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
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