What Is Not Happening

Thesaying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desiresa noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of onewife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his childrensubmissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, howwill he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he maybecome puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall intodisgrace, into a snare of the devil.

- 1 Timothy 3:1-7


The taskof overseer or elder is a noble one. And, as the title of the office suggests,it is one of caring for the souls of men and women. The pastor has the soberingtask of being Christ's under-shepherd for Christ's beloved people. Therefore,few should pursue this noble task. So it is not surprising that the Scripturesmake clear certain qualifications for the man who will hold the office of elderor pastor.


In theabove passage, Paul lists several positive qualities and several prohibitionsthat must characterize the pastor's life.


  Husbandof one wife





  Ableto teach

  Nota drunkard

  Notviolent but gentle


  Nota lover of money

  Goodmanager of his household

  Amature believer

  Wellthought of by outsiders


Everypastor in his right mind should tremble in the face of those qualifications.Certainly they are not a legalistic burden nor do they represent some misguidednotion of Christian perfectionism. For instance, I know of no one who believesthat being "above reproach" means being without sin. Those qualifications,however, represent God's minimum standard for the men who hold the office ofelder or pastor. They are to be seen as a means of protecting the church fromcharlatans and wolves and well-meaning but otherwise unqualified men. It is areminder that those of us who serve as pastors will face a stricter judgmentone day. It behooves us therefore to warn away any man who fails to meetScripture's minimum standard.


Many ofyou have no doubt read about the letter Pastor Mark Driscoll wrote to hischurch concerning recent controversies in his life. The letter addresses MarsHill Church paying a marketing firm large sums of money to ensure Driscoll'sbook Real Marriage achieved NY Times bestseller status. He apologizesfor using that tactic and promises to never do it again. He also makes mentionof "significant turnover of key staff members." He acknowledges that "peoplewho saw or experienced my sin during this season are hurt." Acknowledgingwrongdoing is a vital step toward repentance.


If abrother repents of his sin then we must forgive him and restore him tofellowship. To do otherwise would not only be a sin against that man but arejection of the gospel we claim to profess and a sin against God. Howeverthere is a great difference between welcoming a repentant sinner home andplacing that same man in the office of pastor. While rejoicing over a sinnerwho repents we must avoid breathless demands that all consequences of the sinnow, as if by magic, disappear. The issue here is not that of the prodigal sonreturning home. Again, we are obligated to welcome home prodigals. And howgreat is our sin if we don't! The issue here is what to do with a pastor whohas stretched beyond the breaking point the demand to be above reproach. Theconsequences for a pastor's sin, after all, are usually greater than that ofone who does not hold the office of overseer.  


Those ofus who have been entrusted with the office of pastor have seemingly endlessopportunities to sin. We are plunged into a daily battle against our corrosivepride as it is either inflated by flattery or assaulted by criticism. Pastorsmust therefore be the chief repenters in the church. Some of us will tendtoward sinning by flagrantly disobeying God's clear commands. Others of us willsin by being quite proud of our conformity to proper behavior.


My purpose is not to evaluate Pastor Driscoll's letter.It is not written to me after all. I also have no desire to try to discern theman's heart. I truly do hope that good and healthy days are ahead for Mars HillChurch and Mark Driscoll. The spiritual wellbeing of many thousands of precioussouls is at stake. My purpose is to help us not forget what seems to have beenneglected in this whole public fiasco: That the Bible makes it clear what kindof man the pastor must be. Pastors, above all men, must be jealous to guardthe integrity of the pastoral office and thereby protect the church.


Some willwonder why these stories swirling around Mark Driscoll are matters for publicdiscussion in the first place. I understand that. The whole thing isembarrassing to the church. These controversies reinforce the widely held notionsthat ministers are not honest and are primarily interested in financial gainand fame. I wish it weren't happening. But it should also be understood thatmen with highly public ministries must welcome public critique. How many publiccontroversies must one pastor be allowed before someone raises the inevitablequestion of qualification?


As apastor, I serve men and women who are influenced by well known pastors. Afterall, these pastors want members of other churches (mine included) to buy theirbooks, download their sermons, and attend their conferences. In many cases thisis a good thing. Many of these well known pastors have blessed me enormouslythrough their preaching and writing. I thank God for them. I publically andprivately endorse their ministries of teaching and writing and am happy to doso. But I also have the responsibility to respond when one of those menadvances error and/or behaves in a way that is contrary to the biblical requirementsof an office-bearer in the church of Jesus Christ.


I amtroubled when every conceivable explanation is used to excuse a man who hasstretched the biblical command to be above reproach to the breaking point whilethose who dare to call a thing what it is are classified as "haters." Inpointing out these concerns, what is not happening here is hatred. It is farfrom hate. It is love for the church. Believe it or not, it is love for a manwho, for the good of his own soul, may need to be steered away from the officeof pastor by those who hold him accountable. Most of all it is love for ourLord and his reputation. It is love for his people who have suffered enoughfrom our pastoral malpractice.