Why A Pastor Is Called To Be Above Reproach

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Why are pastors told to be above reproach?  Knowing that they too are sinners, isn’t this asking too much?  What does it mean to be “above reproach?”

A Definition of Reproach

A reproach is an expression of rebuke, disapproval, correction, criticizing, or open disciplining.  A pastor is supposed to be above reproach meaning that he should possess character that goes well above anything that would require a reproach from the church, his family or from the public.  To be above reproach is to live in such a way that there is not even a hint of scandal or inappropriate behavior that would bring shame to the church.

A pastor is supposed to be above reproach meaning that he should possess character that goes well above anything that would require a reproach from the church, his family or from the public.

A pastor is supposed to be above reproach meaning that he should possess character that goes well above anything that would require a reproach from the church, his family or from the public.

A Pastor’s Job Requirements

First Timothy 3:1-7 tells us just how much above reproach a pastor should be,

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

Paul is saying that God requires a pastor to have a sterling reputation in the community (v 7), he must not be a womanizer (v 2), neither should he be a drunk, brawler, or greedy (v 3), have a godly home with obedient children (v 4), nor a new believer or one that is full of pride (v 6), and have self-control and not have violent tendencies (v 2, 3).  If a church calls such a man, they should ensure that he qualifies by having these in his character.

Paul gives more instructions for pastors, sometimes called elders.  Every elder is not a pastor but every pastor is at least an elder (Titus 1:5) as Paul explains to Titus when he is choosing men for leadership positions in Titus 1:6-9.  Paul says that they must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Paul adds to the pastoral requirements that they must “give instruction in sound doctrine” but “also to rebuke those who contradict it.”  That means that the pastor can stay above reproach if he teaches sound doctrine…that is found in the Bible of course…and to rebuke those who contradict what Scripture says.  Not easy no, but there is no choice for a pastor if he is to stay above reproach before the church and the community.

Why Pastors Must Be Above Reproach

The main reason that pastors must be above reproach is because God says so it His word.  That is reason enough in itself but there is more to it than being a direct command from God’s Word.   A pastor is a symbolic representative of the church and of God and if his reputation is one of ill-repute, then this gives the church a black eye and can destroy the pastor and the church’s witness to the community.  Even most of those who do not like the idea of God understand that Jesus was a very good person, a good teacher or had excellent moral qualities.  They may not bend the knee to Him but the vast majority of people, even among other religions, see Jesus as a supreme example of how they ought to live.  Pastors must strive to live in such a way that the community at large will see Christ in their lives.  When pastors live in ways that are contrary to the Bible they make non-believers think that all Christians are hypocrites and live lives of duplicity.

Related reading: What Would Jesus Do? 10 Daily Choices To Be More Like Him

The pastor must also abstain from every appearance of evil because sometimes the church and frequently the public will not give the pastor the benefit of the doubt (1 Thess 5:22).  Even if there is no sin in what he is doing, he must not even appear to be doing what is considered sin. There was a new pastor in one small town that I heard of many years ago.  He was seen coming out of a tavern and was walking rather unsteadily.  Two citizens saw him come out of the tavern and assumed that he was drunk.  He later heard about it by gossip.  What came back to him was that some of the town’s citizens saw him coming out of the tavern drunk.  He was so drunk that he could barely walk.  The truth was that he had been visiting a shut-in widow from the church that lived upstairs.  This building was adjacent to the tavern.  It looked as though he had walked out of the tavern but he was actually coming out of a stairwell from the shut-in’s upstairs apartment and he had sprained his ankle coming down the stairs.  Even though the pastor was not at fault, these people who saw him didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt.  They had assumed that he was drunk when he left the tavern, which he had not actually been in.  You see the point. Pastors must not even appear to be doing evil.  The pastor didn’t do anything wrong and even though the pastor knew it, the two citizens didn’t.  His reputation was somewhat soiled by something that was not even true because appearances can be deceiving.


