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ReadabilityFallen Pastor Book: Who Is It For?When I started work­ing with my edi­tor, Jonathan Brink at Civ­i­tas Press, on the idea of writ­ing “Fallen Pas­tor: Find­ing Restora­tion in a Bro­ken World,” I had a lot of things I thought I wanted to write about. Thank­fully, I had...

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Is Anyone Qualified To Pastor? The Forest of 1 Timothy 3:1-7

Posted by Ray Carroll | Posted in Christianity, church, churches, expectations, fallenness, holiness, judgment, leadership, ministry, pastoring, pastors, restoration, theology | Posted on 22-03-2013

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Is Anyone Qualified To Pastor? The Forest of 1 Timothy 3:1-7

I’ve writ­ten about whether fallen pas­tors should be allowed to return to the pul­pit. Some fallen pas­tors rec­on­cile with pulpit2their wives, some are unable to. I’ve seen men go through a process of repen­tance and return to a lifestyle of holi­ness and return to ministry.

Each time I blog about it, I men­tion the verses in 1 Tim­o­thy 3:1 – 7, Paul’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion for an over­seer in the church. Among the qual­i­fi­ca­tions, an over­seer must be “above reproach, hus­band of one wife, sober-​minded, self-​controlled, respectable, hos­pitable, able to teach, not a drunk­ard, not vio­lent, not quar­rel­some, man­age his house­hold well, keep his chil­dren sub­mis­sive, not be a recent con­vert, and be thought of well by out­siders.”

Tough list. But I think when we approach this pas­sage, we’re miss­ing the for­est for the trees. It gets bro­ken down into each indi­vid­ual char­ac­ter­is­tic. And that’s impor­tant. But we for­get that basi­cally, this is a let­ter from Paul to Tim­o­thy. And what is Paul doing? Answer­ing a ques­tion on how the church should be orga­nized and how lead­ers should be selected. More on that later.

I hear one com­ment a lot, “Well, by that list, no one could ever be a church leader. None of us is per­fect.” The logic often fol­lows that since no one could keep any of those things, the list isn’t a hard and fast list of rules. They aren’t sug­ges­tions, but a lifestyle to be main­tained over the course of one’s ministry.

I sup­pose that there are two extremes to this. The first extreme is that no one should pas­tor. No one is per­fect. A lot of pas­tors attempt to keep a per­fect image, but we are all sin­ners. The other extreme is that any­one can pas­tor, regard­less of sin, ongo­ing or repentant.

One of my guilty lit­tle plea­sures is to visit my blog stats every day and find out how peo­ple found my site. It’s inter­est­ing to look at some of the search terms. Recently I saw some­one searched, “My pas­tor is tex­ting my wife late at night.” Another, “Can a con­victed felon be a pas­tor?” Those are some intrigu­ing situations.

One of the sta­tis­tics I quote in my book is that in a sur­vey of con­ser­v­a­tive min­is­ters. 30% of them said they had either mancomputbeen in an ongo­ing affair or a one-​time sex­ual encounter with a parish­ioner. And it hadn’t been reported or caught. Add on top of that what seems to be a ram­pant amount of pornog­ra­phy use by min­is­ters and there is a seri­ous prob­lem lurk­ing in the hearts of min­is­ters today.

If the list is a hard and fast pat­tern of rules that once bro­ken, dis­qual­ify peo­ple for min­istry, then a lot of peo­ple are dis­qual­i­fied. Right now. Any­one who has lost con­trol, not been hos­pitable or become vio­lent is out. They can be mixed in with the adul­ter­ous, those who can’t keep their chil­dren in con­trol and those who are deemed in the cat­e­gory, “hus­band of one wife.” (And that depends on who you ask. Those can be divorced men before or after becom­ing Chris­tians, the sin­gle, etc.)

If a pas­tor has a seri­ous, uncon­fessed sin and is min­is­ter­ing and a church holds fast to the strict inter­pre­ta­tion of 1 Tim­o­thy 3:1 – 7, then I would argue that a tremen­dous amount of our pul­pits should be vacant next week. Heck, take a look at the man’s kids. If they aren’t sub­mis­sive to him, then he should be tak­ing a sab­bat­i­cal or be dis­missed immediately.

Panic yet?

I don’t think those verses are an ultra-​strict man­date for min­is­ters. If that’s the case, min­istry lead­ers across the coun­try are in seri­ous trou­ble. For all of the min­is­ters whose sin is dis­cov­ered, I’d be dar­ing enough to say that the hid­den sin is twofold.

