Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Well Thought of by Outsiders

What do you suppose is the most frequent criticism lodged against the local church and Christians?

  • The church is not doing enough to address problems (youth, homelessness, etc.)
  • The church and Christians are not open-minded; they’re backward and discriminatory.
  • The church and Christians—especially preachers—are out for your money.
  • If the church has the truth, why are there so many divisions and denominations?
  • The church is obsolete and unnecessary, and Christians are dangerous to society.
  • The church and Christians are boring, not exciting, killjoys, dead.
  • Christians are self-righteous and mean.
  • The church is full of hypocrites.

That last complaint, the church is full of hypocrites, probably covers a lot of the other problems and complaints. Many people in the world, in one way or another, consider Christian people and the Christian church as a whole… hypocritical.

And, let’s face it. Many of the critiques I just read out… are on the money—at least for some churches and professing Christians.

  • There are Christians who are self-righteous and mean.
  • There are Christian preachers and churches who care more about money than people.
  • There are Christians and churches that are not open-minded in the best sense of that phrase… who are stuck in some bygone era and unable or unwilling to take the truth and engage contemporary society.
  • And Christians are a quarrelsome lot. We divide sometimes over the most insignificant things.

It will not do for us to just ignore such criticisms. Yes, the people who raise them are likely hypocrites themselves. But that’s what we’d expect to find out in the world.

But is it what we should expect in the church? Have our critics done us a service by pointing these things out? Do we agree with them? If we agree, what are we to do?

The Apostle Paul comes to his final qualification for elders/pastors in 1 Timothy 3:7--"Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."

It turns out that what unbelievers think of us really does matter, especially for potential elders and leaders. A man who desires to be an elder must have a strong reputation with those outside the church. These outsiders, non-Christians, are witnesses certifying and corroborating the potential elders' testimony. It's not that folks are neutral about him; "he must be well thought of." The opinion must be positive. If a man is well-regarded inside church but poorly regarded by non-Christians, he is not a suitable candidate for the Christian ministry.

The reason Paul gives under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is similar to the reason given for why an elders hould not be a new convert but mature. A poor outside reputation makes a man vulnerable to falling into disgrace or a trap of the evil one. How many men in pastoral ministry with poor reputations have tarnished the witness of their local church, the Name of Christ, and the gospel? That's precisely what the enemy of the elect wishes to have happen--men falling on their own sword of poor reputation and bad living in the name of Christ.

Elders are to commend the gospel and everything that conforms to sound doctrine. Even the Christian's enemies should feel ashamed about their evil comments in the face of a life lived well for Christ (1 Pet. 3:16). These are the kind of men we are to pray for and look for when it comes to the office of elder.

Some Questions and Observations (Please feel free to add others)

1. What does the prospective elder's non-Christian neighbors and co-workers report about him? Are they witnesses to what they would consider Christian or un-Christian behavior in the prospective elder?

2. Is there evidence that the outsiders' opinions are accurate or inaccurate? It is improbable that Paul intends the local church to take the opinion of non-Christians without reflection and discernment. Paul himself would not be judged by any man when that judgment was unfounded and where faithfulness was demonstrable (1 Cor. 4:1-4). Likewise, the local church should neither dismiss the opinion of outsiders regarding her leaders or swallow "hook, line, and sinker" any charge brought aagainst a man.

3. Does the prospective elder engage in the affairs of the wider community? A prospective elder should be salt and light in the world. That will be reflected, in part, in the non-Christian relationships he maintains and the civic and community contributions he makes.


Conclusion
The call to serve Christ as an undershepherd is a high call. Not everyone may take the mantle of leadership in the church. Those called must be examples to the flock in every area of life (1 Tim. 4:12). Such men must be models of devout faith inside and outside the church, commending Christ and the gospel to all. And yet, apart from being able to teach, the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 are characteristics that every Christian should increasingly possess by God's grace and the work of His Spirit. May the Lord be pleased to grant us both the blessing of faithful, reliable men to lead our churches and the fruit of His Spirit.


