It is well-known that the families of pastors/elders can struggle. They often report feeling forgotten and neglected as their husband and/or father spends a notable amount of his time, energy, and emotions shepherding a church of God’s people. I suspect in most cases the lack of attention towards home isn’t intentional. Responding to a supernatural calling, these men are led to care for the flock God has placed under them. Yet, in their efforts to fulfill their calling, they forsake a primary obligation (and prerequisite) – even disqualifying themselves.
This issue has been heavy on my heart in recent weeks as I have watched a close friend walk through the challenging dynamic described above. His love for the church, work, and his flock distracted him from other, higher-ranking priorities. The result has been nothing short of tragic for him, his church, and his family. For others, not yet in such a devastating situation, I hope that this article will spur you to think seriously about your pastor, and his family, and how you can serve and love them. Even as a layperson, you can have a tremendous influence on your pastor. Gentle, loving reminders can go a long way in serving him and his family.
Through God’s tremendous kindness, He has given us His Word to help navigate such complicated issues. It is as the Westminster Confession of Faith says: “The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence, we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (Chapter 1, Section 10).
Consider then a few texts on the issue of elder/pastor qualification:
“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” (Titus 1:6-7a)
“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.” (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
In the two texts quoted above on elder qualifications, we see the Apostle Paul repeat the phrase “above reproach” multiple times. Lending many commentators to argue that this phrase is the summarization and key qualifier of an elder/shepherd. Certainly, no one does this flawlessly; we are all fallen, sinful beings who are in all ways inadequate. Yet, in the eyes of the church and local community, a pastor/elder should conduct his life such that no one could bring a legitimate rebuke or charge against him. He is to operate in a manner where his reputation is fully credible and blameless before all men.
It is worth adding that being “above reproach” is a distinction that goes beyond being merely “innocent” or neutral; rather, in the positive sense, the elder is to be above the norm. These are very high, sobering standards. So much so, that James encourages men not to become elders/teachers. He writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). I encourage you to reread that verse and consider the momentous weight of what this means.
If a pastor is not actively living his life “above reproach” and is allowed to continue in his role as an elder/pastor, there are potentially dangerous consequences for him. Paul warns that ministers can “fall into disgrace” and then “into the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). Again, this is significant. As brothers in Christ, we should never allow a friend or elder to continue to incur the displeasure of God’s judgment or will. We should aim to protect one another from these humbling realities.
As Paul continues works to define what it means for one to be “above reproach”, he gives us an example of the household in 1 Timothy. The term “household” is generally understood to apply to anyone living in one’s home, under one’s care. This text makes it rather clear that the home, and how it is managed, is a proving ground for Christian leadership. Paul asks, “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3). With pastoral/elder qualifications of “being above reproach” directly tied to one’s household, consider also the requirements given to husbands in Ephesians.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:25-33)
Based on the texts provided, it is logical that the role of being a good husband supersedes that of a pastor/elder, In fact, I contend it is a prerequisite. In our Ephesians text, husbands are called to love their wives like Christ loves the church, as He gave His life up for her. Husbands are to model this self-sacrificial example; they are to be a source of spiritual fulfillment and joy for their spouses. Undoubtedly, no one does this perfectly; we all fail here – myself included. But elders should not neglect to regularly examine themselves in the context of this lifestyle behavior. Moreover, they should invite the accountability of some trusted believers to help.
A final point worth making is that our calling and responsibility as husbands are tied to the office of the husband. God defines this office and calling, and it is not dependent on external issues, such as a spouse’s behavior. In other words, regardless of one’s wife’s behavior, husbands are called to live out the example of Christ. How much more is this true for one that also holds the office of a pastor? Without time and dedication, I am unsure how any husband could do this well. How can a man lay down his life for his wife if he does not spend adequate time with her? As we consider our example set forth by Christ, has Christ withheld any love from his bride, the church? No, Christ is committed to His purpose, love, and devotion to the church – even being obedient unto death on the cross. Praise be to Christ!
In closing, I urge the reader to prayerfully think about their pastor and his family. Consider ways you can serve and love them. Is your pastor spending too much time at the church? Encourage him not to neglect his role as husband and father. Because the better he can love and serve his family, the better he will be able to love and serve his flock.