No Imperial Ministers

I Peter 2:9

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

In 2006, I preached a series of sermons on what it means to be a holy people unto the Lord.  As part of that series, I had several sermons which were dealing with current problems in churches today, problems which hinder the holiness of the church.  The following is a summary of one of those sermons.


Current Problems – The Imperial Minister

15 July 2006

As we have looked at what it means to be a holy people to the Lord, I felt I should address several problems that I believe are major hindrances to the churches of Jesus Christ today in being the kind of holy people that God wants us to be.  I would like to look today at what I call “The Imperial Minister/Pastor”.

A few months ago, a nationally known former pastor of a very large church in Florida was arrested and charged with many counts of child molestation.  Reports allege that the church leadership learned of the problem some years ago and covered it up “for the good of the ministry.”

Some years back, the pastor of a church I attended for a time (when I was in university) was removed as pastor because of an affair.

One pastor I knew neglected to discipline his children.  It finally reached the point that one of the deacons smacked the pastor’s son right in front of the pastor and other witnesses in the entrance to the church building.

The problems of television evangelists are well documented.

It is an unquestioned fact that pastors are imperfect people.  They sin just like everyone else does.  Yet, in many churches today, there is no accountability as far as the pastor is concerned.  He is an “Imperial Pastor,” suffering from what I call “Man of God Syndrome.”  “You can’t touch the Man of God,” it is said, and so the pastor can do as he sees fit, because he is the “Man of God.”  Is this consistent with Biblical teaching?

I. Qualifications Given

I Timothy 3:1-7

I Timothy 3 gives qualifications for a pastor.  If a man is to serve in this role, he must match these Biblical qualifications.

A. The Bishop

This passage refers to a bishop.  The terms bishop (also translated overseer), elder, and pastor (shepherd, one who feeds) are used of the same person in both Acts 20 and I Peter 5.  Thus, these are not separate offices in the church, but different aspects of the role of pastor.  A pastor is to be an elder is to be an overseer.  So when we look at I Timothy 3, we are seeing the qualifications for the position that usually in our churches is simply called “pastor.”

B. Character Traits

This list of “qualifications” and that in Titus 1 are not identical.  Therefore, we should understand that neither is meant to be complete.  Also, many qualifications are open to interpretation.  For example, the dividing line between vigilant and not vigilant is not strictly defined.  Nor is the dividing line between patient and not patient, or a novice and one who is not a novice.

We should understand this, then, as not being a checklist, where if a man can tick off all the right boxes he is qualified.  Rather, this is telling us that a man is to be of a certain character, with particular focus on those areas mentioned.

In practice, a pastor may have a weakness where his qualification is in question on one of these traits.  If reasonable people may have different views as they evaluate his character in one area, that would not necessarily disqualify a man.  However, if his character is in question in multiple areas, or if reasonable people have to agree that he certainly does not fit in any one of these descriptive terms, he should not be a pastor – he does not fit the qualifications given in Scripture.

The Scripture says that this is what a bishop/pastor MUST be.  This is not optional.

C. Exemplary

The focus here is that a man should be of exemplary character, such that he will be an example of godliness to the Lord’s people.  If a man is not an example of godliness, even if you can’t readily identify which “checkbox” he fails, he should not be a pastor.  Don’t just look at the specifics, look at the big picture.  Is he the kind of Christian that people should follow as an example?

D. Mature

A pastor is not to be a novice.  Interestingly, this does not say “novice in the things of the Lord,” it just says, “not a novice.”  This is a man with enough maturity and experience, in life as well as the things of the Lord, to protect him from the pitfalls of pride.

Young men can serve in the ministry.  But if a man has never held a job to support a family, if he doesn’t know what it is to lead a family and raise children, if he has never experienced grief, or comforted those who grieve, this lack of experience can be just as problematic for him in leading the church as being young in the Lord.

II. The Need For Testing

I Timothy 3:10

And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.

In verse 8, Paul begins to deal with the qualifications for deacons.

A. Also

In verse 10, he says, “Let these also first be proved.”  By implication, the “also” is in reference to those who have come before, the bishop/elder/pastors.  Verse 10 encompasses them all — deacons, as well as ministers/pastors, are to be proved.

