone quality or characteristic in a pastor’s life and ministry; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it always involves a destination—we don’t just lead, we lead somewhere. For Paul, that somewhere is godliness. He tells Timothy to “train [himself] for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7), which, contrary to mere bodily exercise, “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). He assures the young pastor that such a pursuit is worth hard work and even suffering “because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Tim. 4:10).

Overall, godliness is synonymous with being re-created into the imago Dei, the image of God in which humanity was originally made (Gen. 1:26–27). It’s the godlikeness that was perverted, distorted, and aborted because of our sin but is now being restored in us through Christ’s work. Thus, Paul tells Timothy to pursue this godliness for himself and his people because Jesus “is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). Godliness is made possible only through the gospel (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24).

This journey toward godliness begins at justification when our sins are forgiven, we’re made right with God (Rom. 5:1), and his life is restored in us through the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 5:8–10). The journey continues in the lifelong process of sanctification as we’re made to look more and more like God through the work of Christ’s Spirit in us (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16). One day, this process will be completed in glorification when we finally and fully look like Christ at his return (1 John 3:1–3). The effectiveness of a pastor’s leadership ability, then, must be measured by whether he’s gradually moving himself and his people toward this destination. It doesn’t matter what leadership abilities he possesses, the size of the church he pastors, or the breadth of his ministry platform. If he’s not shepherding himself and his people to look more like Jesus, then he’s not leading well when it comes to gospel ministry.

Practically speaking, this pursuit of godliness for ourselves and our people leads us to another intersection in these verses between pastoral leadership and preaching. When Paul warns the young pastor to “have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths” (1 Tim. 4:7), he does it right on the heels of noting “the words of the faith and of the good doctrine” that Timothy has followed and is responsible for teaching to his congregation (1 Tim. 4:6). Like Christians today, believers in Timothy’s church were being assaulted with perversions of God’s truth. Old Testament history was being contaminated with concocted legends, and genealogies were being stripped of their literal value and interpreted symbolically. All of this was syncretized with demonic asceticism that promised spiritual elitism through sexual abstinence and dietary restrictions.3

So, Paul compels Timothy to contend for the faith by countering such heresy with the proclamation of sound doctrine. Like Jude, the apostle probably would have preferred to write to his mentee and talk about the grandeur of the believer’s salvation. But the onslaught of false doctrine was making it necessary to convince the young pastor “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Such is the charge of every pastor. God’s truth is the only real counter to the enemy’s lies. The practice of explaining that nourishing truth stands in stark contrast to feeding people the empty calories of fables, myths, old wives’ tales, and the wisdom of the world, all of which are completely devoid of God and, therefore, contain no power to foster godlikeness in anyone’s life (Col. 2:22–23).

God has ordained his truth to be the primary agent of growing believers in godliness (1 Pet. 2:2). Jesus prayed to his Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). As pastors, we can lead our people to a lot of things. Godliness must be at the top of the list, both for ourselves and our congregations. In all our leading, scriptural leadership requires us to lead them to this destination through the faithful exposition of God’s truth, the only thing that can transform them into his image.


  1. John R. W. Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 116.
  2. Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 103.
  3. R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 106–7.

This article is adapted from Expositional Leadership: Shepherding God’s People from the Pulpit by R. Scott Pace and Jim Shaddix.

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