How do we respond when a pastors falls from grace? What do we do when we feel a pastor is not meeting the standards of a pastor? And what exactly are those standards?
In the New Testament Church, there were people who oversaw the church or the congregation. They were known as elders. These people took care of the church. They were also known as pastors. These words are synonymous.
Pastor in the Greek means “shepherd”. Pastor then is a symbol of a person who cares for the flock. Sheep need shepherds for two reasons: nurturing and protection. That is exactly what a pastor does. We can say that is the short version of their job description.
Like any occupation, there are qualifications that must be met in order to be considered for the job. God desires qualified leaders who will care for his church. If a pastor assumes the position only later to live a disqualifying behavior, it will only be a matter of time he will be exposed and judged.
- Above strong criticism and without blame
- Faithful to his wife
- Realistic and reasonable
- A skilled teacher
- Not addicted to alcohol
- Not a bully but gentle
- Not belligerent
- Not greedy for money or fame
- Have a well-managed household
- Not a recent convert
- Have a good reputation with outsiders
- Children are believers who are not accused of immoral self-indulgence or rebelliousness
- Not arrogant
- Not quick to anger
- Loves what is good
- Honest and impartial
- Devout to godly living
- Has a firm grasp on doctrine
Imagine yourself as the interviewer and you come along a candidate who aspires to be a pastor at your church, or perhaps is already in that position and you’re re-evaluating. Look at the qualifications and check off those that the candidate meets.
What does one do when there is a box or more left unchecked? How do we respond?
First, as the pastor’s responsibility to you is protection, do the same back. Don’t believe everything you hear. Depending on the source, take it with a grain of salt.
In the media, we’ll hear of many reports of pastors and elders who have fallen from grace. When this occurs, refrain from condemning. Pastors are constantly going through trials. Because of their position, they’re easily targeted. But, that is part of the job. So, when you come across information that question the character of a pastor, things that may disqualify him, don’t share it with anyone. If possible, notify the people he is accountable to (Matt 12:36; Ps 101:5; 1 Pet 2:1).
Here’s a quick exercise that might help you refrain from publicly sharing the weaknesses or sins of another. Evaluate yourself. Especially if you want to care for God’s people in the near future. Go through that list and check where you’re at.
“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw the stone” – John 8:7
We need to pray for our fallen men and women. They don’t need your condemnation. They don’t need to be constantly reminded of their history. You don’t need it either. We’re all broken people in need of healing. As good as it feels to know that someone is praying for you, do the same for them. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Let’s practice this.
Pastor, you’ll go through hard times. You’re going to suffer for the kingdom. And people will slander you and defame you. Most of it will be untrue. When your name and character is questioned and you’re criticized, stand strong. God will reward you for your faithfulness. But, if a report emerges and it is true, may that serve as a warning sign to respond appropriately and quickly.
A pastor doesn’t run solo. Elders in the New Testament Church functioned in plurality. It was almost like a board of directors. However, instead of an ultra egalitarian partnership without a responsibility of accountability, they submitted to one another. Each elder was held accountable to the board of elders. Pastors must be part of and submitted to an eldership, a group of qualified leaders, who can hold them accountable to the standards as required by scripture. It is very important that this system is in place. If the pastor cannot submit, or if the eldership is weak and cannot enforce change, then the system is corrupted and useless. For the system to work, to keep the balances in check, it may have submitted pastors and a strong board of elders.
Are you submitted to a board of elders? Are they strong enough to hold you accountable or are they weak and fear asking any questions?
No one considers you to be perfect. We understand that our sinful nature is real. We sometimes expect character flaws. But overall, you are our shepherd and must live a life that reflects the Ultimate Shepherd – Jesus. If untrue statements are being made against you, may you be blessed and the critics be shamed (Matt 5:11; 1 Pet 3:16). However, if they are true, swiftly and with humility, submit to the eldership. As our example, teach us what it looks like to repent quickly and ask forgiveness.
For the men and women who are in pastoral leadership with unqualified character, we ask that before your fall becomes too great, that you humble yourself. Repent. Ask for forgiveness, from God and those you hurt. We want to be led by shepherds who will not only feed us, and protect us from wolves, but shepherds who will also lovingly care. The sooner you acknowledge your error, the sooner the process of restoration can begin.
Examine yourself. Are you still qualified?
Remember, God is slow to anger and quick to extend mercy. In the council of elders there is much wisdom. Seek their counsel and don’t dismiss it like a fool. Be a real man.
We believe God uses pastors to mobilize his people to be Jesus to the world. And so we depend on pastors to be that lead example. We follow you as you follow Christ. So, we ask and pray to God that you’ll be that shepherd God desires you to be. There’s a broken world out there in need of repair. They need Jesus. Be the prototype, and we will model after it. Yes, it begins with you, pastor.