Results tagged “character” from Reformation21 Blog

On pastoral (dis)qualification and other things

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This is not about Mark Driscoll, though it is prompted by a few notes being sounded (not by him, as far as I am aware) with regard to his resignation letter, and the circumstances surrounding it.

First, pastoral qualification is never merely a matter of apparent giftedness and effectiveness. It has at its root a question of character. I thankfully acknowledge that, mercifully, and to the best of our knowledge, Mark has not been guilty of "immorality, illegality and heresy." Nevertheless, I protest that this is not the issue in the matter of pastoral qualification and disqualification. The presence of scandalous and often public sin would certainly disqualify any man from ministry at that point in time and very possibly perpetually. Its mere absence, though, is not the same as being qualified for ministry. There are a set of very specific and detailed qualifications that are necessary - not optional - for any man who would be an under-shepherd of any flock of God. For the sake of completeness, here they are, with some emphasised elements, some relating to present and some to past issues:
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Tim 3:1-7)

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you--if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. (Ti 1:5-9)
Many moons ago, a few of us worked briefly through these issues, some relevant ones being here. Any man - however prominent, apparently gifted or seemingly effective - who falls short in these matters is disqualified from the pastorate. If these matters of character remain as unresolved patterns of behaviour in any man seeking to shepherd the flock of God, then he cannot - for the sake of the church, he must not! - be permitted to take that office.

A second matter has to do with the matter of apologies and forgiveness. We are often told that some man has apologised for something. He was sorry he did it. Fine, and so might we all be. But an apology is not the same as repentance. The gracious dynamic that truly resolves sin and its offence is not the mere passage of time, nor the issuing of a more-or-less public apology (see here for more on this). It is the expression of sincere repentance, with its appropriate fruits, with forgiveness extended in principle and practice, leading - we trust - to genuine reconciliation and appropriate restoration. Quite apart from anything else, I can be sorry for a sin that I may or intend to go on committing. Repentance involves a God-dependent determination and whole-souled commitment to keep from sinning in that way again. So applause for apology is a different thing to forgiving the repentant, and we should not confuse the two, either in their intention or effect.

Finally, let there be no gloating: "let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1Cor 10:12). You may believe you saw this coming. You may have mourned over the painful trajectory that developed, and perhaps the failure of those who publicly applauded phases of Mark's career publicly to address the change in tack. You may have your suspicions and fears about what comes next. But to revel in the sin of another is a demonic thing. To rejoice in a man's public downfall is to join Satan's company. When you see another man, any man, sinning and stumbling, remember that - but for the grace of God - that is you, and pray with tears that it might never be.

The Christian traveller

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While immensely thankful for the benefits of modern travel, there are elements of it that are not in the first rank of Walker enjoyments. I tend toward dislike of the experience of being herded and managed, with even the temperature of the environment sometimes being adjusted in order to prompt appropriate dispositions. And there are, of course, those elements of being in confined spaces with a bundle of other sinners which tend to prompt more carnal reactions.

And so it was with that combination of weariness and amusement that I surveyed the departure lounge at Newark airport a few days ago on my way home from a delightful time of fellowship and ministry. All human life, if not quite there, was certainly well on the way to being healthily represented. Looking about me, I was struck by the prominent ways and means in words and in deeds by which various of my fellow wanderers were proclaiming their personal identity and spiritual allegiance.

There were Orthodox Jews, the coats and hats and hair raising their flags of affiliation. There were flamboyant metrosexuals, all pastel shades and skinny jeans and overcooked poses. There were the Disgruntled, those sour-faced regular travellers who can predict - and do, to anyone who makes eye contact - all that will be slow or go wrong with frightening accuracy. There were Hindu ladies, their dress and make-up speaking of their commitments. Sikhs and Muslims rubbed shoulders in their religious uniforms. There were the Angry, like the chap who uttered a string of distinctly audible curses for a good ten or fifteen minutes after being subjected to a patdown, making sure that we all know that we are in the presence of Those Not To Be Messed With. There were the extravagant homosexuals, all loud giggles and shouty comments, hyper-camping for the benefit of those around them. Here are the Nervous, who do not know where to go or what to do, agitated and antsy, asking everyone the same questions repeatedly. Over there are the languid Rich, dressed up to the nines, oozing through the crowds and the barriers when the call goes out for the privileged few who get to enter the flying can ten minutes or so before the rest of us. Make way, too, for the harried and active Rich, in their well-cut suits and with their high-end luggage, rushing from their last lucre-producing meeting to their next one, and trampling all who are in their path. Over there is that decorated beast, the Tattooed Brit, looking for all the world like a thug of the first water, but possibly one of the most pleasant and cheerful individuals who will board the pla . . . no, my mistake, it was the thug version. Watch out for the Gorgeous Woman, who has gone to more effort for this flight than most would for their wedding days, dressed and manipulated from head to toe to catch the male eye. There is our New Age Friend, burdened by weighty beads and floaty veils, rainbow hues no doubt fending off all manner of ethereal bad news. You begin to wonder what the social media footprint of the gathering might be, as heat and hunger and the passing of time begin to prompt increasing agitation, what vapid online meanderings or noxious electronic effluent rises from the horde as we sit and wait.

