It wasn’t a glowing success story… after twenty years of faithful service and 6 years into a church plant, his marriage was struggling (although no one knew it), he had leaders skimming the offering, bills he couldn’t pay, and a balloon payment on the mortgage that was due in twelve months. Most of his original team had left and most of their energy was now being devoted to survival rather than mission. One day when a devoted young lady was having some emotional issues, he counseled her. WHAT! I know, but his wife was right across the hallway and so he left the door open and chatted with her. No harm… but the next month, she returned. This time, a closed door and an empty office. At the end of the session she leaned in and kissed him. He didn’t stop her at first, it went on for a while… then he stopped her. He corrected her, confessed it to his wife and others as if that hid what was really happening down deep in his heart. Unfortunately, the pattern would repeat itself again. How could he let it get this way?
He had become depressed, no longer trusting God, no longer humble, he manipulated people, he led with shaming techniques, guilt trips, and power dynamics. Everyone knew there was something wrong; it just wasn’t obvious until it was too late. Faithful members became like sea rats on a sinking ship. The question wasn’t how they’d get off, it was just a matter of when? Six months later the church was no more.
This is how a pastor failed in my city.
I recently had the privilege to speak at a conference on “WHY A MAN SHOULD BE BIBLICALLY QUALIFIED TO PLANT A CHURCH.” But the truths I shared are not just for planters, elders or pastors. They are for the entire body of Christ. I hope you will see God’s plan in this and let it encourage you and motivate you to pray for pastors, while you grow in Christlikeness.
Paul tells Timothy and also addresses Titus similarly about what to look for in a Pastor. Here is what he says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV):
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
I’ve been dramatically impacted by, crushed by, and almost infected with the failings of unqualified men in the role of a pastor, and church planter. Many of you have. And I just wonder, why don’t we take the word of God more seriously?
I wonder if it is because we are not looking at these passages correctly. Not that we don’t know what they mean necessarily, but we don’t understand their context and purpose. We look at them the way we do the checklist to get our car tags. Got my insurance, property taxes, safety inspection. I am a pretty good Dad, no one has made an accusation against me in a while, I don’t get drunk, no sister wives. I must be a pastor! However, we should not only approach these passages in a pass or fail way.
You see, Paul is wrapping up his ministry in the world; he knows his time is limited. These are the young men that will continue his ministry, plant churches and decide who will be a pastor. Paul could’ve said anything to them. And he chose by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be very clear about what a qualified pastor looks like.
These are not preferences. No! these are divine benchmarks of which a prospective elder/church planter must be measured. And Jesus jealously allows only them to lead in the office of Elder.
The context of the letters is not one of an orderly church with no problems. Each context shows us a myriad of problems: people behaving badly, conflict, and correction! In the midst of messy churches, with sinful people, and all kinds of pressures and stressors, the Elders are called to lead.
It is both in the CONTEXT and the CONTENT of these biblical qualifications that when we read them they should create for us a sort of HOLY GROUND of reverence. Because it is Jesus that embodies these qualifications. Not everyone is called to be a pastor; it really has nothing to do with giftings. It is God’s calling upon him and Christ’s character in him that qualifies a pastor and calls him into service. But because Jesus embodies these passages they also serve the entire church as a God ordained tool to keep us growing in the gospel and dependence upon Christ.
You see, we reach maturity and stay there by being rooted and grounded in the gospel while in a gospel-saturated community. This is the big gap in raising up leaders today, and it is the reason why we see so many failures. Once pastors are deemed qualified, the view that they have obtained maturity sort of hinders all the ways they still need to grow and depend on Christ. Rich, deep, committed, gospel community won’t have it. While the plague of church-hopping, low commitment, and lazy Christianity chews through leaders at a dizzying pace, it is in this age where we ghost our community when it gets hard. Rather than pushing into the tension and growing, this may be one of the hardest times in church history to become actually sanctified in the gospel-truths while in gospel community.
If we want more of Jesus in Jesus’ church, we must grow in gospel-depth while in gospel community. Low commitment to the church, while occasionally hearing the gospel, is not necessarily the same thing as progressive sanctification in Christ!
When I read these passages, I can’t help but feel my own weaknesses. They shine the light of God’s glory on me to reveal in what areas do I need a mediator because of my many flaws. It is only in this place that we are ready to serve others, when we are no longer asking Am I qualified? but also In what ways would I be disqualified?
Romans 1:16 says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, but it is also the way we cultivate and grow leaders. Colossians 1:5b-6 says that “the gospel, is bearing fruit and increasing...among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth." And so it is also the way we stand in these qualifications as pastors and it is how ALL Christians are fruitful and maturing.
In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul is clear that we were slaves to sin until the appearing of the glory of God in Jesus Christ our Savior, who justified us by his grace through his life and death, and through his resurrection from the cross, he has saved us to eternal life and has also called us to live controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
It is the pursuit of these gospel truths and our constant dependence upon Christ’s works in us that cultivates purity, and humility and all of the other qualifications we find in 1 Timothy 4 and Titus 1. My hope is that we would see Jesus has qualified us in the gospel despite our weaknesses, for eternal life. I hope that we would grow in that belief until it progressively purges out the stuff holding them back from Christ-likeness. That we would learn to depend on Jesus, love like Jesus, serve like Jesus, grow to be like HIM and KNOW HIM.