When we look at biblical requirements for church leaders, a key requirement is to be sober (Titus 1:7-9; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Peter 5:1, 8). To be sober is to be of a sound mind and to be well-balanced. How does this characteristic factor into the requirements of ministry?
Sobriety sees the big picture (1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8). All Christians, and especially church leaders, are called to be watchful and sober—aware of what is happening in the world around them. The lost world (and lukewarm Christians) do not consider the future consequences of their decisions, but the Christian is called to be sober and prepared for difficult times and seasons. Sober-mindedness helps us gauge the impact of our actions and judge what steps to take to increase rather than inhibit the light of the gospel.
Sobriety accurately assesses each situation (Romans 12:3). Sober judgment is needed to assess situations that arise in ministry. In the context of Romans 12:3, sober means to assess strengths and weaknesses in light of spiritual gifts. In the ministry, we are to gauge whether something is as bad as we think it is. Elijah erred in this responsibility by assuming he was the only one following God (1 Kings 19:10, 14). “People are saying…” is a phrase no pastor likes, but he must consider situation soberly: Who is saying? Who is listening? Why are they saying it? Is the criticism warranted? The only unhappy individual may be the one reporting to us. Our sober-minded role is to make an accurate assessment of the situation and continue ministering (2 Timothy 4:5).
Sobriety must influence the way we do ministry. Remember the Lord’s admonishment to Samuel about grieving over Saul (1 Samuel 16:1)? Sober-mindedness impacts how we do ministry. Essentially, the Lord told Samuel, “Stop mourning over Saul and focus on your ministry.” In obedience, Samuel moved forward and anointed David king. Being sober dictates how we think about or relate to someone who has left our church or rejected our efforts to evangelize them (Matthew 10:14). It is a way of making sure we are good stewards of limited ministry time.
Sober-mindedness must be shared. For the church to succeed, leaders must be sober (Titus 2:2, 6), otherwise they will fail to gain the respect of those they are trying to disciple. They must consider the person they are working with and note their stage in life, giving them exactly what they need for that particular period. The goal is to be sober and to train others to be sober (Titus 2:12). Only by doing so can the next generation be discipled effectively.
About the Columnist: Dr. Edward E. Moody, Jr., Ph.D. is executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.