Swipe Right for a Pastor

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
~ 1 Timothy 3:1

What a pastor must be.

I don’t understand this newfangled world we live in. I feel a dinosaur at times. I’m crusty and curmudgeonly. I get that, but I’m not wholly averse to technology and its advances. I’m decidedly no sympatico with Luddites. Take online dating, for instance. I’m barely aware of online dating, though that’s what the kids these days are doing. The mechanics of it seems easy enough. An interested person fills out some forms and makes their profile. This information is surreptitiously fed into an over-mechanized piece of equipment, which is in the dank innards of an empty factory in a post-industrialized city somewhere in the midwest. The machine commences to whirring and churning while puffing and coughing and emitting all sorts of steampunk noises. The carefully crafted algorithms do their work and out comes the suggested matches for the criteria you have specified.

Of course, the convenience lies in the “online” part of the whole scheme. You have no need to besmudge your shoes with unidentifiable mixtures of oil and grease from the abandoned factory. No, no, the information is wirelessly, and might I add, magically, transmitted to your handheld device and appears on your screen. You are presented with a few digital photos and brief statements about the person in said photos. You then swipe right to approve this person as a potential date, or you swipe left to expunge them from your account because you do not approve of their few photos and statements about themselves. It’s not at all clear to me what happens to the unfortunate lot swiped left. Are they then surreptitiously fed to the whirring and puffing mechanical beast? I suppose America will never know.

Some who are better apprised than I will entertain the possibility my outline of the process may not be entirely accurate. I readily admit the possibility. I’m not ashamed of it. In the interest of artistic integrity though, I had to fill in the blank spaces left in the procedure of it all after the fifteen seconds of Google searching I engaged in. I do take my place in the industry seriously.

The gist of using the dating app is as follows: a person makes a quick decision based on thin criteria and thin knowledge that the alleged does or does not meet said criteria. Though honesty is barely a part of the process, if we are being honest, people primarily swipe right or left based on the looks of the person in the photos. That’s about as superficial as the apology of a politician.

What are you looking for in a pastor?

One would hope a church looking for a pastor would not be anything like dating app users in their search for a match. A guy can hope like Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” I hope that my hope is not misplaced, but I have heard some things that greases the grip.

If it were not so sad and serious, it would be funny what people are sometimes looking for in a pastor. Some do not want a pastor too old, or too young if it comes to it. Some insist upon gray hair, and others would rather not. Some are deemed too short, too fat, too bald, or just plain too ugly. After all, they reason, I’m going to spend a lot of time looking at him up front. Some require certain degrees of formal education and some have very settled ideas about his dress and mannerisms. His manner of speaking must be pleasing, and, to some, he absolutely must not have the offense of hair upon his face. His sermons must not be too long, and I don’t know if anything would be considered too short these days. This is not to even mention all his wife must measure up to, if he could possibly be an acceptable pastor to a church.

Some will suspect hyperbole in the previous paragraph, but there is not as much as you might think. I have sometimes heard people talk about what they are looking for in a pastor, and if I were tasked by editorial to write the copy for their advertisement, I would conclude it with, “Peter, Paul, John, et al, need not apply.” If your pastoral search criteria means that neither Jesus nor any of his apostles could be the pastor of your church, then just go ahead and swipe right on every pearly tooth grinner whose name sounds like Hinny Ben, or Lowell Joesteen.

What he must be

A pastor may be many things. He may be tall, short, thick, or thin. He may be formally educated, or not. He may be polished, or young, or old, or any number of things. He might stutter or mispronounce certain words. He might fill an armchair as though everyone were wearing armchairs tight about the hips this season. His grammar might be impeccable, or he may not know a diphthong from a dangling participle. He might be all kinds of things, but there are a few things he must be. Whether he has gray hair, dark wavy hair, or no hair is not important at all. Choosing a pastor should be nothing like a beauty pageant, or using a dating app, if I want to maintain the purity of the metaphor. Whether he meets the requirements of God’s breathed out word is utmost important and vital to the spiritual health of the Lord’s church. So, what must he be?

First and Second Timothy and the letter to Titus are commonly referred to as the pastoral epistles. The qualifications and disqualifications of a man for pastor are clearly spelled out in them. Reading through the letters, we pick up at least five must-haves for a pastor.

