Pursuing the One

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.

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5 comments on “Pursuing the One

  1. “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”

    Well, for what it’s worth I’ve learned a great deal from your and appreciate you more than any pastor I’ve ever had. There have been times where I’ve asked a pastor a real “stumper” (like “how do we know the Bible’s true”, gee like only one pastor in a million should be smart enough to answer that) and you could actually give me a reasonable answer. THANK YOU. I may not be a Christian today if it weren’t for your reasonable, biblical answers.

    I’m sure I’ve been one of those fussy, whiny congregants before, but I’ve learned a great deal from you not just from the content of the advice you gave me but just from the fact you’re willing to talk to me again and again, from *how* you said what you said, not just *what* you said. Furthermore, I’ve learned a lot about how to disagree politely and courteously without being a jerk about it. Thanks again for that, Mr. Wilson!

    “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.” Would you mind giving an example of this?

  2. Mostly off topic, but most of this seems addressed to a “faithful and wise congregation,” or simply telling grossly subpar congregations that’s what they need to be (F&W). Will getting from no church to a good one (church planting), or from bad to good, come up? When so much depends on the church planter/reforming pastor (will a bad congregation fix itself?), surely he can’t lean on the congregation as this post describes?

  3. Andrew, I’m not sure it matters if the congregation is up to the challenge. One of the implications of the qualification under discussion is that the pastor’s home life comes first in these matters. If he needs to devote more time and attention to his son, and therefore neglect the congregational donnybrook that’s brewing over pews or chairs in the new sanctuary, then he should do so, regardless of whether the congregation is faithful and wise enough to live with the results. It may be that the resulting mess is a teaching moment for the congregation. It may be that the church splits and goes down in flames. But no pastor worthy of the name should be willing to sacrifice the spiritual well-being of his son for the “good” of the church — and any pastor who does so has just disqualified himself.

  4. I Tim. 3:4-5, “having his children in subjection with all gravity; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” seems to go beyond merely taking a six month sabbatical. The thrust seems to be, not time management, which might lead to the need to shift the priorities of church- vs. family-duties from time to time, but rather a definite falling short of the requisite qualification for office. I.e. it is not, “if a man need a bit more time to rule his own house,” but rather, “if a man know not how to.”

    Perhaps a distinction needs to be made in the way to deal with an elder whose infirmity is discovered after vs. before ordination.

  5. I can’t believe you didn’t spell “supralapsarianism” correctly. It’s such an important issue; it makes me wonder if you take it seriously enough.

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