I've just spent a few great days at my sister's place in Bundanoon. While there we reminisced about an assistant pastor that her church had about ten years ago.
I remember Gary (not his real name) as a bit of a strange guy. My over-riding memory of him was when he led an evening church service and preached.
And when I say "preached", I mean that he spent time speaking to the congregation about God, supposedly.
His sermon appeared to be incredibly ill-prepared. In fact, he had no notes at all. Nothing wrong with that, after all I heard Reg Piper the other night preach a wonderful exposition of Ephesians 6.18-20 without notes. The problem was that, well, Gary had decided to let the Holy Spirit take him - shorthand for "I couldn't be bothered to prepare a real sermon and so therefore I've decided to justify it by appearing to be spiritual".
I remember Gary getting the pulpit and lifting it up ever so often during his delivery, with the result that he was slowly travelling down the aisle. At one point he spoke of going to a Charismatic conference where people were being converted as they heard a preacher get up and say "Hallelujah" over and over and over - and the entire sermon being merely repetition of that one word. He also noted that the current Archbishop of Sydney at the time, had he gone to the conference, would have come back with his hair green and red and all different colours as a result of the shock he would have after listening to such stuff.
So what did I conclude about the guy? First of all his theology was completely and utterly screwy. He had no basic understanding of biblical theology and his sermon was completely devoid of the gospel. Secondly I concluded that the guy had no real ability to teach or preach properly.
During the week just passed that I spent with my sister, I also heard that Gary, while he was at the church (he is long gone now, thankfully), had an "inappropriate" relationship with a 14 year old girl. Although there was no sexual element to the relationship, members of the congregation were compelled to confront Gary about his deep relationship with this girl - a process that may have saved him from being entangled with the girl sexually at a later date. My sister told me that he responded very angrily to these members of the congregation and could not understand what the problem was.
So, in addition to the fact that he could not preach and had little understanding of sound doctrine, his own Christian character was suspect.
According to the Apostle Paul, a church pastor should possess 3 basic qualities:
1. Good Christian Character
2. Sound Doctrine
3. An Ability to Teach
(These qualities are explained in detail in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1)
Now if we believe that God has given us sufficient information in scripture about what to look for in selecting church pastors, then we add or subtract to these qualities to our detriment.
Here's some salient examples:
1. I saw with my own eyes a young man who had both sound doctrine and the ability to teach, but who lacked Good Christian character (he was divisive, not sober-minded and arrogant) be sent to Moore College. While leading a college mission he managed to alienate people within the church that the mission was being held at with his attitude, including an attempt to circumvent the law in order to get more people to an evangelistic event (he tried to get more people into a hall that had a legal limit to how many people could be present). He is now an ordained Anglican minister.
2. I heard a report of a man who ministered in our presbytery who had no ability to teach, either in an up-front capacity or in small groups. After a few years, the church that he pastored could no longer afford to pay him, since the congregation shrank considerably during his ministry there.
3. At Bible college I met a lecturer who was a very difficult person. His personality was grating and he was often "off-putting". Despite this, he had the ability to teach, he had sound doctrine, and, importantly, he had a good christian character that was quite visible. Even though he could not be classed as a "people person", he is now successfully pastoring a church in Victoria.
4. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was friends with a Christian guy from my Sydney church who had sound doctrine and an ability to teach. Nevertheless, he would often go on trips with his girlfriend, alone. I never talked to him about it, but he did let me know that he was targeted by our assistant pastor as a potential ministry candidate. Despite these urgings from the pastor, my Christian friend eventually refused to go into full time ministry. I'm not saying here that my friend was necessarily immoral, but there was a possibility that he had been, and if he had been then he made the right choice in not entering full time ministry. (BTW He's married to his girlfriend now)
It is tempting that we should select a pastor or approve a person's pastoral readiness based upon characteristics outside of those three that I have mentioned, or ignoring one or more of those three characteristics. Here's some justifications:
1. Organisation: He's well organised (pro) / He can't organise himself properly (contra)
2. People skills: He's really good with people (pro) / He is difficult to get on with (contra)
3. "Entreprenurial": He's a self starter (pro) / He finds it hard to start new projects (contra)
4. Vision: He has a great plan for where the church can go (pro) / He doesn't have a plan for the church's direction (contra)
Remember that these issues are not dealt with by Paul. he gives us three basic characteristics and that's it. If the guy is a great organiser, then so much the better. But if he's not organised, it is not something that disqualifies him from ministry.
Churches can be badly damaged by pastors who are ungodly, or who have bad doctrine, or who cannot teach, or who have any combination of these. The fact that they may be good organisers or have great people skills or who are self-starters means nothing.
Paul, and therefore God, makes it plain and simple for us. A pastor should be godly, should have sound doctrine, and should have the ability to teach. If we add to or subtract from these biblically mandated characteristics, then the result will be a damaged church.
From the Theosalient Department
© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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