  1. He must be enabled and put into the ministry by God (1 Timothy 1:12).
    He must be called and gifted by God for the ministry. The local church plays a role in confirming a man has been gifted by God for the work of the ministry, meaning he possesses the necessary abilities to fulfill the office as outlined by Scripture. The church must also confirm he meets the qualifications for the office, which is not a list they produce in a brainstorming session. Those qualifications are spelled out in Scripture. The man must give evidence of this call of God on his life and the church must confirm it.
  2. He must be a godly man (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 6:11-14; 2 Timothy 2:21-22; Titus 1:6-8; 2:7-8).
    The qualification lists are dominated by aspects of character. This does not mean his orthodoxy is unimportant, but his statement of faith does not trump the character of his life. He must be of good reputation and a man who pursues holiness in life. He must be self-controlled and abstaining from sinful temptations. He must be just in his dealings and not a hot head.
  3. He must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 14-16; 4:1-2; Titus 2:1).
    He has to have the ability and willingness to teach God’s word. He must be able to make the word of God understandable to his people and applicable to their lives. These are gifts that must be given by God, and if a man has them, he can and should be improving them. If a man does not have them, no amount of sincerity or seminary will put it into him. He must be able to instruct those who are in error and to refute the error.
  4. He must know the Bible (2 Timothy 1:13; 2:23-26; 3:14-17; Titus 1:9-11; 2:15; 3:9).
    He doesn’t have to possess all knowledge and perfectly understand all mysteries and prophecies, but he has to know the Bible and should be growing in his knowledge of the Bible. He should not be a man who boasts of his ignorance, but rather he should acknowledge it and labor to erase it as much as possible. Having the ability to speak does not mean anything if he doesn’t know his subject. How is a man going to mature and equip saints in the word if he doesn’t know that word himself? How is a man going to identify and refute error if he does not have a thorough knowledge of the truth?
  5. He must be wholly given to the work of pastoring (1 Timothy 4:15; 5:17).
    He must not be a disinterested or lazy man. He must be a diligent laborer who works at his preaching and teaching. He must not be a man given to trimming and finding shortcuts to his work. He must be a man who puts his hand to the plow and does not look back.

Again, a pastor may be many other things that make him more or less useful in the work of pastoring, but these are things he must be. These are the qualities a church must be looking for when searching for a pastor. I’m not recommending a church have low standards in what they are looking for. I am saying a church should have God’s standards in what they are looking for in a pastor. Ultimately, a church should be looking for a pastor after God’s heart and not after the image they’ve come up with from throwing their gold in the fire.

A Pastor Lives and Breathes . . .

For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption ~ Acts 13:36

For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption ~ Acts 13:36

Oh the humanity!

Pastors are flesh and blood men. You probably think this is leading to comments about the humanness, and therefore lack of perfection, of pastors. I suppose I will indulge you there for a few moments but that is not the real point.

Pastors are not perfect and that means a couple of important things for the people subject to their pastoral practice. For one, they are prone to mistakes. I don’t mean scandalous and sinfully disqualifying mistakes, though some make those too. I mean gaffes, misspeak, wrong choices, etc. They make fallibly human mistakes, just like you. So don’t be harsh, overcritical, or too quick to condemn them for it. After all, they are still being sanctified. Even Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Philippians 3:12).

The other consequence of their humanity is that they are not complete. I mean they are not omni-competent in every area. The Spirit gifts men “severally as He will” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Therefore, not all men have the same gifts, nor does any man have a complete set. All pastors have areas of strength and weakness. They should be improving the gifts they have (1 Timothy 4:15), but there are some things they will never be able to do. That’s okay as long as you both know it.

For the main point, I need to finish what I started in the title.

A pastor lives and breathes . . . and one day he won’t.
Excepting those who are alive and remain at the coming of Jesus, pastor’s die. Pastor’s should number their days and apply their hearts to wisdom today (Psalm 90:12). Mortality lends a sense of urgency to our business. But, what does pastoral mortality mean to you?

God has designed for Christians to be gathered into a body and have pastors (Ephesians 4:11-12). The pastors He gives are living, breathing men. They know you, live with you, and work with you (1 Thessalonians 5:12). Their hearts pump and they breathe on you. They share your joys and sorrows and watch sleeplessly over your souls (Hebrews 13:17).

Per God’s design, pastors are real men and just like other real men, the bounds of their habitation are before appointed (Acts 17:26). David, though a great man, was a real man who served his own generation and departed (Acts 13:36). As mighty in the ministry as Paul was, he himself said, “I have finished my course” (2 Timothy 4:7). A part of finishing his course was preparing other men to finish their course after he departed (2 Timothy 2:2).

God has designed pastors to be real men with a real life span. This means that God has designed you a pastor who is living and breathing with you. Charles Spurgeon may be your favorite preacher of all time, but he is not your pastor. You may benefit greatly from reading his sermons and other writings. You may even be shocked at how relevant his thoughts still are, but he is not your pastor.

The same goes for any beloved, departed pastor. You may still learn from them, but not one of them is your pastor. Your pastor, by God’s design, lives and breathes today. You know him, can call him, and eat with him. You can call him in the middle of the night if need be and he can pray with you. If he’s sick, you know and if you’re sick, he knows.

This principle applies also to the voice on the radio, television, or internet. That voice may come from a currently breathing real man, but if you don’t know him because he is not living among you and admonishing you, he is not over you in the Lord and he is not your pastor (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

I do not suggest that we cannot or should not learn from others whether living or dead. We benefit greatly from the learning and thoughts of others. I have libraries, both physical and digital, of the writings and preaching of men. I am thankful for them and certainly learn from them. But, according to God’s design, your pastor lives and breathes with you.