Today we hear much talk in the public sphere about the need to assess and nurture mental health. We hear this talking point in relation to the business professional and the athlete. In situations where there is increased pressure to perform at a high level, there can likewise be a tendency for depression as goals are unreached. When a person senses that they are underperforming—it can lead them to a place of mental anxiety and personal depression.
When it comes to pastoral ministry, it’s one of the most challenging jobs from a mental perspective. It requires skill at various levels of both administration, interpretation of Scripture, proclamation of Scripture, leadership, counseling, and hospitality. The time and effort of a pastor’s week is split between personal interaction with people and the study of Scripture and preparation for the pulpit. Needless to say, a pastor needs far more than a good diploma and a resume. He needs to be called and equipped by God for the task.
The Apostle Paul provides for us a list of qualifications for the office of elder in his first letter to Timothy. While this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, it’s a great overview of the character and ability of the pastors who are called to lead the church. While there is great emphasis placed on many of the different qualifications, perhaps more attention should be given to what Paul communicates when he states that an elder should be sober-minded.
The word choice by Paul is intentional. It’s the Greek term, “νηφάλιος” which on the surface seems to suggest sobriety of mind as it pertains to the use of alcohol. However, later in the list of qualifications Paul emphasizes the fact that an elder should avoid drunkenness by not lingering long near the wine. Therefore, it’s obvious that the intentional usage of this term is focused on the mind of the minister and the necessity of clear-headed oversight. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament translates the word as, “the opposite of every kind of fuzziness.”  Calvin observes, “I prefer ‘temperate’ to ‘sober,’ as temperance has a wider meaning than not becoming drunk.” 
The word can mean watchful, and is translated temperate (NASB), vigilant (KJV), sober-minded (ESV). Again, the focus of clear-headed ministry can be seen in all of these translation choices, however, we must not miss the point that the mind of an elder is to be so anchored in God that he refuses to be swayed by every wind of doctrine, pleasantry, or difficulty of life. In other words, the mind of the pastor should be stable in all seasons including the pleasurable seasons and painful seasons of ministry. If the pastor is unable to clearly see and lead the church onward due to the fact that he is constantly distracted by his happiness or his problems he should not hold the office of elder. It is possible to be “drunk” or so distracted by the issues of life that you are unable to lead others well.
The pastor could be tempted to be distracted by the good seasons of life that he drops his guard and refuses to lead the church appropriately. On the flip side of the equation, the pastor could be under such severe attack from carnal church members that after spending himself out in prayer, study, leadership, organization, counseling, and preaching that he becomes depressed and unable to properly lead the church. Both scenarios are problematic and can disqualify a man from serving in the office of elder.
The sheep are drawn to the shepherd for food and protection, and the church must be drawn to the elders who lead them for the same reasons spiritually. While all pastors have different personalities and giftedness, they must be faithful men who possess the personal qualities that are attractive to the members rather than pushing them away by an inability to properly communicate, counsel, or lead based on distractions of life. You don’t want unstable surgeons, boat captains, and airline pilots—and you certainly can’t afford fuzzy-headed pastors.
While we have laws that prohibit people from drinking and driving because it can lead to deadly consequences on our nation’s highways, in like manner God has given us a list of qualifications that serve as boundaries for those who are called to lead local churches. We must take those qualifications seriously because the men who serve in the office of elder will be an example to the flock and could potentially harm the entire church if they lead in a manner that is contradictory to God’s biblical standard.
John MacArthur comments on this word by writing:
Temperate men are desperately needed in today’s church. They will be to her what the sons of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32 were to Israel, “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do.” 
May the pastors who serve local churches consistently examine themselves to ensure they are holding steady to the calling of a pastor—remaining steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [their] labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
- Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 634.
- John Calvin, 1, 2 Timothy and Titus, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 55.
- John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 106.