All of which fascinating tableau left me asking, "By what means should I, as a Christian traveller, communicate my personal identity and spiritual allegiance?" I could, as a start, do some airport-lounge preaching, but I am not sure that it is the right environment, and the polite though armed gentlemen in the smart white shirts and blue trousers tend to look down on that kind of thing. The age-old device of carrying a Bible larger than a cabin bag is trickier in these days of electronic reading. To the casual observer, I would imagine I don't look that much different to most of the other reasonably-dressed male travellers (I add that little adjectival qualification for those of you who don't realise how much I can charge the general public not to see me wearing skinny jeans), and the same would be true of most Christians, I imagine. The prominent wearing of crosses is not my thing, neither would I normally go down the emblazoned garment line, as if "by their T-shirts you shall know them." Conversations of deliberately-penetrating volume with a fellow-believer are contrived, as would be kneeling for prayer or praying out loud (too much like the Pharisee on the street corner). And then there's the question of social media comment: is it a Christian response to offer a stream of bilious bleatings or caustic comments on the situation and its participants?

I wonder, though, if the starting point ought to be character, attitude translating into action. It might not immediately declare you to be a true disciple, it might only open the door to speak to one or two people, but it should be the bedrock of our testimony. In the mix with all the variety of my fellow-passengers, and regardless of their identities and affiliations, am I marked out by patience in the face of provocations, cheerfulness despite difficulties, politeness in the experience of frustrations, thankfulness in the receipt of blessings, responsiveness when entreated, helpfulness around the overwhelmed or incompetent, self-forgetfulness in the atmosphere of entitlement, peacemaking among the argumentative, kindness around the selfish, candour among the sniping, calmness in the face of danger, self-control in a place of indulgence, graciousness among the godless, and even prayerfulness when confronted by needs and concerns? If I have the opportunity - if, perhaps, by these means I win the opportunity - am I then equally forthright, simple, clear and winsome in explaining, as the Lord grants opportunity, my attachment to the Lord Christ?

There is no flamboyance here, no extravagant or overblown trumpeting of one's Christian identity. However, there may and should be a real communication of a genuine and distinctive spirit of one who is following after Christ Jesus. Do those who spend time with us under these and other such circumstances come away not simply with a sense of our niceness (although that may be part of it) but of a character elevated by something more substantial than the fancies of the world or the claims of false religion?

So, the next time you face a journey by plane, train or automobile (other modes of transport are available) and anticipate a prolonged period in close company with your fellow mortals, perhaps it would be worth asking yourself whether or not your demeanour, disposition and deeds will leave those with whom you have come into contact with a savour of Christ. We should cultivate a personal identity so rooted in him and a spiritual affiliation so governed by him that, if people know his name, there might at least be some sense in which they might take notice of us, that we have been with Jesus.

The importance of character

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According to Spurgeon, ministerial character matters:
When we say to you, my dear brethren, take care of your life, we mean be careful of even the minutiae of your character. Avoid little debts, unpunctuality, gossipping, nicknaming, petty quarrels, and all other of those little vices which fill the ointment with flies. The self-indulgences which have lowered the repute of many must not be tolerated by us. The familiarities which have laid others under suspicion, we must chastely avoid. The roughnesses which have rendered some obnoxious, and the fopperies which have made others contemptible, we must put away. We cannot afford to run great risks through little things. Our care must be to act on the rule, 'giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed.'

By this is not intended that we are to hold ourselves bound by every whim or fashion of the society in which we move. As a general rule, I hate the fashions of society, and detest conventionalities, and if I conceived it best to put my foot through a law of etiquette, I should feel gratified in having it to do. No, we are men, not slaves; and are not to relinquish our manly freedom, to be the lackeys of those who affect gentility or boast refinement. Yet, brethren, anything that verges upon the coarseness which is akin to sin, we must shun as we would a viper. The rules of Chesterfield are ridiculous to us, but not the example of Christ; and he was never coarse, low, discourteous, or indelicate.

Even in your recreations, remember that you are ministers. When you are off the parade you are still officers in the army of Christ, and as such demean yourselves. But if the lesser things must be looked after, how careful should you be in the great matters of morality, honesty, and integrity! Here the minister must not fail. His private life must ever keep good tune with his ministry, or his day will soon set with him, and the sooner he retires the better, for his continuance in his office will only dishonour the cause of God and ruin himself.

From "The Minister's Self-Watch" in Lectures to my Students

A Question of Character (5)

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After reading Dr. Trueman's and Pastor Walker's posts on this topic, the reader will permit me a fair amount of reticence to post on 1 Timothy 3:4-5. My colleagues' thoughts have been very convicting to my own rather green pastoral conscience, so I write with a good bit of trepidation!

It is perhaps nowhere more evident than in an elder's home the true spiritual temperature of the man in the office. Is he outwardly charismatic, always ready to listen to a needy congregant, at every single event for every single child of the church, never misses a meeting of any committee, and willing to lead multiple Bible studies, prayer groups, etc.? Go to his home. What do you find there? Is his wife sullen, distant, or "putting on a front"? Are his children estranged from him and bitter about the church? The pulpit and a man's public ministry often hide many sins the confines of his home exposes.

