Don’t Waste Your Shake Up

If we adopt the policy I am suggesting in the larger church — that of asking elders and ministers to step down if their children are excommunicate (or the moral equivalent) — this solves some problems, but not all of them. It actually creates a few interesting problems.

One interesting problem it could create is that of establishing an institutional disincentive when it comes to excommunicating the children of elders and ministers. Say that the child in question richly deserves it, but everybody knows that if this happened his father would lose his position — so welcome to the world of perverse incentives. We don’t want to get into a place where we disobey one text for the sake of obeying another one.

There is another issue. Drawing the line at excommunication does address the problem of overt disqualification in a minister’s family, but it doesn’t address the trickier problem of moral authority. Say that a pastor has three daughters, and say that every two years, three times in succession, they each got pregnant out of wedlock, from the oldest to the youngest. Say further that each of them repents honestly and fully, and is attending church regularly. One of them married the father, and the other two are single moms. Everyone is in fellowship. What about that?

This scenario, held up to the standard I am suggesting, means that their father the pastor doesn’t have to step down. And that logic is quite sound. If we make excommunication the line, then if that line is not crossed, then it is not crossed. I think this is quite true when it comes to the basic moral aspects of ministerial qualifications.

But there are other issues. Think of them as strategic qualifications. Think of it in terms of moral authority. A man can be qualified to be on the field — but that is not the same thing as being qualified to be the quarterback. Scripture says that Jesus taught with authority, and not like the scribes. Throughout church history, there have been many scribes who have held the ministerial office, and they have been nice guys. But because they were missing the kind of authority that knows how to lead men into battle, they gradually become ministerial caretakers.

Now scandal affects a man’s moral authority. It saps his ability to make strong and decisive decisions. A situation arises where he must say or do something, but is reluctant because he knows what the comeback will be. When David heard that his son Amnon raped his daughter Tamar, he was furious. But he didn’t act on that (righteous) anger because he had really snarled up his ability to do so through his sin with Bathsheba. He was forgiven, but his vigor, his perceptiveness, his authority, was greatly damaged.

Take this illustration one step out because David’s sin with Bathsheba was his own sin. Say that Amnon’s sin was the first high profile sin, and say that David dealt with it (barely) adequately, but not decisively. Now say that eight months later the son of a political rival in all the palace politics does the same thing. What has happened? David’s ability to do what needs to be done has been adversely affected.

This means that how a man manages his household will spill over into some of the other qualifications. In Timothy, Paul says that he must be “blameless” and must have a “good report” with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:2,7). In Titus, the same kind of thing is urged, with the requirement of blamelessness bookending the requirement concerning his children (Tit. 1:6-7).

Now blameless does not mean absolute blamelessness in the sight of God. If God were to mark iniquities, who could stand (Ps. 130:3)? This is talking about reputational blamelessness.

And this is one of those unwieldy and uneven facts of life — scandals bounce the way punted footballs do. Fornication with pregnancy following is not a worse sin than fornication without pregnancy. But fornication with pregnancy following is usually far more public — which means that it can have more of a debilitating capacity when it comes to a man’s ability to lead a congregation.

This is something that connects to the next point, something alluded to a bit earlier. What is the mission of the church? Every church should be actively involved in the evangelization of the town where they are located. The Christian faith is a religion of world conquest. It is not the case that Jesus told us to go out into all the world in order to establish and maintain an acceptable market share.

But it is easy — especially when real spiritual authority has started to slip away — to allow the real mission of the church to slip away with it. If the ministers of the churches are not up to the challenge of our assigned mission, then an obvious temptation will be to allow the mission of the church to drift over to something we are qualified to do.

This is why a minister who has stumbled (in his own life or in his management of his family) can be qualified to continue to serve in some aspect of God’s kingdom work.

A minister in this position should first ask himself if he should be in the ministry at all. If the church adopts the position of not requiring such action unless there has been an excommunication, the minister himself should still have the authority to decide to take himself out of that position. If the decision is made to remain in ministry, I would suggest a thorough inventory or review of ministerial assignments and responsibilities. If this is done right, it could result in a man finding himself where he can labor far more effectively, and with greater authority.

As John Piper might put it, don’t waste your shake up.

