More Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

The list of pastoral qualifications is relatively broad – I believe intentionally.  God wants His churches to be discerning.  For this reason, it is not always possible to identify a strict point at which a pastor would be disqualified based on these standards.  For example, I have no idea when a pastor would be disqualified based on how he practices hospitality (a practice that both Timothy and Titus require).  If the pastor is sometimes reluctant to open his home to guests, is he therefore disqualified?  He isn’t a “lover of hospitality.”  Should the church have a minimum requirement for their pastor, how often he must invite guests to his home?  If the deacons haven’t had dinner at his house in a couple of years, is that grounds for removal?  Hardly. 

Similarly, Titus says that the pastor must not be “self-willed” or “soon angry.”  I know many pastors who would be in serious trouble if their church strictly applied these qualifications.  Their entire ministry is marked by self-will.  They are hot-headed bullies.  These qualifications count every bit as much as the requirement that a pastor be “blameless.” Yet, pastors and churches regularly overlook or ignore these standards.  At what point should a hot-tempered pastor be sacked? That answer may not be so immediately apparent. 

For most of these qualifications, it would be impossible to lay down a minimal standard that a pastor must meet to avoid disqualification.  Again, I believe this to be a design feature of the qualifications.  God didn’t give these lists so we could defrock the pastor.  The list provides a standard that every pastor should strive to meet.  They give the church a benchmark to look for in a pastor.  But God made these qualifications sufficiently broad, leaving room for interpretation.

Two or three of these specific qualifications are relatively straightforward, and grounds for removal would at least be identifiable.  On the negative side, a pastor must not be a “striker” or a “brawler,” he must not be “greedy of filthy lucre,” and he must not be “given to wine.”  On the positive side, he must be “the husband of one wife;” he must “rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;” “he must have a good report of them which are without” (all taken from Timothy’s list). 

I intend to discuss a minimal requirement that, if not met, should result in removal.  Not to repeat everything I have said, but individual churches would determine when and how to enforce these standards.  Nor should a church consider these as minimal standards for a pastoral candidate.  A pastor should strive for the highest quality in his everyday life based on Scriptural standards.  What I am discussing here is the minimum expectation which, if not met, should result in the removal of the pastor.  

For the sake of organization, we will consider the negative qualifiers in this post, then consider the positive qualifiers later.  Negatively, a pastor must not be a striker or a brawler, he must not be “money greedy,” and he must not be given to wine. 

What about the pastor’s temper?

Let me preface what I have to say here with a word about the effeminacy of our age.  America has a pandemic of effeminate pastors.  If a backboned man leads your church, then you know that from time to time, he will get a little hot.  Inasmuch as his wrath is motivated by the purity of the church and the honor of God, a church should be grateful that they have such a pastor.

Defrocking the pastor for a bad temper (“no striker…” “not a brawler…”) would be a matter of church discipline, requiring a church to follow Matthew 18’s instructions for dealing with offenses.  If the pastor has a blow-up once every five years or so, the church doesn’t have a problem. The pastor’s station in the church should not be in jeopardy.  If the fireworks are a regular feature of his ministry, sort of like they are a feature of minor league baseball – after every game – then the church needs to consider approaching the pastor with this failure.  The Bible gives additional instruction regarding an offending pastor.

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; (I Timothy 5:1)

Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (I Timothy 5:19-20)

If rebuke does the trick, the pastor and the church can grow together into greater faithfulness.  As far as defrocking the pastor on this basis, I would urge caution.

I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality. Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure. (I Timothy 5:21-22)

Removal from office on this basis should be extremely rare.  Nonetheless, I believe that a continual disregard for these specific qualifications, as evidenced by a repeated ignoring of the church’s call to repent, could – perhaps should – lead to the removal of the pastor.

In the event that a pastor has his church so bullied that they wouldn’t dare stand up to his frequent temper tantrums, we have another problem altogether.  I do not say that the church should continue to let themselves be bullied.  But, as is the case when confronting a bully, the church should be prepared for things to get messy in a hurry.

Let me add that many of the hard-liners on the subject of a pastor’s children have been very lax and indulgent on the Bible’s requirement (stated in a host of different qualifications) that he has his temper under control:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; (I Timothy 3:2-3)

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; (Titus 1:7-8)

It is safe to say that the Bible says much, much more about the pastor’s temper than it says about his children.  Between the two passages, the temper outnumbers the kids by a rate of 11-to-2.  While I have heard men insist that a pastor be defrocked because his son held hands with his girlfriend, I have never heard those same men insist that a pastor be removed because of his bad temper. 