Other posts in this series
Introduction: Finding Reliable Men
Above Reproach
One-Woman Man
Temperate, Self-Controlled, Respectable
Hospitable
Able to Teach
Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking
Not Lovers of Money
Leaders at Home
Mature and Humble

13 comments:

Brian G. Hedges said...

Excellent series of posts and very practical. Thank you!

Lionel Woods said...

Hey Pastor T, I have a question. Would this be dangerous in light of a postmodern world? For example I have seen many Godly man labeled mean-spririted because of the truth of the Gospel. I have saw Godly man like Paul Washer and others who stand for truth being unpopular because of the exclusivity they teach.

I am asking because being a popular Christian today is unheard of and once you share the exclusivity that is the fiber of the Gospel you are pretty much in trouble. Nobody wants to hear that Mormonisim is a false doctrine, or that those who we would refuse to fellowship with such as Jakes, Dollar, and Long are false teachers. We definitely don't do this in a mean spririt but it could definitely cause some concerns. As I read through Acts Paul and the others weren't to popular with outsiders and Peter warns about being persecuted for the name of Christ. Thanks.

PhilDog said...

Pastor.

This series has been of great use. I intend to circulate the articles to my fellow elders, as we have been discssing the need to train new leaders.

Many thanks

dp23 said...

Brother
This has been a tremendously useful series, and I thank you for it

FellowElder said...

Hi Lionel,
Thanks for the good question. I suppose it depends on what you mean by "popular." The cross is foolishness and a stumbling block. So, I don't think having a good outside reputation removes those offensive aspects of the gospel in a post-modern world. And yet, the Scripture also calls us to live in such a way that our opponents are forced to concede that our lives are unimpeachable. So, let the gospel message itself offend but let us in our treatment and behavior of others be gentle, patient, and kind. There will still be those who judge us unfairly/inaccurately, but they're the very ones who will be shamed by their opinions when fair-minded folks hear their slander.

hope that helps. Grace and peace,
Thabiti

FellowElder said...

Brian, phildog, dp23,

Thank you all for your kind encouragements. I praise the Lord Jesus for any helpfulness you've found in these ramblings. May the Lord encourage you 1,000 times the encouragement you're given me.

Thabiti

Lionel Woods said...

Thanks Pastor T. I have been extremely encouraged and am grateful for the insight and wisdom He has given you. God bless.

Annette said...

good post. Glad I stopped in.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the insights I get from your blog.
I would like to know you view on
1. Pastors leaving their congregation and going somewhere to preach
2. Pastors not spending time with their congregation because they are writing articles and books here and there
3. Pastors receiving honorariums and keeping it when they have actually used their congregation’s time

FellowElder said...

Anonymous,
Thanks for dropping by and asking such good questions. I should preference my answers with a general, "It depends." All of these items may be resolved differently, depending on circumstance and agreements between pastor, elders, and people. With that caveat, three quick responses:
1. I think that's fine. What's key is clear expectations and some consideration of available resources.

2. I'm not sure what you have in mind when you say "not spending time with their congregation." On the one hand, I don't want to encourage the wrong view that a pastor's job is "spending time with their people" in whatever way or at whatever time people may think they should. You might be surprised how many people are offended because the pastor couldn't make a birthday party or graduation. Though those are important events, there's no humanly possible way for a man to cover the waterfront with events like that. Many a pastor has crashed against the rocks of burnout and misplaced priorities under the pressure to be everywhere and at every thing. On the other hand, I don't want to encourage brothers who are perhaps more naturally inclined toward books to feed that desire and overlook real human needs. So, I guess it depends on what you mean by "spend time with their congregation."

3. Again, probably best to be worked out in each local situation. Also depends on what the congregation considers "their time" and the pastor's calling. There are also important questions related to intellectual property. Most places will generally have a policy related to this issue, in part driven by IRS definitions if you're in the U.S. Generally speaking, I think that's to be worked out by each pastor and congregation/elders and perhaps even worked out with a view toward individual engagements and honorariums.

T-

Anonymous said...