So why this list? Is it merely a sug­ges­tion? I don’t think that’s appro­pri­ate either. Surely we don’t want ram­pant sin from our church lead­ers. We should hold our lead­ers to a higher moral stan­dard. We should expect them to be hos­pitable, to not com­mit adul­tery, to not be vio­lent. Right?

treesI think we get into trou­ble when we take these verses and make them into some­thing they were never meant to be. When we empha­size parts of them with great vigor but lessen the over­all pic­ture. The church is great­est served when we imag­ine our­selves sit­ting across from Paul as he addresses Tim­o­thy and Paul answers the ques­tion, “So, what kind of church leader should we be look­ing for?” That way, we can see the for­est for the trees.

Can you imag­ine it for a moment? “Hey, Paul, what kind of lead­ers should we be get­ting?” “Well, Tim­o­thy, for sure, you need over­seers who are hus­bands of one wife.” “Wait, Paul. Do you mean by that they can’t be pre­vi­ously divorced or sin­gle?” “Tim­o­thy, lis­ten. What did I say? I’m try­ing to give you some sim­ple rules for lead­er­ship. Look around you. You have some peo­ple in churches who are going to the pagan tem­ple and engag­ing in pros­ti­tu­tion. So, I think being the hus­band of one wife is pretty simple.”

In our time, maybe we don’t allow enough human­ity from our lead­ers. We place them on a higher pedestal than they should be. We don’t see them as com­pletely human. When they err, we are shocked. I’m not talk­ing about major sins, I’m speak­ing of just daily inter­ac­tion. Do we place them under too much pres­sure? The Barna Group sug­gests that pas­tors are expected to jug­gle 16 major tasks at once.

And with this list, I think there’s a rea­son min­is­ters should be men­tored and trained. There’s a rea­son all of us are liv­ing the con­tin­ued process of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. All of us are grow­ing in holi­ness. Any pas­tor worth his salt will admit that he made mis­takes early on that he wouldn’t make today due to pride or igno­rance. But that’s part of the grow­ing process.

Sin is not to be taken lightly. The men who aspire to it should know that much is expected. But an over-​eager appli­ca­tion of 1 Tim­o­thy 3 isn’t going to help any­one. It will increase judg­ment and self-​righteousness among the believ­ers. What we should be doing is liv­ing in grace and an expec­ta­tion of holi­ness, men­tor­ing and dis­ci­pling one another. Know­ing that all of our work will be going to serve Christ and glo­rify what He is doing in the world.

I’ve written about whether fallen pastors should be allowed to return to the pulpit. Some fallen pastors reconcile with pulpit2their wives, some are unable to. I’ve seen men go through a process of repentance and return to a lifestyle of holiness and return to ministry.

Each time I blog about it, I mention the verses in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul’s qualification for an overseer in the church. Among the qualifications, an overseer must be “above reproach, husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent, not quarrelsome, manage his household well, keep his children submissive, not be a recent convert, and be thought of well by outsiders.”

Tough list. But I think when we approach this passage, we’re missing the forest for the trees. It gets broken down into each individual characteristic. And that’s important. But we forget that basically, this is a letter from Paul to Timothy. And what is Paul doing? Answering a question on how the church should be organized and how leaders should be selected. More on that later.

I hear one comment a lot, “Well, by that list, no one could ever be a church leader. None of us is perfect.” The logic often follows that since no one could keep any of those things, the list isn’t a hard and fast list of rules. They aren’t suggestions, but a lifestyle to be maintained over the course of one’s ministry.

I suppose that there are two extremes to this. The first extreme is that no one should pastor. No one is perfect. A lot of pastors attempt to keep a perfect image, but we are all sinners. The other extreme is that anyone can pastor, regardless of sin, ongoing or repentant.

One of my guilty little pleasures is to visit my blog stats every day and find out how people found my site. It’s interesting to look at some of the search terms. Recently I saw someone searched, “My pastor is texting my wife late at night.” Another, “Can a convicted felon be a pastor?” Those are some intriguing situations.

One of the statistics I quote in my book is that in a survey of conservative ministers. 30% of them said they had either mancomputbeen in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner. And it hadn’t been reported or caught. Add on top of that what seems to be a rampant amount of pornography use by ministers and there is a serious problem lurking in the hearts of ministers today.

If the list is a hard and fast pattern of rules that once broken, disqualify people for ministry, then a lot of people are disqualified. Right now. Anyone who has lost control, not been hospitable or become violent is out. They can be mixed in with the adulterous, those who can’t keep their children in control and those who are deemed in the category, “husband of one wife.” (And that depends on who you ask. Those can be divorced men before or after becoming Christians, the single, etc.)