It’s not only the pastor that should be above reproach, the members of the church should also be because they too can hurt the witness for the church and the cause of Christ.  We too must abstain from every appearance of evil.  I once counseled a young Christian couple who were boyfriend and girlfriend and lived together.  They insisted that they slept in separate bedrooms and never had sex.  I told them that it doesn’t matter because most of their neighbors assumed that they must have been having sex because they lived together.  What was worse, they knew that they were Christians.  They hurt the witness of the church even though they didn’t have any sexual immorality occurring (allegedly).  It didn’t matter if they weren’t.  What mattered was that non-believers thought that they were because they were living together.  I strongly suggested that they live separately because they were giving the appearance of evil and even if there was no sin, they were bringing shame on the case for Christ by their doing so.  May it never be so among the Bride of Christ as He desires we live holy lives and this includes being above reproach.

Another article worth reading : Should Pastors Be Paid? A Bible Study

Resources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits November 7, 2013 at 9:24 am

Good stuff Jack!

So often compromise is the order of the day in our permissive society. Thank you for holding up Godly standards we should all be exhibiting. The world IS watching, but more importantly, so is God. God died for us…it is our reasonable service to love and obey Him.

“If you love Me, keep my commandments” Jn 14:15




Jack Wellman November 7, 2013 at 9:34 am

Thanks brother…this quickens me to be all the more diligent and I think the pressure on my wife is just as great, if not more, but sadly, the expectations are unreasonable and I believe that she is too often under the magnifying glass which no one likes. Thanks for your support. What you said is so true…love is obedience and no sacrifice.


Lou November 7, 2013 at 10:35 am

Overall I agree with what you’ve written, but did you mean to imply that the pastor ought not have visited the shut-in lady who lived adjacent to the tavern, since doing so left him open to false accusations and reproach? Because if that’s what you mean, I’ll have to respectfully disagree. The sad fact is, nearly anything a pastor does in the course of his weekday ministry might be contorted by fault-finders and become a source of finger-pointing by people who are inclined to that behavior. For example, I have a pastor friend whose church is located in a low-income, high-crime area of town. In the course of knocking on doors to meet people, it’s pretty much a given that he’ll be knocking on the door of at least one (and possibly multiple) drug houses. Should he stop doing that outreach on the basis that someone might see him there and wrongly assume that he is buying drugs? I’m not trying to pick nits, and I do take seriously the words of 1 Timothy 3. But as we try to understand how to live out those commands I think we need to factor in the reality that the pharisaic types that criticized Jesus for eating with “sinners” (and who accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard) will always be with us; and that those folks shouldn’t be the ones who define what our ministry ought to look like. Blessings to you!


Jack Wellman November 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

Thank you Lou. I am sorry. I should have made myself more clear. No, I didn’t imply that the pastor should have avoided the shut-in just to abstain from any appearance of evil. I apologize. I should have been more clear about that. No, the pastor who goes into the low-income, high-crime areas should not be inhibited from going there for fear of what people may think. You are spot on Lou. I am with this pastor and agree with you. I have not hesitated to go into the poor district in the city of where the church is that I am the under shepherd of. I think that if someone thinks wrongly about this, then that is their problem. I associated with sinners to share the gospel because I too am still a sinner or as (I believe it was) Martin Luther said, we are both sinners and justified at the same time. My point with the pastor who visited the shut-in adjacent to the tavern was to make a point (which I apparently did a poor job of and I accept responsibility for it) was to make the point that people judge wrongly and that the Scripture that says “love believes all things” I think means we should give people the benefit of the doubt. Again, my mistake for not communicating this more clearly. I am not ashamed to go anywhere and have gone to the park, bus stops, thrift stores, or anywhere uninhibited because Christians are only one poor, beggar offering the gospel to another. Thank you Lou. Great point and thank you for pointing out this very important detail that I missed and I thank God for you and for that pastor who is willing to go where few others are willing to go.


