2006-04-21

Avoiding the mandate - the result

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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7 comments:

Rev Sam said...

Just got this through as an e-mail from you - but haven't you written on those three marks before? The one thing that worries me about an exclusive element on those three is in fact the first, in particular where 1 Timothy talks about being 'above reproach'. It seems to me that part of the calling of Christian leadership is sometimes (necessarily) to invite reproach, in order to challenge assumptions. I suspect that if a pastor is never reproached by a congregation then there me be some salt lacking. On top of which there is the basic truth that we are none of us worthy, no not one - and who can stand as 'above reproach'? If we are led by grace then we can trust that God achieves his purposes through frail and broken vessels. So I think the penitent and contrite heart is of more value in Christian leadership than someone who might just be a whitened sepulchre. (We're not supposed to separate the wheat from the tares are we?)

What do you make of Article 26 of the 39 articles? Do you think it's wrong?

One Salient Oversight said...

Sam,

I wrote something very short about this a few months ago. This is a bit more detailed.

"Above Reproach" in 1 Timothy 3.2 is essentially explained by Paul's comments in 3.2-7. In other words, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable etc etc.

I don't think it has to do with the congregation being upset when they hear the truth.

On top of which there is the basic truth that we are none of us worthy, no not one - and who can stand as 'above reproach'?

Again this depends upon the fuller explanation of what Paul speaks about in 1 Timothy 3.2-7.

I don't think Paul is here saying that pastors have to be sinless. What he is saying, however, is that Pastors do need to meet some level of morality, rather than being perfect.

For example, when Paul speaks of the pastor as being "not a drunkard", he is not saying that a person can't be a pastor if they have gotten drunk once. But it is saying that a person who calls himself a brother in Christ who regularly pops down to the Kebab and Calculator to get blind drunk can't exactly be seen as a potential elder.

Article 26 is mainly about the efficacy of God to work through pastors who are quite off track (as opposed to the ordinary ones whose sin is not so bad). The idea is that the efficacy of the word and sacraments is not dependent upon the person delivering them, but upon God's good grace. Article 26 finishes with the great line Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed. This indicates that article 26 was directed towards gross sinners and not just ordinary sinners.

BTW - my blog article was written with the presumption of Sola Srciptura in mind.

Rev Sam said...

OK that makes more sense. I would agree that there are moral breaches that would prevent continuing ministry; I think unaddressed and flagrant alcoholism would be one. I was uncomfortable with the idea of pastors being raised up to a falsely elevated standard.

I do like the emphasis on the teaching ministry. It's not something which I've specifically been trained in but I'm finding it to be more and more the core of what I believe my ministry to be.

Ali said...

Good post. I like your summary of 1 Tim 3 and Tit 1 into those three points, and I agree that today Pastors are very often - okay, most of the time - wrongly required to possess culturally determined characteristics of what a "leader" should be. Is it possible, however, that there are biblical requirements outside of those three that should be looked for?

I'm thinking of Acts 6 where the Seven were chosen. Most consider them deacons, and in verse 3 the required qualifications were being "full of the Spirit and wisdom".

Now, if deacons had those requirements, how much more pastors/elders?

While you could try to squeeze those in with "Good Christian Character" (as evidence of the Spirit) and "sound doctrine" (for wisdom), I'm sure we could both name non-Christians who meet the character requirements: blameless, husband of one wife, faithful, non-rebellious children, not overbearing, not quick-tempered etc. and I'm sure we could both name people with sound doctrine who are not particularly wise (or loving for that matter).

So are these two more requirements that should be present?

One Salient Oversight said...

Ali,

Is it possible, however, that there are biblical requirements outside of those three that should be looked for?

I think maybe in certain specific situations it would be obvious. For example, if I was to go and pastor a church full of Turkish immigrants who all spoke Turkish I would fail to pastor them properly because I don't know their language.

I suppose what I'm talking about here is general requirements - the absolute minimum required for anyone to be a pastor. I don't think it is in the interests of the church to place unbiblical constraints for what God has already given to us clearly in the Bible.

Regarding the Deacons:

I think being full of the Spirit and wisdom is essentially the same as Christian character and good doctrine. 1 Timothy 3.8-13 gives some more qualifications for Deacons and I don't think these are "in addition to" what is described in Acts.

The major difference between Deacons (diakonos) and Elders / Overseers (presbuteros and episkopos) is:

1. Deacons have a more "practical" function of helping people within the church.
2. Elders have the responsibility to "rule" over a church.
3. Some Elders also have teaching responsibility.

I'm betraying my Presbyterianism at this point. I'm an Elder in my church and our church is "ruled" by a group of Elders (called a "session"), of which our pastor is also a member. Some of our Elders (including myself and obviously our pastor) also have a teaching responsibility, though the other elders do not have a teaching responsibility (they don't see it as a gift that they can exercise).

Like Calvin, however, I'm not going to say that the Presbyterian model is "the best". I think there is enough leeway given in scripture for different models although I would contend that the extreme Episocopal model practiced by many Anglicans and the extreme Congregational model practiced by many Baptists do not fit in with what the Bible says.

I'm happy if:

1. The pastor is of good character, has good doctrine and can teach.
2. That other leaders in the church (deacons and elders, whatever you want to call them) have at least good doctrine and are of good character.

In the latter case I'm talking about members of the session (in Pressie churches) or the church committee (Anglican), youth leaders and childrens leaders, bible study group leaders, service leaders, musicians - basically anyone who is involved in leading stuff in church.

Ali said...

G'day Neil.

At the risk of splitting unnecessary hairs, you will know from my previous comments that I am not convinced that being "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" can be easily understood as "christian character" and "sound doctrine" (respectively). For a start, being full of the Spirit seems to include many of the things listed in 1 Tim 3 and 1 Tit 1, but it can be more and it can be less. More, such as the singing of songs in Eph 5 and fruit like love and joy in Gal 5 that are not metioned in 1 Tim and Titus, and less, such as in the case of King David who would be disqualified from being even a deacon on the basis of his many wives and rebellious children, even though he had the Spirit by virtue of being King and a prophet.

I also think that having sound doctrine is no guarantee of wisdom. I wish it were. I am very aware of a situation right now where someone with sound doctrine is applying it very unwisely! I think, though, that wisdom could be seen in the requirements of looking after their families well - wisdom, as I understand it, involves the application of what you know in people's lives.

But really, where does that leave us? I'm tired at looking at modern requirements to enter training for the ministry and finding I'm disqualified because I haven't worked with youth in any long-term capacity (it is not my interest) or because I haven't got a leadership style that lines up with today's mega-church pastors. So I totally sympathise with your contention that qualifications for eldership/pastoring should be limited to and not less than biblical qualifications. As for being full of the Spirit, we'll let that one slide for now, because in practice I would agree that character is a good indication (though not the total sum) of being full of the Spirit.

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