One of the key passages in the New Testament that combines pastoral leadership with preaching is 1 Timothy 5:17 which states, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” When Paul mentions elders or pastors who “rule well” or “lead diligently,” what exactly does this mean in light of the shepherding metaphors used throughout the Bible? Can a pastor preach and teach and yet not lead well? Conversely, can he lead well without teaching and preaching? John Maxwell says, “You can be a good preacher and not a good leader but you cannot be a good leader without being a good preacher.”
In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul encourages the church to give double honor to those elders/pastors who lead well. The word “lead” serves as one of Paul’s favorite terms to denote pastoral leadership and contains two primary shades of meaning. First of all, the term connotes the idea of leading, presiding, or exercising oversight. Secondly, the word can also mean that leaders should have a genuine concern or care by providing aid or help. Etymologically, the word conveys the image of one “standing before or in front of” others. Pastors by virtue of their office and calling “stand before” the people as men of God endowed with God’s authority. They not only “stand before” the people literally in the pulpit week-to-week expositing God’s word, but they also “stand in front of” the people symbolically; in the sense that they serve as trailblazers leading the path in helping the church fulfill its mission.
Leading well involves not only a consistent and faithful pulpit ministry, but also visionary leadership that inspires, motivates, and encourages the congregation to embrace the Great Commission. Alexander Strauch explains this word: “The idea conveyed here is that these elders exercise effective pastoral leadership. Such elders are natural leaders, visionaries, planners, organizers, and motivators. They are the kind of men who can get things done and can effectively care for people.”
This word “lead” means more than the pastor just being an example. Pastors not only lead by example but also serve as scouts who go ahead of the church to help chart the course for the future. This imagery conveys the idea that a pastor humbly leads the charge to help the church understand, embrace, and fulfill God’s mission. Pastors lead by “curing souls” which means they seek to tenderly guide believers into maturity and obedience to Christ. Paul uses the modifier “well” to describe the nature of this leadership, which assumes there exist negative examples of poor leadership. The goal of pastoral leadership lies in shepherding effectively for the glory of God and the greatest good of his people.
Paul uses this specific word for “leading” in three other places in the New Testament: Romans 12:6-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, and 1 Timothy 3:4-5.
Romans 12:6-8: Paul provides a list of spiritual gifts and specifically mentions the ability to lead with passion. Romans 12:6–8 reads, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. . . . The one who leads, with zeal.” Here Paul combines the gift of leadership with passion and diligence. The word “zeal” connotes an earnest desire and passion to lead with faithfulness and intensity. In other words, pastoral leadership should not be perfunctory, listless, and uninspiring. Instead, pastors should lead with passionate enthusiasm along with a servant’s heart committed to the spiritual maturity of the church. Robert Mounce says,
Leaders are to carry out their responsibility with diligence. Although leadership in the contemporary world is often seen as the fruit of ambition, persistence, and good fortune, biblical leadership is essentially a service carried out for the benefit of others.
In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul denotes the importance for pastors to lead “well,” whereas here in Romans 12 he complements this idea by using the word “with zeal.” Combining these two elements today means that pastors lead their people effectively and do so with passion, godly ambition, and inspirational humility. Passionate and effective pastoral leadership is crucial for the church to fulfill its mission.
1 Thessalonians 5:12: Paul employs the same word for “leading” in 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 which reads, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” The term “who are over you” is the same word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 5:17 to describe leading. Paul exhorts the Thessalonian church to respect and submit to the pastors/elders who presided over and shepherded the congregation. Paul also mentions how these pastors led by admonishing or correcting doctrinal and moral error. Strikingly, almost every time Paul mentions the role of a pastor or elder, he invariably links effective leadership to a preaching and teaching ministry that aims to equip the saints for ministry or to confront doctrinal error. Commenting on this verse, G. K. Beale writes, “Elders are to be the doctrinal and ethical guardians of the church. . . . This position of authority is not to be performed in a dictatorial or sinful way, but the elders are over the rest of the believers in the Lord. Their authority can be exercised only in so far as the Lord has given them authority to act.” This word carries the idea of supervising and showing concern for the spiritual growth of people. Thus, leading well with humble passion, faithful diligence, and personal integrity draws the respect and esteem of the congregation and motivates them to follow a pastor’s leadership.
1 Timothy 3:4-5: In his credentials for the office of pastor, Paul uses the same Greek word to describe how a pastor’s effectiveness in leading his home should translate into leading the church. 1 Timothy 3:4-5 reads, “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?” Here Paul uses two Greek words to describe leadership: “managing” which is the same word used in the passages above. Paul’s second term “caring” denotes the idea that a pastor gives careful attention to the needs of the flock by showing genuine concern. Why does Paul use the word “manage” or “lead” in reference to the pastor’s household, but then changes to another word “care for” when discussing how a pastor shepherds the church? Thomas Lea claims, “The term demands an effective exercise of authority bolstered by a character of integrity and sensitive compassion.”
When Paul combines these two words, he fleshes out the scope of a pastor’s leadership. A pastor exercises godly oversight by leading effectively and passionately, but also shows genuine concern and care for the church with the tenderness and protection of a fatherly shepherd. Thomas Schreiner comments, “There is to be a compassion, a tenderness, a deep love that informs the leading of the church. . . . Just as a father may have to make tough and unpopular decisions, so overseers need to lead and guide the church even if the course taken is not always popular. Of course, such leadership must be grounded in the Scriptures, not the selfish will of the pastor”.
In summary, Paul’s usage of the word “leading” clearly conveys the overall idea that a pastor stands before people in order to lead, guide, and care for them with godly zeal and humble passion. May God grant us as pastors the grace and gospel-sufficiency to lead our flocks well!
Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1995), 208.
Robert H. Mounce, Romans, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 235.
 G. K. Beal, 1-2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 160.
The only other use of this rare New Testament word appears in Luke 10:34-35 when the Good Samaritan brought the beaten man to the inn to “take care of him.” This significant parallel shows how pastors demonstrate concrete compassion for those in need.
Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr., 1, 2 Timothy and Titus, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1992), 112.
Thomas R. Schreiner, “Overseeing and Serving the Church in the Pastoral and General Epistles,” in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014), 102.
Sean Cole has served as the Lead Pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Sterling, CO, for the past eleven years. He has a Doctor of Ministry in Expository Preaching from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Masters of Divinity from the Rocky Mountain Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Old and New Testament, Systematic Theology, Church History, and Biblical Interpretation at Colorado Christian University. He served two terms as the President of the Colorado Baptist General Convention. He hosts a podcast called “Understanding Christianity.” He has been married to his wife Dawn for the past 22 years and has two boys, Aidan and Zachary.