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14 comments on “Don’t Waste Your Shake Up

  1. Since you brought up Piper, do you think he should have stepped down as pastor of Bethlehem when his son Abraham was excommunicated? It’s possible he would have made the same amount of impact on the church as a professional Christian writer, but I doubt it. Sorry to make it personal, but it’s where the “rubber hits the road” as they say.

  2. The Biblical pre-conditions are for choosing a deacon, not for the retention of the post; once a son or daughter is of age (12,13?) then what they choose to do really has little or no bearing on the parenting skills, or lack there of, of the Deacon and his wife. Perhaps the problem here is that we have adopted the worldly Freudian mindset of the 20th century, which seeks to extinguish free will and blame the Fathers for the sins of the children. The 21st century seeks to accomplish the same feat by means of the holy doctrine of genetic determinism.

  3. I think it is easier to be dogmatic on this matter if you have never faced it in your personal life. The implication is that the children of a pastor / minister will not stray if the household is run properly however we are rearing sinners in a sinful culture. It is agonising to see your children not walking with the Lord . If the standard is applied as you suggest the pastor then faces losing his ministry as well. Is any time given for intercession? pleading , as the persistent widow did , for God to intervene . What level of sin will bring the axe down ? Being a proud / arrogant jerk ? 1 trip to a strip club ? Getting drunk for the first time ? The sin sniffers in a congregation would have a field day working it out . The children of pastors / church leaders would be tempted to become hypocrites , to be church angels / street devils. I faced this issue in my life as my husband went through a faith crisis and did not attend church . My children all stopped attending in their late teens . I am very involved in children’s ministry and offered my resignation repeatedly to the pastor because of what had happened however he would not accept it on the grounds that I was qualified when appointed and he believed God would intervene .. The church prayed diligently for my family .God , in His mercy moved, and all my children their spouses and my husband are now walking with Him. I believe your commitment to obeying scripture is clear however I urge caution as the law of unintended consequences could result.

  4. Daniel: How do you deal with “train up a child in the way he should go and *when he is older* he will not depart from it”?

  5. Molly, many of the previous posts in this series were intended to head off undue dogmatism, and to anticipate the sin sniffers.

  6. @Seth B: Yes, of course that Proverb is a command one must strive to obey and if a Pastor is blessed to have a Church full of such successes then he should choose those successes. Meanwhile, in the real world, we must take what we have and adapt accordingly.

  7. In the real world? What world were you talking about in the first sentence?

  8. @Seth B: The world where Pastors have Churches full of perfect parents with perfectly brought up children who never stray etc.. The world where there is no need for forgiveness, doubt, mercy, grace, repentance etc.. That world.

  9. Pastor Wilson, what if it’s the elder father who brings charges against his son so as to result in excommunication, done for the sake of godly and loving discipline?

  10. Here’s a question, Pastor Wilson, that may help me clarify in my mind what you’ve been advocating in these posts (slightly differing ecclesiologies being what they are). In your church, what is the age threshold for excommunication? In other words, how old does one need to be before one can be excommunicated?

  11. This stepping down protocol would be much more effective if pastors had a mind to actually tend their sheep. Average pastor spends 20 hours per week prepping for a lecture few need to hear. And if they’re lucky, the sheep get a “home visit” maybe an hour a year. Not so much a sheepfold going on here as a club.

  12. Eric, you really seem to be speaking as someone who isn’t a Christian, in which case, I forgive you for being mistaken. You speak too broadly to be referencing a particular group within Christianity, or even a denomination – hinting that this is your opinion of Christianity as a whole.

  13. Hi Matthias! — are you saying a Christian wouldn’t or shouldn’t observe such things? Was Christ unChristianny for haranging the religious establishment leadership? Or are you saying the guys today are much improved? The particular group I’m referencing is the average professional church leader: Paid. Calls himself a “pastor”. Spends precious little time close to the animals. This is in contradiction to my opinion of what Christianity is supposed to include.

  14. I’m saying that a Christian would use more gracious terms, and a finer brush. If there are pastors who care little for the flock, and you’re talking about those folks, and that’s ok. When you said “pastors” you didn’t say “pastors from this group or that,” so I assumed you had no particular group in mind.

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