Character, Then Competence

The apostle Paul challenged Timothy, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Notice the order of the language.

Paul did not say, “Entrust to able men who will one day be faithful.” He did not encourage Timothy to go find the best people, the most skilled orators or leaders, and then work with them to help them become more and more faithful in their walk with the Lord. He did not challenge Timothy to find the highly competent and then hope and pray that they would one day be faithful in their commitment to Christ, their families, and His mission.

Paul challenged Timothy to find people who are full of character, people who are faithful and walk with integrity, and then develop them. Develop them so “they will be able.” He was not minimizing competence or tabling skill. He was emphasizing the importance of starting with character and then developing competence and skill.

As we lead ministries, we must not substitute entrusting to “faithful men who will be able” with entrusting to “able men who could be faithful.” It is a woeful substitute that solves the temporary pain of a hole on the org chart but creates a long-term problem for the culture of the ministry and the people within it. If you put people who have not proven themselves faithful in roles, you are putting much more in jeopardy than the current mounting stack of work.

Reversing the order of this passage, seeking competence first without ensuring faithful character exists, is selling out your leadership. It is selling your leadership birthright—because you are starving—in order to end the pain, the temporary and passing burden of an empty office, an empty seat at the table, or an empty slot on the ministry org chart.

Again, character and competence are both important. And character does not mean a person is perfect or fully sanctified. It is said of David, who clearly had his struggles, “He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72). He led well because he was both a man after God’s own heart and he was a skilled leader.

Entrust to the faithful who will be able…

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