The calling of a pastor can be a demanding, rigorous, and often thankless calling. For every televangelist with white shoes raking it in, there are a hundred men laboring in obscure corners of the Lord’s vineyard.
For those who are aware of this reality — the fact that congregations are sometimes critical, fussy, envious, and spiteful — to adopt strict views of the minister’s qualifications in how he governs his household seems to be just asking for it. The family already lives in a fishbowl, people are already wondering why his wife doesn’t play the piano, and more than one comment has been made about how infrequently their teen-aged son has to mow the lawn. Why would anyone volunteer to make “the treatment” worse than it already is?
The answer is that the requirement is in the Bible, and so there must be a way of doing it right. But doing it right does not just mean having a conscientious pastor, or a conscientious session, but also a faithful and wise congregation. If they are wise, they will know (because they have been taught) the difference between responsibility and humiliation. When a minister’s child starts to waver, the congregation wants to know who to help, not who to blame.
Let me illustrate the heart of the point without reference to a minister. All parents are parents of children who sin. This is a fact of life. When we live in community, those sins will be visible and apparent to others. Wise and godly parents deal with it, taking it in stride. Parents who are still dealing with things on the surface are embarrassed by it.
In a social setting, a child being hauled off to be corrected should be as unremarkable as a child being taken to have his diapers changed. These things happen, and good parents know that they are responsible to deal with it. But if, instead of dealing with it, they are simply ashamed of it, they are inviting others to blame them instead of helping them.
My wife and I have the great privilege of seeing our sixteen grandchildren interact with one another on a regular basis. There is a good bit of terryhooting and good times, but cousin sin has been known to occur. If our response is “oh no, sin!” then we simply do not know what kind of world we are living in. One of the greatest blessings of our lives is that of watching our children as parents give a heads-up to one another about some developing state of moral disorder at the two-foot grandkid level, with nobody getting defensive. Just doing the business.
The point is this. If a congregation expects to have a minister or elders with sinless children then their expectations are radically unbiblical. The issue is not whether or not sin occurs, but rather what happens when it does. The issue is not sin, the issue is sin unaddressed with efficacious love. When the sin is flamboyant enough, this is usually an indication that a catalog of previous sins were going on unaddressed. But the issue is not the mess, but rather the unwillingness or inability to clean it up.
The men who govern the flock are shepherds, and this is what shepherds are supposed to do. This is their calling.
“And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:3-6).
One of the things that our session of elders has done over the years is provide practical help to men who have to face challenges in their families. To make up an example, suppose that an elder discovers that his oldest boy has a significant porn problem, and he has three boys younger than that coming up. He doesn’t know how all this is going to go, and knows that he has some work to do. Such an elder could ask for and receive a six month leave of absence from his responsibilities as an elder. This is not six months in the penalty box. This is so that instead of being a shepherd who continues to tend the ninety nine, he could be released to be a shepherd who is pursuing the one.
A true willingness to pursue the one is often all it would take to win back that one. I am making no universal claims, but I am making some claims about a significant number of ministers’ kids. If a child has grown up resentful of his father’s ecclesiastical busyness, and what the name of Jesus means that he has to look at the back of Dad’s head going off to another damn meeting — because every problem in the church outranks any problem of his, no matter how serious — then it should not be a great shock to discover that such a child eventually just wanders off. So if, in that child’s heart, the question were to be asked, “at what point would Dad drop everything and come after me?,” the answer appears to be never.
There are practical and logistical issues connected with this, as you might well imagine. And that is why it is important for a whole community to share the same values, to live in the same wisdom and love, and to provide godly opportunities for the shepherds to pursue sheep, especially if those sheep are their own. If a man is pursuing a wayward son, for example, that would not be a good time for the ninety and nine to start a church fight over supralaparianism, the right use of the deacons’ fund, or the color of the carpet in the nursery.