Some Final Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

We conclude our little series on defrocking the pastor by considering four positive standards that can lead to dismissal if neglected. Our desire is to build our standards for disqualification on defensible ground. I hope this article will offer some guidance towards that end.

What about his reputation?

The Bible gives good reason for this qualification: “lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” 

This qualification is meant primarily for a pastor entering the ministry.  Before calling a pastoral candidate, the church should take some time to review his credit report.  The credit report may have its flaws and shortcomings, but it does provide an objective snapshot of a man’s integrity.  Does he pay his bills?  Does he have excessive debt?  Does he manage his money well?  These things can dramatically impact his ability to minister in the church. 

At the same time, the church shouldn’t be quick to remove the pastor on this basis.  Chances are, the church will have an idea why the pastor might have fallen into financial hardship in the middle of his pastoral ministry.  It could be that his family has faced a health crisis or that they have endured a string of financial setbacks.  In some cases, the pastor has passed on a pay increase for several years running, and things have started to catch up to him. 

This qualification presents another area where the church will need to use discretion.  If the pastor has gotten himself into excessive debt through luxurious living – new cars, expensive vacations, etc. – and now he is on the verge of bankruptcy, I think the church should discuss his finances with him.

In general, the point of disqualification should hover somewhere in the vicinity of bankruptcy, having the car repossessed, or having the house foreclosed.  But even here, I don’t believe there would be a cut-and-dried disqualifier.  If, for example, some hard providence caused the bankruptcy – say, a car accident left the pastor in dire financial straits – I would hope the church would move to support the pastor, not defrock him.

What about his marriage?

The qualification of marital fidelity – that a pastor must be a “one-woman man” – requires more than just the absence of sexual uncleanness.  While this qualification includes negative prohibitions, the point of the qualification is that he must be devoted to his wife.  That is, he must treat his wife with dignity and respect and must love his wife as Christ loved the church, sacrificially giving himself for her.  His marriage must be exemplary, both in public and in private.

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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.

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Some Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

I find it interesting that the Bible never gives a single instance when a sitting pastor was defrocked.  I suppose there could be several explanations for this odd phenomenon.  Perhaps the pastors of that time were cut from a different cloth than pastors in our day.  It could be that there were no pastors who disqualified themselves, and thus nothing to reveal.  Or perhaps, the writers of the New Testament simply chose to ignore specific cases that called for the dismissal of a pastor.

To be clear, we are not arguing that the New Testament has nothing to say about the discipline of a pastor. Paul gave clear instructions for handling such a case. 

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)

These verses indicate the possibility that there will be accusations against elders.  Anticipating this, Paul gives direct instruction on how to handle it.  Consider then what we have here.  Paul acknowledges that there may be accusations against an elder.  He admits that the pastor may in fact be in the wrong.  Yet, he does not provide a single example of the dismissal of the pastor.  Are we to take this to mean that no pastor disqualifief himself in the New Testament?

To be honest, I can’t say.  I believe that a pastor can disqualify himself from pastoral ministry, of course.  But the Scriptural emphasis is on the qualifications, not the disqualifications. The point of the qualification passages (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)  is not so we will know when to give the pastor the sack.  Paul gives the qualifiers; we imply from his list the disqualifiers.

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With this in mind, we should consider at what point violation of the qualifications of a pastor would require the removal of the pastor.  I have observed that many make assumptions about the point of disqualification, but more than a few of these assumptions are extra-biblical, informed more by tradition than Scripture.  In my mind, an even bigger problem comes from the uneven way these qualifications are applied.      

That said, here are a few points to consider.

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A Tale of Two Church Splits

Though I will not be naming names in this article, I want you the reader to know that I am writing about true events that have taken place in the Salt Lake area over the past decade, the most recent part of the story in the past few months.  I am writing this for three reasons: first, as a cautionary tale to pastors and churches.  The events outlined in this article are wicked and un-Scriptural, but an example of what happens when self-interest drives the decision-making process of a church.  Second, as a warning: if you know someone who has been contacted about taking a church in the Salt Lake Valley, you might want to make sure it doesn’t involve the people I am discussing in this article.  Send me an email or a private message, or call my church to discuss it with me.  I am not naming names here for the sake of innocent friends who have been affected by these things, to safeguard their identities.  Should the need arise, I will not hesitate to name names in a future article.  But for now, I will relate the events and leave the principal characters anonymous.  If you are an Independent Baptist living in our area, you are no doubt familiar with the story.  If you aren’t already familiar with these things, it won’t hurt you to know the history without knowing the details.  Third, I write this as a rebuke: the men who have done this deserve to be rebuked and exposed.  I am not sparing for their sake, but for the sake of others who would be affected should I expose the main characters.  But also, a slew of pastors who have supported the main perpetrators of this ungodly act also deserve to be rebuked.  And I rebuke them.  That said, I will be relating here the history of two church splits, and then re-visiting a few of the points I have just made. 

The story involves two churches and three pastors, and unless I give them each some name, the story will be hard to follow.  For the sake of simplicity, we will name the two churches The Original Church and The Church Split.  With that clarification, let me begin.

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Money Mistakes Pastors Make

As a pastor, I have learned firsthand the kind of quality men God has called to the ministry – some of the finest men in the world. I mean that – no tongue in cheek here. The world may think of pastors as the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things, but I know too many good men, men who have committed their life to the gospel and the good of their fellowman to give any credence to that kind of thinking. From across America and around the world, I am blessed by the many pastors and assistant pastors, missionaries, church planters, and Christian school teachers who have committed their life to God’s work.  They love what they do. They don’t consider it a sacrifice. If they could live their lives over again, the men I know would choose the ministry over any other vocational calling.  I think if they had nine lifetimes and could choose any vocation to fill those lifetimes, they would choose the ministry.  The “burdens” are a small price to pay for the joy of serving God and His people full time.  Truly we can say of them that “the world was not worthy.”

One thing I have observed about nearly every pastor or missionary I know: they know what it means to give themselves.  I hope you will keep that in mind as I discuss money mistakes pastors make. Most of their mistakes are made on the side of self-sacrifice and a desire to maximize the Lord’s money.

What I intend to address here is not intended to promote greed or cause anyone to stumble into the love of money.  Too many pastors come to the end of their ministry and have little to fall back on.  After giving themselves to God and their people, they find that they are not in a position where they can retire comfortably and still provide for their wife.  And while I realize that many pastors have an aversion to the “R” word (retire), I also think that much of the discussion on that subject is unrealistic. 

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