Lou November 7, 2013 at 10:59 am

Thank you for the clarification! I think you are spot on in your statement that love believes all things, meaning that we ought to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been at my church long enough (nearly 23 years) that the people know me and do want to think the best of me, wherever my ministry takes me. Because of that, I’m able to take some risks in reaching out to folks that others might be hesitant to take. Not long ago, I posed this question to the members of the Bible study class I teach at the church: “If you saw me walk out of a bar, what would your immediate thought be?” One of our most vocal members said, “I’d think that you must have been sharing the gospel with someone in there.” It’s good to have that level of trust with people!


Jack Wellman November 7, 2013 at 11:21 am

Great example Lou about coming out of the bar. I think since I have read your comments I would know enough about you to realize what your reasons were for coming out of the bar since you have obviously come out of the world and now want others to come out with you in your evangelizing. I thank God for believers like you and your church surely must be blessed to have you there.


Jeff April 24, 2015 at 5:04 am

Isn’t it impossible for anyone to be “above reproach” by the definition given and being assumed here?

There is no one who is righteous (in and of themselves), not even one.

This sort of expectation is exhausting, leaves servants feeling the need to hide, put on masks and “act the part”, doesn’t it?

I don’t trust anyone who acts like they have it all together. They are not inspiring, they are intimidating. I want to know the people “leading” me are people who have gone through some stuff, they’ve weathered the fires of life and still believe.

People who are embarrassed by the speeding ticket they once had which “tarnished their reputation”… Ugh!!! If that is the worst that a pastor has had to overcome in his life, is he even human? Christ himself jacks the standard of perfection so far out of reach, when he says if we have even hated someone we are just as guilty of murder as someone who has actually pulled the trigger on someone. He even says that if we have even looked at someone with lustful eyes, we are just as guilty of adultery as the person who had cheated on their spouse having actual sexual relations with someone else.

Could it be that to “be above reproach” means that we don’t act like we are perfect? We don’t deny our our sinful tendencies and we need to be willing to admit we have the same struggles as anyone else? To admit we need accountability just as much as the next person, so that people know that when we are confronting the sinfulness of someone else, it is not being done to embarrass them, rather it is because we want to see not only ourselves set free, but also them to be free and help them find freedom in Christ just as we needed, still need and will need again?

Was Paul above reproach? Not at all! Not only did he murder people for their faith, he admitted still being the chief of all sinners, he admitted (present tense) of not always being able to do what he should do, and at least sometimes doing what he shouldn’t do because sin was still alive in his flesh.

This was even as he was writing our scriptures which was clearly well after his conversion experience, unless he was writing our canon before he was converted?! I don’t think so.

A few years ago, I heard a story of a situation when a prominent national minister was caught up in a scandal and a Christian man had an unbelieving friend with him at lunch when a news report came on covering the story.

The unbelieving friend turned to the believer and said, THAT is why I can’t believe! That story right there!

The believer replied, saying, not all Christians are like that, we don’t all behave like that pastor.

The unbeliever replied, “No, it isn’t the fact that the pastor was involved in the sex scandal that bothers me, it is the fact that he has admitted his sin, apologized and asked for forgiveness but all these other prominent Christian leaders are ripping him up, refusing to forgive him, distancing themselves from him as much as possible in his time of shame and need, just like the believer was doing right then by the way he initially responded to the friend’s comment.

Of course the pastor needed time to heal, and repent and at least temporarily step down from leadership to restore his family and his own heart, but as the unbeliever observed, when that is how Christians treat their own, in a time of need, throwing each other under the bus and tearing each other to shreds in their most vulnerable time even when they are trying to repent, FORGET IT!!!

He said that he certainly wanted nothing to do with Christians and Christianity because of how cruel, vicious, and unforgiving “Christians” were being, not only to the pastor who was trying to repent but others he knew who were in similar situations in their own lives!! He observed that the pastor wasn’t denying it, he had come clean and he was still being mercilessly crucified for it, rather than other leaders publicly stating that they heard his confession, and wanted to do what they could to restore the pastor and be there for him in such a brutally difficult time of life.