Self-interest is a curious thing.

What about money?

Greed and covetousness can be hard to pin down with precision.  Covetousness is one of those sins that can be present in just about every sin.  If a man could root out all traces of avarice from his life, he would be a man without sin. 

But while covetousness may be a universal problem, finding a point of disqualification for this sin can be next to impossible.  Unless the point is to find a reason to eject the pastor, I say that this particular qualification would leave us with little to work with.

If a pastor has a money-loving heart, we assume it would show itself in a few obvious behaviors.  Yet, I would argue that the key indicators that a man is feathering his own nest would not typically be the kind of things that a church might protest.  Let me explain what I mean.

James instructs,

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. (James 2:1)

He then illustrates with the mercenary greeter or church usher:

For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4)

Suppose a pastor is a respecter of persons.  Chances are, the church supports him in it.  After all, if the man with the matted hair and cardboard sign wanders into the church, most likely one of the very diligent ushers will be right there to seat him as far away from the other visitors as possible.  And if the pastor never pays Mr. B-O a visit, nobody is bothered.  On the other hand, if Gold-Ring Man stops in for church, the pastor will likely be asked several times if he has visited the man yet.  “What are we waiting for?  You had time Sunday afternoon….” And so, the covetousness of the church provides cover for the pastor. 

Photo by Timur Weber on Pexels.com

As I see it, pandering to the wealthiest members or to the most prominent contributors is the most likely manifestation of the money-loving heart.  Would this be a disqualifier?  I think so.  But it would be hard to detect in a sea of money-greedy members. 

What is far more likely to manifest itself is the creeping rot of compromise.  The pastor’s love of money prevents him from standing for truth, from preaching standards or convictions, from dealing with sin in the church, anything that might ruffle the delicate feathers of the goose that lays the golden egg. 

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9)

I don’t believe a pastor must live the Dave Ramsey way, or he is greedy of filthy lucre.  A pastor might live the Dave Ramsey way and be greedy of filthy lucre.  A pastor may take great care of his money, be able to afford a nicer car and the occasional vacation, and not be fostering a money-loving heart.  And on the contrary, a pastor might drive a clunker, never have money for a vacation, and he might be eaten up with greed.  By and large, it would be tough to pin down the profile of the money-loving heart.  I am pretty sure that we cannot draw an absolute line of disqualification on this point.  And I am equally certain that a pastor can disqualify himself from ministry by his covetousness.

What about the wine?

If the pastor has abstained from alcohol for his entire life and then makes a casual decision to start drinking, the church should consider this a serious breach, even more so if the church covenant includes a prohibition of alcohol.  If he has covenanted with his church not to drink – and required the same of the membership – then he owes the church an explanation.  If he has changed his position on this matter, he should immediately tender his resignation.  If he won’t, the church should fire him.

In the sovereignty of God, some desperate sinners have been saved and called into pastoral ministry.  Falling back into old sins might not be such a conscious choice for them.  The old man dies hard.  Since this article aims to identify lines where the pastor should be disqualified, I prefer to draw the line where there can be no doubt that the pastor should be removed.  So, here is my opinion.

If the pastor falls back into drunkenness (if he was a regular lush before he was saved), I believe this would call for public rebuke (I Timothy 5:20).  If the pastor falls back into this sin regularly – say he goes on a bender every five years or so, I think the church will need to consider removing him.  If the pastor is sneaking out to the taverns on Friday nights and the church discovers this (in other words, he isn’t repentant), I think he needs to be defrocked. 

Similarly, if a pastor has a drug addiction in his past, the church might be able to extend some grace if he, one time in a moment of weakness, falls back into the sin.  But if this becomes a thing every couple of years, the church needs to find a new pastor.  And I would add as a caution, my understanding of drug addiction is that it almost always involves sexual immorality.  The church should consider this very carefully in any investigation.

In the next post, we will consider what the Biblical minimum would be for the positive qualifications, which are these: he must have a good report of them which are without; he must be blameless, the husband of one wife, and he must be one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity.  Feel free to weigh in on any of these in the comments.

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