As we continue to consider the implications of Paul’s requirements for the minister’s family, a few other considerations need to be introduced at the front end. These considerations are not in the interest of governing through exceptions — just the reverse, actually.
We are coming (soon enough) to a statement of what this high standard means in application, and when we get there, the discomfort levels will be as high as the standard is. There are many ministers and elders who are not qualified to hold the office that they do, and they are not qualified because of the spiritual condition of their children. When we get to that point, I want it to be as plain as it could possibly be that the expectation of a godly family is not wooden legalism. This means granting the complications and exceptions first.
That said, the apostle is teaching us about the selection of elders. This is what the requirement is at the front end, which cannot be applied straight across once a man has been ordained and installed. There is a corollary to this, which is that the more tightly the biblical standards are held at the front end, the less frequently will you have a bad and awkward situation with an existing officer.
If you are going to be picky, the place to do it is when you are making your selection. Think of marriage and divorce as an example. A man might decide not to pursue a woman because of the color of her hair, or her height, which he has every right to do. But he cannot use such criteria in deciding whether to divorce her. The doorway in and the doorway out are not the same door.
In the same way, someone might vote against an elder candidate because he is too excitable, not dignified enough. This is part of the Pauline expectation for the church officer. A man must be sober, temperate (Tit. 1:8). In the judgment of the person who votes no, the man concerned lacks the judicious temperament that he will need to help govern the church. Let us also say, for the sake of the discussion, that this person voting no is correct in his assessment, but that the congregation votes the other way, and the man is ordained as an elder. This is not the end of the world; what we have is a simple disagreement.
Once in office, let us say that the fact he has the wrong kind of temperament becomes increasingly and gradually obvious. It was obvious to the man who voted no on the first day, but once the man is ordained, that man should wait patiently until it becomes obvious to others.
It is the same with a man’s family. It is not the case that once a man is installed, he is like a termite in the woodwork. We should not see ordination as an irreversible affair. Churches are bound together by covenant, and the terms of the covenants we are to use are set down for us in Scripture. A man might kept out of office because of the state of his family, or he might be removed from office because of the state of his family. But given the nature of the case, those thresholds should be in different places.
If two-thirds of the congregation vote against a man because they “had a feeling in their gut” about that man’s surly teenage daughter, they have every right to do so. If they do, he will be kept out of office. But if that man is already in office, then the existing government of the church is required not to entertain a charge against an elder except on the word of two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19).
Before he is in office, views about his family are a judgment call. After he is in office, they are a charge. Beforehand, nothing needs to be proven. A feeling in the gut is fine. Voting no is not the same as bringing a charge. Afterward, in order to remove a man because of his family, everything needs to be proven. That is, everything needs to be proven if the man is of a mind to make everybody prove what is now obvious.
This leads to one of the more important characteristics that a minister or church officer needs to have. Before a man accepts the office, he needs to determine that he will not cling to it desperately if his family starts to wobble. He needs to be the first one to suggest stepping down, and not the last one sitting in a deserted church building with the lights out. We will consider this more in detail later, but he needs to be the kind of shepherd who will leave the 99.
I knew, growing up, that if I or any of my siblings walked away from the Lord, my father would be out of the ministry later that afternoon. And I knew this without it feeling like emotional blackmail — the apostle Paul teaches that masters should “forebear threatening,” and so I am not suggesting that a man should use his vocation and livelihood as a cudgel on his children. “If you kids don’t continue to love Jesus, your mother and I will be on food stamps.” My wife and I had the same standard for ourselves that my father had with regard to our children. And we still do, even though they are grown. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
One of the things you should want in the culture of the church is for the elders to be harder on themselves in this regard than the congregation is. The opposite disposition, where the congregation is critical and the minister defensive, is an explosion waiting to happen. And when it happens, it will be ludicrous — a congregation might want a minister to step down because one of his daughters wore lipstick once, or a minister might not want to step down even though three of his four sons are in the penitentiary.
If you have the right kind of man, the subject will be broached first by him, and not by his ecclesiastical adversaries. At the same time, the congregation should not be so emotionally attached to their pastor that they prevent him from obeying the apostle even though it has become manifestly obvious that it is past time to step down.
Reformation in the church is not going to come in the church as a result of us preventing the next wave of unqualified ministers — think homosexual ordination. Reformation will be the result of us dealing with the previous waves of unqualified ministers. We need to be more concerned about our past compromises than our future ones.