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Monday, January 30, 2012

Character vs. Gifting

I once heard a pastor say that his "character had not caught up with his gifting".  While I appreciated his candor, this statement was deeply troubling to me in light of the Scriptures' description of the qualification of elders (see previous post).  I was almost equally troubled by the fact that others in the room (including his fellow elders and other pastors and Bible teachers for whom I have deep respect) appeared untroubled by the remark (although perhaps they were, I will probably never know.  I do know that no one--including me--spoke up about this comment at the event in which it was said.).

Character is at the heart of the Biblical qualifications for elders.  Nowhere in Scripture do I see charisma, business savy, eloquence, genius, humor, or ability to grow a church as qualifications for an elder.  And while the Scriptures do make it clear that certain abilities or giftings are a requirement for eldership ("able to teach" for example), the Scriptures are also clear that character is a heavy requirement for an elder (for example an elder is not to be "arrogant", "quick tempered" or "domineering", etc. and is instead to be "hospitable", "self-controlled", "gentle", etc. 1 Timothy 3:6-7 warns that an elder, "must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil." ). 

The Scriptures further teach that gospel love (the kind of love modeled by Jesus) is at the heart of character--it is the point of obedience to the law and, without this love, there is no point to gifting or achievement.

1 Corinthians 13 "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Revelation 2:1-7 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’"

It is a dangerous thing when we allow and especially enable the presence of extraordinary gifting, resources, accomplishment, experience, or opportunity to excuse the absence of extraordinary character in a pastor.  Sadly, the resulting damage to the flock at large, the pastor's family, the fellow elders and families, and to the pastor himself can be phenomenal. 

Heavenly Father, Thank you for your Word and they way it guides us in truth!  Help us to know your Word and to diligently compare all things against it.  Give us discernment to know what does not coincide with your Word.  Give us courage to live according to your Word and to speak up and act when you call.  Open our eyes to see where we may be blind.  Father, please protect our churches against our pride and worldliness!  Protect our pastors from conceit and pride and from falling away.  Protect your people.  Give wisdom, discernment, courage, and love to the pastors over your flock. Remind them that they are undershepherds.  Remind them how much you love your flock!  We pray for your grace and mercy, on all of us!  In Jesus Name, Amen

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pray for Our Pastors!

In my devotions this week, I read 1 Timothy.  Reading the 1 Timothy 3 qualifications for a pastor (also called “elder” or “overseer”) was a good reminder, as my husband is a pastor.  This time while reading these qualifications/disqualifications, I was struck by the fact that a lot what makes a man qualified or disqualified to lead the flock of God are the quiet aspects of his character, and not just the presence of spectacular gifting or the absence of spectacular sin.  It is easy to look at things like charisma and entrepreneurship when we think of leadership qualifications and to look to obvious and dramatic sins like adultery when we look at what would disqualify a leader.  Come to think of it, the rest of the world looks at leadership in this way.  And yet Scripture has much more  to say about the heart and inner character of a pastor.  In Scripture, we see qualifications like “not arrogant” or not “quick tempered” or “hospitable” or “not domineering over those in your charge”.   Are these qualities we look for in appointing elders?  Do we consider these qualities in assessing disqualifying sin? 

1 Timothy 3:1-7 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able  to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Here are some more places in Scripture that talk about the qualifications of a pastor:

Titus 1:5-9 says, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
1 Peter 5:1-4 says, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Jesus, our Chief Shepherd, loves the Church, for whom He died.  Accordingly, He about the men He appoints as under shepherds of His church.  Pastors are God’s “stewards” to care for the flock.   The following passage contains a sobering word for overseers. 
Ezekiel 34:1-10 ESV: “The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.’”

Wow, does God care about His sheep!!  Hebrews 13:17 tells us that these leaders “are keeping watch over” the souls of the flock, “as those who will have to give an account.”   This is sobering to anyone who is called to eldership!

How we need to pray for our elders!!  Lord, teach us to pray for our elders!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the men you have called to shepherd your flock.  Thank you that you love your church so much that you gave your only Son Jesus to die for your church in love!  Thank you Jesus for dying for your bride, the church!  Father, I pray for our elders.  Thank you for giving them a heart to serve you and your people.   Thank you for the sacrifices they make on behalf of your precious Body.  Thank you for sustaining them in every way.  Father, we ask that you protect them in every way.  Make them effective and fruitful in their calling—fruitful as you define fruit, not as the world does.  We pray that you protect them from falling.  Feed their souls, even as they seek to feed others with your Word.  May your Word and prayer and faith be huge in their life.  May they have joy in their walk with you and in the calling that you give them.  Encourage and strengthen them.  We pray that you would root them in your love—the love between Father and Son by the Spirit, your love for them, your love for your Body, and your love for the lost.  We pray that this love would motivate all they do.  Give them wisdom and discernment to know how best to lead and to be able to keep from straying.  Keep them away from boastfulness or pride or arrogance or domineering or neglecting the sheep.  Give them courage and boldness and tenderness and mercy and affection.  Give them tender hearts.  We pray that you keep them humble and aware of their utter dependence on you.  Give them the  grace to admit when they stumble and to repent.  May they have a sense of the sobering and serious call that you have placed in their life.  By your grace, may they watch their steps.  Surround them with people who can love them, support them, hold them accountable, and serve them as fellow brothers and sisters and as image bearers of you.  Help them to loving lead their families too, as you call them to do.  Protect their families.  Provide for their every need.  Help us to know how to bless and encourage them.  Keep them faithful to you and your Word and your people.  We ask this in Jesus Name, Amen.