What it Mean for Elders, Overseers and Pastors to Live a Life Above Reproach

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

The Bible tells us that pastors, overseers and elders should live a life above reproach, so what does that mean exactly?


The Bible tells us that pastors, elders, deacons or overseers are to live a life above reproach, so what does that mean exactly? To begin with, living a life above reproach is not the only thing that an ordained pastor must be like. The Apostle Paul instructed Titus to “appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:5-6). Elders can only have authority in the church if they are faithful, being the husband of one wife. And his children must be believers or as the Greek states, “faithful,” and not be accused of debauchery or insubordination (meaning, rejecting authorities, parents, church, society). The overseer must also necessarily be a man; being the husband of one wife, “his children,” etc. Clearly, no woman is qualified to be a pastor, according to Scripture (also see 1 Tim 3). This does not mean men are superior, for remember, Jesus Christ submitted to the Father and He is co-equal to the Father as God Himself, so submission to authority is required, regardless of who it is. All believers are in fact under the authorities that God has appointed in this world (Rom 13). The only exception would be when we’re force to break God’s law (Acts 5:29). That’s when we go with God’s law over man’s law, for He is the Supreme Authority.

Above Reproach

Paul instructs Titus to select and ordain men who are “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” (Titus 1:7-8). Again, we see the masculine-specific or gender-specific mention of “he,” meaning they must be male, but the man must also be slow to anger, not a drunkard, violent, or greedy, but rather, be hospitable, loving good, and be self-controlled. To live a life above reproach means to abstain from these fleshly characteristics, because any of these in the life of the pastor brings shame and reproach on God and reflects badly on His church. Scripture teaches that our behavior can blaspheme the good name of God (2 Sam 12:14; Rom 2:24; James 2:7).

Grounded in the Word

Any pastor that does not preach the Word of God is no pastor at all, but rather an imposter. Paul instructs Timothy of the importance of knowing the Word, saying that the pastor or elder “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” (Titus 1:9). If the overseer is not faithful in using the Word as instruction and rebuke those who are not teaching “sound doctrine” (i.e. Eph 2:8-9), then he is not qualified to be a pastor or to be an elder or deacon.

Paul to Timothy

When Paul gives Timothy instructions for selecting elders or pastors, it’s very much the same thing. Again, it’s in the same masculine (he, him) as to eliminate any woman, so the man must be “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). To be above reproach means to live with self-control, showing respect to others, again, being hospitable, and able to teach. If these are missing, it’s time to pray and go back to your search for the one who God has called. The elder or pastoral candidate must not be “a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Tim 3:3); otherwise, he definitely not qualified. And once more, Paul brings up the importance of his family being in submission, as he writes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim 3:4).


The word “elder” actually means “older,” so it’s generally understood that an elder and even a deacon has been a man that’s been faithfully serving long before their ordination. This is why Paul said the man cannot be a “recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim 3:6). It takes a certain amount of experience and maturity to not let authority go to your head. New believers need time to get grounded in the faith, in sound biblical doctrine, and know how to teach others the same. Sometimes it doesn’t take long, but most of the time, the elder is not chosen until they are at least thirty years of age, but there is no hard and fast rule for this. I’ve seen some great deacons in their mid-twenties. Age is not so much a factor as is maturity, specifically, spiritual maturity.


When the man that is being considered for the pastorate, one must see what his impact he’s had in the community. What sort of reputation does this man have? Paul says that “he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3:7). “Outsiders” means those outside of the church, so they too “must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim 3:9-10). Having a clear conscience means there is no unconfessed sin or any major ongoing sin like sexual immorality. Sexual immorality will instantly end (at least it should!) any chance for a pastor, elder or deacon to hold office. It’s not like baseball where you’re allowed three strikes. If this pastor is allowed to teach and preach, how can he, in good conscience, ever preach to anyone about sexual purity before God when he himself was unfaithful?


Final note about the deacons: “Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 3:12-13). Once more it must be a male (he, him), and he must be faithful; for if he is not, he is not living above reproach, but rather he stands in danger of blaspheming the good name of Jesus Christ and His church. If your church is selecting a new pastor, elder or deacon, I pray this will help you to see what it means for someone to be above reproach and if they are in fact living a life above reproach, for the responsibility you have is immense. And God will hold us all accountable for what and who we allow into His church. Jesus desires to present a spotless Bride before God, and not one involved with the world, especially someone living in sexual immorality. If that’s the case, it’s time for that man to go…for the good of the church and the purity of the Bride.

Here is some related reading for you: What Are Five Important Qualifications of a Pastor That a Search Committee Should Look For

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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