If a pastor has a serious, unconfessed sin and is ministering and a church holds fast to the strict interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, then I would argue that a tremendous amount of our pulpits should be vacant next week. Heck, take a look at the man’s kids. If they aren’t submissive to him, then he should be taking a sabbatical or be dismissed immediately.

Panic yet?

I don’t think those verses are an ultra-strict mandate for ministers. If that’s the case, ministry leaders across the country are in serious trouble. For all of the ministers whose sin is discovered, I’d be daring enough to say that the hidden sin is twofold.

So why this list? Is it merely a suggestion? I don’t think that’s appropriate either. Surely we don’t want rampant sin from our church leaders. We should hold our leaders to a higher moral standard. We should expect them to be hospitable, to not commit adultery, to not be violent. Right?

treesI think we get into trouble when we take these verses and make them into something they were never meant to be. When we emphasize parts of them with great vigor but lessen the overall picture. The church is greatest served when we imagine ourselves sitting across from Paul as he addresses Timothy and Paul answers the question, “So, what kind of church leader should we be looking for?” That way, we can see the forest for the trees.

Can you imagine it for a moment? “Hey, Paul, what kind of leaders should we be getting?” “Well, Timothy, for sure, you need overseers who are husbands of one wife.” “Wait, Paul. Do you mean by that they can’t be previously divorced or single?” “Timothy, listen. What did I say? I’m trying to give you some simple rules for leadership. Look around you. You have some people in churches who are going to the pagan temple and engaging in prostitution. So, I think being the husband of one wife is pretty simple.”

In our time, maybe we don’t allow enough humanity from our leaders. We place them on a higher pedestal than they should be. We don’t see them as completely human. When they err, we are shocked. I’m not talking about major sins, I’m speaking of just daily interaction. Do we place them under too much pressure? The Barna Group suggests that pastors are expected to juggle 16 major tasks at once.

And with this list, I think there’s a reason ministers should be mentored and trained. There’s a reason all of us are living the continued process of sanctification. All of us are growing in holiness. Any pastor worth his salt will admit that he made mistakes early on that he wouldn’t make today due to pride or ignorance. But that’s part of the growing process.

Sin is not to be taken lightly. The men who aspire to it should know that much is expected. But an over-eager application of 1 Timothy 3 isn’t going to help anyone. It will increase judgment and self-righteousness among the believers. What we should be doing is living in grace and an expectation of holiness, mentoring and discipling one another. Knowing that all of our work will be going to serve Christ and glorify what He is doing in the world.

Comments (5)

Ray, Thanks so much for this post. I pastor a small Southern Baptist Church in N,C, and I struggle each and every day. My son has fallen from grace (21 and in college) and my wife has her own problems. Keep up the ministry.

In Christ

Hang in there brother. It’s tough, I know. I’m here if you need me. And if I can’t help I probably know people who can.

Ray
I think this is a topic worthy of further and deeper discussion. How can we get this out there for more input and dialog?
I think we miss the key words sometime… apires and not a recent convert. Far too often men (and women) who feel “called” to the ministry are thrust into the work without having thier call confirmed, thier behavior patterns examined and thier expectations prepared. I wonder if the statistics would drop considerably if we followed the overarching biblical pattern that Paul seems to lay out here. We could help many prospective pastors do well if there “humaness” was better understood up front.
Thots?

I agree completely, Roy. I have a friend who has a ministry built upon training young ministers in the word. He’s doing separate from the seminary model, but is feeding them much biblical training. However, he is putting just as much mentoring into them as book learning. I think that’s what the seminary model leaves out.

With a recent convert, there tends to be a rush either by the man or the system to push them out into the ministry without preparation. There’s not even a “hey, buddy, let me tell you what you’re getting into.” Often, the young, called minister has a lot of hubris and brashness, and that will carry him a long way, but it won’t make up for the things mentoring can provide. And, book learning and a three year seminary MDiv is no substitute for mentoring either.

So yes, it needs to be out there, but many of the current models within the denominations – both within the churches and the seminaries aren’t willing to listen or provide for a different way. It’s business as usual. So at the end, what do we have? More statistical failure that could have been prevented.

Ray
Your friends program sounds great. I think many profs at the seminaries agree that the current model is not a good one for today’s pastors. But they are caught in the machine…
This is a conversation that I hope will take on larger and more visible space at the table among todays leaders in the church. We are practicing insanity…doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
I pray (I actually do!) that our voices will be heard…and soon.

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