Sorry, that’s my rant for the day. I just know from my own experience being a pastor, of pastoring pastors and being kept at arms length away from pastors who were wounded and in pain themselves for a wide variety of reasons and were scared to let anyone in to their situation because they were scared to death of being “found out” and humiliated, that being “above reproach” goes far beyond being or pretending to be, a “perfect person”.


Jack Wellman April 24, 2015 at 10:02 am

Thank you pastor Jeff for your comment sir. Being above reproach doesn’t mean perfect or pretending to be. The dictionary defines “reproach” as shame or disgrace or that which brings rebuke or censure upon a person. The Bible speaks of being “above reproach” or “blameless” as one of the distinctive marks of those who aspire to the office of elder or deacon within the church (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6-7). As such, their work for the church, as well as their interactions with others, are to be of such moral quality that they do not bring shame or in any way disgrace the body of Christ or the name of Jesus. This holds true not only within the church, but outside it as well.

I am a pastor but never pretend to be perfect but admit my mistakes and am transparent. The qualifications for the elder/deacon, sometimes called “overseer,” are outlined by the apostle Paul. He wrote: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6-7). The word “must” is emphasizing that this particular quality of being “above reproach” is an unconditional prerequisite for a leadership role in the church

Above reproach, however, does not mean without sin and I never insinuated or wrote that it was. No Christian lives an entirely sinless life, nor will we until we reach the glorified state in heaven. Above reproach means that the overseer’s life is free from sinful habits or behaviors that would impede his setting the highest Christian standard and model for the church to emulate (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). Similarly, the overseer must not give cause for those outside the church to impugn its reputation. Being above reproach means that no one can bring a charge or accusation against him (Acts 25:7; 1 Peter 3:16).

In essence, the church’s overseers must be men whose character is unimpeachable, who are esteemed highly within their community. Such men are known for their wholesome life and untarnished integrity. Elders and deacons are to be men of good character and reputation. Though Paul, in his letters to Timothy and Titus, is addressing the distinguishing marks of those who desire to be church leaders, it certainly does not diminish the need for all Christians to aspire to the same qualities. Being above reproach should be an ongoing aim of all believers (Colossians 3:7-10).


Jeff April 24, 2015 at 11:59 am

Very well put sir! It is SO HARD to be able to adequately cover a topic like this! We can so easily be pigeon holed as legalistic monsters if we talk about having any standards, or we can get accused of “playing the grace card, too much” if we talk about forgiveness.

If my denominational backgrounds were open knowledge, you’d know I have those around me who rant and rave against the scandalous grace of gospel, and as you can imagine, I tend to get accused of playing the grace card too much by many of them.

But, I have also been savagely accused of being a “holier than thou, legalistic monster” at the same time (sometimes on the same day, in the same sermon, GULP!). So maybe I am doing something right, because I am catching heat from both ends of the spectrum? Perhaps???


Jack Wellman April 24, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Amen pastor…yes, it’s like trying to cover Texas Stadium with a blanket. It is so deep. I think if you are being attacked or accused, then you must be convicting someone. I do agree about catching it from both ends my brother. I m so with you. We are under grace but as Paul said, should we sin so that grace abounds much more? You already know the answer to that sir. We are often placed between a rock and a hard place but I suppose it is good to know that we are accountable to God and what He thinks is the only thing that is ultimately important. Thank you pastor and I know your calling is a hard one but I sense you have the right balance and may God richly bless you in your ministry.


Jeff April 24, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Looks like Half of my last message didn’t post!

I talked about how most often, it seems like those who really grab hold of God’s radical and scandalous grace are the ones who struggle the least with recurrent sins, because they are the ones who realize that God can and does forgive “even me”.

When we come to know that kind of love, we lose the desire to offend it more and more all the time!