B. Proved – by others

The deacons and pastors must be tested/proved by others.  “Proved” is in the passive voice, indicating not that they test themselves, but that they are tested and found “blameless.” Greek’s middle voice could have been used to indicate self-proving — and wasn’t.  Our translation here is accurate, and it doesn’t say, “Let a man prove himself.”  Obviously, a pastor is to test himself as well, but Biblically, a pastor is to be tested as to his qualification for ministry by others.  We pastors have no right to say, “I think I am qualified, and that is good enough.”

This means that a church that will not hold a pastor accountable, does not examine him as to his qualifications, and allows a pastor to continue in that role who is not qualified, is disobedient to Scripture.  There is no excuse for a church failing to fulfill its responsibility here, and a member who contentedly stays in a church while taking no action in these situations is part of the problem.

III. When Elders/Pastors/Ministers are Accused

I Timothy 5:19-20

19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

A. No Gossip

For the very reason that a pastor’s reputation is a part of his qualification, a pastor’s reputation is to be protected.  Just as under the Old Testament Law and in church discipline, two are three witnesses are required for an accusation against an elder/pastor to be received.  Private whispering campaigns against a pastor are expressly forbidden.  Bring the witnesses.

B. Rebuke Before All

Here we are told specifically that pastors sin, and that hiding their sin is not permitted.  There is no “touch not the Man of God” instruction in Scripture that protects a pastor from “name and shame.”  For the very reason that a pastor is to be exemplary in good character, he is to be an example when he fails in character.

A minister is a servant, not an emperor.  That is what “minister” means — “servant.”  When he errs, he can be rebuked by his Master (or by a messenger of his Master).  This verse gives very clear direction that the Master sends His other servants as His messengers in this regard.

C. That Others May Fear

The purpose here is that others also may fear. God does not need us to do the rebuking if the purpose is to convict the one who sinned — God is fully capable of doing so without our help.  But it is vital that ministers/elders who sin be publicly rebuked for the benefit of others.  The “Man of God Syndrome” is uncharitable to others, because they will not fear sin as they should when they see it go unrebuked in the alleged “Man of God.”

“That others also may fear.”  This seems contrary to the Scriptures that tell us to do right because we love the Lord, but it is not.  It would be far better if we did always do right because of love, but the fact is, we are sinful, stubborn, rebellious, and weak people.  Our old sin nature still lurks, and sometimes fear helps keep it down.  How often do we do things in secret that we would never do publicly?  That fear of exposure keeps us from doing it publicly.

“Man of God Syndrome” is also unloving to pastors.  If pastors always knew that their sin, if discovered, would be exposed for all the church to see, fear would be an added protection that would help keep some from falling.  When churches cover up sin “for the good of the ministry”, they are actually giving the tempter another weapon to use against their pastors, and the pastors of other churches.

IV. No “Man of God Syndrome”

I Peter 5:1-3

1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

A. Not as Lords over God’s Heritage

Pastors need to get over the “Man of God Syndrome.”  It is a deadly illness.  Though we are overseers, we are overseers as under shepherds of the Great Shepherd.  It is not the pastor’s flock, it is God’s heritage, and we are not the lords over it.

B. Examples to the Flock

Pastors are to be examples to the flock.  We are to lead by example, teach by example, and live an example.  We are not to mar our example and then hide behind the “Man of God” title as if it is an indulgence which grants us absolution even before we sin.

“Imperial pastors” who adopt (in actual words, or just in practice) the “Man of God Syndrome” are doing untold damage to the holiness of the church.  If we are to be a “holy people unto the Lord,” our pastors must be accountable.

Churches that allow their pastors to ignore accountability, who make them “lords over God’s heritage”, who allow and even encourage “Man of God Syndrome,” are simply refusing to obey Scripture, and cannot expect God’s blessing.  They are tempting their pastors to pride, and exposing them to many snares of the devil.  No believer should remain long in such a church.  To quote Eyeore from Winnie the Pooh, “When a house looks like that, it’s time to find another one.”  A church member has a responsibility to seek to correct the course, but if the church will not change, it is not going God’s way, and it is time to get off that ship.

If we are to be “a holy people unto the Lord,” we do not need pastors who proudly proclaim and hide behind the title, “Man of God.”  We don’t need “imperial ministers.”  We need pastors who ARE men of God, godly men whose example can be seen by all, who are so manifestly men of God that the title is not needed.

Pray for me.  For having preached this message, I know that Satan, more than ever, will do all he can to hinder me from being such a man.

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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