Exemplary Character Non-Negotiable :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Exemplary Character Non-Negotiable

Jon Crocker
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God requires personal godliness in ministry leaders. He commands all His people to pursue sanctification and to grow in Christlike character and obedience, but those who lead must be examples of that transformation. A person who does not meet the character qualifications that God has revealed cannot be a missionary. Exemplary character is non-negotiable.


Throughout the New Testament, God makes clear His expectation that spiritual leaders be examples to believers. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul describes what happened in their city when he and others preached the Gospel there: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.”1

Later, Paul commands the church at Corinth: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He tells the Philippians to follow his example and to “observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). The author of Hebrews reminds his readers of those who had led them and then exhorts the readers to “imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

God also commands the leaders to be the kind of example that believers should follow. “Show yourself” as a pattern, Paul tells Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7). Peter exhorts elders to shepherd God’s flock, “proving to be examples” (1 Peter 5:1–4).

God’s repeated emphasis should deeply affect us. He does not intend to set up a dichotomy where missionaries are “super saints” on a higher spiritual plane while everyone else is just a regular Christian. That dichotomy should be rejected. God does intend to remind us that ministry is not simply the proclamation of truth. Ministers are to be models of the transformation that the Spirit produces through the truth. This transformation doesn’t require perfection. It requires that we take our spiritual weaknesses and shortcomings to Christ. We tell others and show others what Christ can do for a sinner who comes to Him. Every missionary ought to be able to say, follow my example. Those words lead to another important application. Unfortunately, it is possible to preach and teach while maintaining a distance. But if I am going to say to people, “follow my example,” they will need to be close enough to me to observe me. What a high and urgent calling!


Your character is the combination of your inner qualities and the outward conduct that flows from those inner qualities. It is both who you are and what you do.

We must seek God’s help to keep both internal and external in view, because it is possible to emphasize one and exclude the other. Some have become fixated on certain issues in a merely external fashion to the exclusion of heart transformation, love, purity, and humility. Others have fallen to the other extreme and have said things like: “God is not concerned with externals; He just wants your heart.” The Scripture makes clear that both internal and external matter and that they are inextricably linked.

What example does your character give? Think about your “speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Could you tell people to observe your life and follow your example? Your purity? Your thoughts? Your entertainment? Your use of time? Your love? Your words? Your reactions when people don’t measure up? Your gentleness?

Run to Christ for cleansing! He will transform you by the power of His Spirit!


Though there are many passages that give qualifications for spiritual leaders, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 contain the most extensive lists. Both passages use a word that first-year Greek students learn with the meaning “it is necessary.” It is necessary for an overseer to be these things. In those chapters, only one of the qualifications has to do with ability (“able to teach”). The remainder have to do with character. It is necessary that the leader have this exemplary character. It is not optional or merely desirable. It is non-negotiable.

Four Biblical Motivations

Why does God require this character of His ministers? First, consider the aim of our commission (Matthew 28:20). One goal of ministry is “teaching them to observe all” that Jesus gave them. Our ministry to others should lead them to obey Christ in all things. If we desire to help others in that way, we must be growing in obedience ourselves.

Remember the uniqueness of our identity (Matthew 5:13–16, Philippians 2:14–16). Believers are salt and light in a corrupt and dark world. Leaders must exemplify a unique identity by lives that stand in contrast with society.

Third, never forget the power of testimony. Peter holds out this gospel hope to wives with unbelieving husbands: “they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1). Our behavior can win people to Christ. Yet the inverse is also true: Our behavior could also drive people away from Christ. Christianity is not simply a set of doctrines to be compared with competing ideas. Christianity is a relationship with a living Savior Who saves and transforms our souls, attitudes, words, thoughts, conduct, and reactions. People need to see in Christian leaders the transforming power of the living Christ.

Finally, our hearts should burn with passion for the glory of Christ. Romans 8:29 makes clear that the conformity of believers to Christ’s image displays Him as the Preeminent One among many brethren. Let this testimony about missionary William Burns stir your heart:

… he left the impress of his character and piety wherever he went. Missionaries felt it, and blessed God for even a casual acquaintance with William Burns; converts felt it, and have been heard to say, that they got their idea of what the Saviour was on earth, from the holy calm, and warm love, and earnest zeal of Mr. Burns’ walk with God.2

This should be our passion: As people observe us, they see Jesus, and He is glorified.



1 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB® New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2 Michael McMullen, God’s Polished Arrow: William Chalmers Burns (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 132, emphasis mine.