Dear pastor T.
Thank you for your reply.
1. The pastor from the country I came from may go 2-3 times a year to preach somewhere on “special occasions” but he is always taking care, personally, of the spiritual needs of the flock entrusted to him day in day out.
2. Sorry for not being clear, I did certainly not mean “birthday or graduation parties”. I meant as you stated pastors “inclined toward books & articles and feed that desire and overlook real human needs”. The real human needs in churches are mostly spiritual; (at least that is what I think) it is an issue of a heart that needs a pastor. A pastor is a shepherd whom the sheep run to for wisdom, advice, etc….; thus run to the Good Shepherd. If the shepherd is going to other herd to preach and/or writing for so many others, and get recognition by others whom he has never met and is not “responsible” for, and yet a sheep in his our herd may be hurting…..you get the idea.
3. I work from 9-5 that is my employer’s time, I am not allowed to work for any body else but work for my employer at that particular time. It is this same token that I used when I said “their time”. The congregation has hired the pastor to shepherd them and they are paying him; thus it is their time; and thus the honorarium received is the congregation’s fund. I certainly do not worry what the IRS would say or do; I am looking at it from the pastor’s heart.
If I may ask what did you mean by to intellectual property?

FellowElder said...

Hi Anonymous,

1. It sounds like that schedule of visiting other churches is really quite reasonable. It's probably also the case that being away 2-3 times per year is something of a spiritual encouragement for your pastor as well, a time of refreshing. So, this may be one way for the congregation to care well for their shepherd.

2. Well, carefulness and balance are needed here. Books should never become the enemy of pastoral care. And yet, reflection and study are such an essential part of good shepherding that I wouldn't want to make pastoral care the enemy of study. So, some reasonable balance needs to be established. A man who does not give himself to study will find himself ill-equipped for the shepherding that needs to be done.

3. Well, I'm not sure I'd agree with this approach to thinking about pastoral ministry. Pastors work all kinds of hours. And many congregations are tempted to think that a man must always be available, so much so that a man can find himself without any "off time." It may also be the case that thinking of a pastor as "belonging" only to the local congregation becomes an exercise in group selfishness. A congregation has a responsibility, I think, to also supply and encouraage the wider body of Christ where they can. So, it's better to think of a pastor's writing and speaking (if he has those gifts) as a stewardship the Lord intends to bless the local body and the wider church.

By "intellectual property," I'm borrowing a business/trademarking idea or term. Sometimes churches think of the pastor and everything the pastor knows or experiences as somehow "purchased" by their salary. But, in fact, pastors know things, have studied things, and experienced things that have little or nothing to do with their relationship with the church they serve. So, a man may have been trained and worked professionally as a psychologist/counselor before becoming a pastor. If he writes or speaks out of that training and experience, I don't think the congregation should say to itself, "Because we pay you a salary, all that you do now belongs to us." I think that's going too far.

Maybe a good policy would be to give the pastor the option of either (a) taking a vacation day/time for outside engagements and keeping the honorarium, or (b) keeping the salary and donating the honorarium to the church IF the work is done on "church time" (perhaps defined as typical office hours).

If a man does thing on his own time, I don't think the church can rightfully lay claim to that.

Hope this helps, though it's just one man's opinion.
Thabiti

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor T.
1. I think I agree to your statement, “If a man does thing on his own time, I don't think the church can rightfully lay claim to that” depending you meant, family time; if not we are in disagreement.
2. I think you used a strong word when you said, “Enemy of study”, I do agree one needs to read to not be “ill-equipped”, but I was referring to writing books not reading books. Thank you for explaining “intellectual property” though I understand the concept now I still think it is the congregation’s time; if one insists on writing his “intellectual property” I think he should be a speaker, writer and or professor at an institution or seminary, but not shepherding a flock.
You have mentioned “many congregations are tempted to think that a man must always be available, I would accept my pastor to encourage me when I am struggling spiritually or even when I am dying, and I do not think that I have been selfish at all.
As I see it these day and age our pastors are so busy for us, they have so much things to do on top of shepherding the needy herd. I had Ezekiel 34 in mind may God help us all.
Thank you so much for your view on the questions I have raised.
The Lord bless you richly.