Here,in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, the Apostle directs our attention to the governance of the man's home. In verse 4, he writes: "He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive." Since we are focused on the character of a Christian minister in this series, I want to make a few observations on this verse as it relates to the character of a minister in his home.

First, Paul calls upon ministers to manage their homes well. The man is the primary nurturer and discipler in the home. He is not simply to delegate childrearing responsibilities to his wife and then forget about them. Rather, he is to patiently and calmly oversee the affairs of his home, from finances to discipline. First and foremost, the minister must be a shepherd and overseer of the little flock entrusted to him in his home.

Second, Paul calls upon ministers to make sure their children are submissive, with all dignity. Without entering into the thorny details of the debate, I do not think that Paul here, or in Titus 1:6, is teaching that ministers who have unconverted covenant children are disqualified for the office. Rather, I think he is calling upon the minister to be an example of true Christian parenting in his home.

This means the minister's home should be one where the children are disciplined according to the word of God. This is patient, wise, and caring discipline. The minister will not spare the rod but he will never use it in anger. He will model for his flock godly parenting, in short.

The minister's home should also show forth the daily joys of parenting. He should regularly gather his little flock for family worship. He must catechize his children. He should pray with them every day. He should speak frequently about God's wonderful works in creation and redemption. And he should see that his children are constantly trained to see all of life through the lens of Christ. And while he will not seek a "crisis conversion" experience for his children, he will not neglect to pray for and look for the fruit from children who have owned the precious and amazing covenant promises of God for themselves. 

How many ministers have been hindered in Gospel effectiveness because of unwise home management? How many wives and children despise the church and her Lord because of such unwise management? I fear the answer to both questions is: "Many." But there is hope. I remember a man whose ministry I greatly admire relating to some of us the story of putting his own son under church discipline. As you can imagine, it was heart-wrenching. And praise God, the Lord used this move by my friend: his son eventually repented and is now a church officer to boot. But my friend took his duties of home management seriously - to the point of doing something I think most ministers shudder to think about doing. As always, however, the question is whether we will trust God and his wisely ordained means or our own wisdom? The former leads to blessing; the latter leads to confusion and heartache.

Paul tells us in verse 5 why these high and lofty expectations are to be met by a minister in his home: "For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?" Paul's argument here is simple. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater: if a man cannot manage his own home, how can he be expected to manage God's "home," the church? The expected answer to Paul's rhetorical question is: "He cannot."

Therefore, a word to churches looking for pastors: when the lights are down, and the amazing sermon is over, and the winning personality gets into his car to drive home, do you know what he's coming home to? Do you know if he has tended his own garden well, as it were? Could it be that perhaps one of our great failures as churches is the criminal lack of examining a man in the vital area of his home life? We cannot expect the Lord to bless our churches if our ministers' homes are not blessed.

Finally, a word to my brothers in the ministry. It is a tired but true adage to say that the only people that will be in the car with you when you move are your family. Are you discipling them? Would you be unashamed if a camera were placed in your home and the proceedings shown to your church? How easy - and extraordinarily dangerous - it is to be all things to all men and nothing to the people dearest to us - our families.

Where does a minister's character show up, then, according to Paul? In our homes. You can put on a smile, preach a great sermon, pray a lofty prayer, and oversee every committee expertly, but if your home life is a mess, you will be building little cities of wood, hay, and stubble. What will it profit us if we love our churches but not our flocks under own roof? Let us all take heed to the Apostle's words here: fitly manage your own home to the glory of God, or "Ichabod" will be inscribed over your management of God's household.

Pastoral character

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In a few days time I have the privilege of being one of the preachers at "The Call" Conference in Edinburgh. (I believe that there are still opportunities to book a place if you wish.) The theme of my sermon - and one which I feel the weight of - is "The shepherd's soul," addressing "the necessity of any leader to daily and intimately walk with God to be a qualified, effective leader in the church."

It ties in fairly neatly with the whole matter of pastoral character: the man of God must walk with God if he is to know the sustained blessing of God in accordance with the promises of God. So from time to time over the next few days I hope to offer as supporting evidence for our primary contention some apposite quotes from the great and the good on pastoral character and piety, beginning with Wilhelmus à Brakel, who said that the man of God
must have the heart of a preacher; that is, he must stand in awe of the God in whose Name he preaches, and with love seek the welfare of the souls to whom he preaches. He must know himself to be entirely undone in himself and have a lively impression of his own inability, so that he will not trust too much in having studied properly. He ought to pray much beforehand, not so much to get through the sermon, but for a sanctified heart, for a continual sense of the presence of God, for suitable expressions, and for a blessing upon his preaching to the conversion, comfort, and edification of souls. His concern ought not to be whether the congregation will be pleased with him and will praise the sermon, but his motive must rather be a love for the welfare of the congregation.
It is, perhaps, worth pointing out that our author goes on to offer some pretty stern words to those who make a show of their learning in the pulpit, but we might save that one for another time . . .