I told the story of a pastor who admitted being addicted to pornography. He submitted to a time of restoration while stepping out of pulpit ministry for a significant period of time during that process. After his restoration process was complete, his ministry grew exponentially because he had been and was living out repentance and submission tangibly to the people in his church. They tangibly knew he was practicing what he was preaching. Not to mention he even admitted to an “edginess” being removed from how he handled our people caught up in whatever their particular sin happened to be!


Jack Wellman April 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Amen pastor to your saying “When we come to know that kind of love, we lose the desire to offend it more and more all the time!” Powerful indeed to which I concur. This man had been in prison frequently. He has even started riots in a city. He has been in frequent troubles with the local authorities. He has frequent health issues. He was not accepted and not trusted by most of the Christians at first and many were even afraid of him. He was believed to have mental health issues by the local authorities. He has been accused of being an insurrectionist by the local leaders. He was accused of being the leader of a cult or sect. Everywhere he went, he seemed to cause problems. Once he even quoted a world philosopher in trying to witness about Christ. He was teaching doctrines that were contrary to the religious leaders of the day.

This man had been in prison frequently (Acts 16:37, Acts 24:7).
He has started more than one riot in a city (Acts 19:28).
He has been in frequent troubles with the local authorities (Acts 24).
He has frequent health issues (2 Cor 12:7).
He was not accepted and not trusted by most of the Christians early on and many were even afraid of him (Acts 9:26).
He was believed to have mental health issues by the local authorities (Acts 26:24).
He has been accused as being an insurrectionist by the local leaders (Acts 24:5).
He has been accused of being a leader of a cult or sect (Acts 24:5).
Everywhere he went, he seemed to cause problem and once he even quoted a world philosopher in trying to witness about Christ (Acts 17:28).
He was teaching doctrines that were contrary to the religious leaders of the day (Acts 24:5).

By now you know it was the Apostle Paul.


DocReits April 24, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Good discussion Pastors J&J,

I was attending a particular branded mega church off and on for years. If I mentioned the name of the pastor you would probably recognize the name. He had been a stoner(dealer) before his conversion during the 60’s and would use this “sinner” moniker in almost every sermon, winking(laughing) about the sins of his youth.

I have talked with others attending the same branded churches and it seems like the pastors all come from similar backgrounds. I know that you(pastor Jack) have quite the storied past also. I have never heard of a pastor who grew up in a Christian family(in this denomination) who had a Godly upbringing, was saved as a child and never fell away into the “typical” big sins(sex, guns, gangs, alcohol/drugs). I have often wondered if those previous sins were part of the “qualifications” for pastor of this denomination.

I know many folks relate well to a pastor who comes from such a background as they see themselves as “not so bad” when they can relate to someone who is now a Christian, and especially a pastor. They can say, ‘maybe God “can” forgive me because here was another person with the same or similar list of sins as I myself have’. Amen, I get it, and whatever saves souls, I am all for.

OTOH, I think it quite refreshing and a better testimony to the “keeping” power of God when I meet a pastor who has had a Godly heritage and how God kept them from the big sins of these other pastors. Maybe these churches should team preach and have one of each tag team preaching from week to week or during the same sermon…;-)

Just my two cents,



Jack Wellman April 24, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Well put my friend. It’s one thing to have a past as such but yet another to have one as sordid as mine before conversion. Fortunately, I can look back and see how much God did in my life and this gives Him the glory, and rightly so. I understand that 1/3rd of the Bible is written by murderers (e.g. Moses, David, Paul (as Saul) but I do agree that maybe God uses these “disasters to pastors” as a way to show that God’s mercy is plentiful and His grace aplenty so that no one could say they have too much baggage to which I would remind them that salvation is not like an airline where you carry on your baggage…it has to be “checked” when getting the ticket (for us one to Paradise). I try to be fully transparent about my life when witnessing to show that no sin is greater than our Savior and maybe God loves to call the “worst of sinners” to show His unbounding, unlimited grace.


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