Monday, September 17, 2007

A Joke That Should Lead Us to Tears and to Change

In the 60's, the Bee Gees recorded one of their early breakthrough hits entitled, "I Started a Joke." The song told the sad story of a man who had "joked" his way through life to the point that he had become a parody of himself, ultimately finding that the joke was on him. I'm afraid that this song could apply to many individuals who share the profession to which I have been called - The profession of vocational Christian Service and Christian Ministry.

The stories abound of pastors who have been caught behaving in unbelievably shameful ways. Just last week, a shocking account came to light of a high profile ministry couple who had gotten into a physical fight that was of such intensity that the minister husband's violence against his well-known minister wife resulted in her hospitalization for several days! After making a press release regarding the incident, the wife filed for divorce a few days later and the husband has made know his plans not to contest it.

If this were not disturbing enough, the husband actually returned to his pulpit the following Sunday, and his congregation gave him a thunderous and sustained ovation before he commenced to deliver his message!! There are other high-profile cases involving Pastoral families exposing heart-breaking troubles out there in Pastor-land. Something is terribly wrong.

Of course, such troubles from "People of the Cloth" make for fertile ground for the cynical and for late night comedians. Ministers are seen less as trustworthy servants, dedicated to help, nurture, protect and comfort and more as under trained crooks who are out to benefit themselves and "stick it" to anyone naive enough to fall for their sleazy tricks. I get a real sense of this disdain for preachers as I rub elbows with folks who aren't "buying" what we as Christians are "selling". They are particularly turned off by the lack of accountability that it seems characterizes many preachers and the lack of adequate professional preparation that accompanies it. I was having lunch with a group of secular employed friends who shared story upon story of self-appointed "ministers" who received their ministry "credentials" in a matter of days, if not minutes, simply by sending money to a less than reputable credential factory over the Internet! There was howling laughter all around. Obviously, i didn't find the matter at all humorous. Nevertheless, we Christians have no one but ourselves to blame.

How can we expect people to respect us and our leaders when we don't take steps to scrutinize our leaders according to instructions laid out by the very Book we say we follow? Biblical standards for spiritual leaders are extremely clear. James warns anyone who desires to pursue the pastorate that they will be judged by harsher standards. In any profession one can name, there is an expectation more is required of leaders. This should be especially true of those who serve as Spiritual leaders. Here are the Biblical requirements for a pastor:

Pastors must possess the desire to serve (1 Tim. 3:1).
Pastors must be sober and temperate (1Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8)
Pastors must be of good behavior (1 Tim. 3:2).
Pastors must not be given to wine (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7).
Pastors are not to be strikers or brawlers, but are to be patient with others (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7).
Pastors should not be investing time in ministry for monetary gain and must not be greedy or covetous (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7).
Pastors must not be new converts (1 Tim. 3:6).
Pastors must be given to hospitality, receptive and open to help others (1 Tm. 3:2; Titus 1:8).
Pastors must be monogamous, not married to more than one woman or trivial in marital commitment (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6).
Pastors are to have orderly households that are not prone to chaos and disorder (1 Tim. 3:4).
Pastors must be able to teach and instruct with sound doctrine (1 Tim. 3:2)

It is important for me to note right here and now, lest I open myself up to failure brought on by pride and self-righteousness, that I do not claim perfection nor do I claim I am above the ability to fail in my calling. As a good friend who is also in the pastorate shared with a group of pastors after the fall of a colleague, " I am a man of like passions. Nevertheless, because of the Grace of God, the close fellowship of friends who hold me accountable and the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, I have not acted on them."

His statement provides some important keys to helping those called to ministry succeed in excelling their calling. First, we who are called must realize our vulnerability to failure. Left to ourselves, each of us has within us the ability to fall in such a way that we could bring disgrace on ourselves, our families, our congregations and our faith. Secondly, none of us should serve without accountability. We need close friends with whom we can share our personal hurts, issues and struggles and we need parameters within which we can be held to task for the ministry that we carry out. None of us is above scrutiny and we should be able to give an accounting for what we do and how we do it. Most importantly, we need a genuine faith, and a walk with God. If we don't believe and we're not walking, we shouldn't be serving.

Some final notes to you my friends who are in the "laity". You have responsibilities as well. You should not be following someone who clearly falls short of the pastoral qualifications outlined in Scripture. Note, the word "must" that begins the sentences outlining pastoral leadership. The spiritual growth and health of many people rides on the fulfilment of these qualifications. Also, be certain that individuals who are voicing the conviction that they have a "call" and desire to pursue vocational ministry show evidence of the qualifications in their lives and that others see this evidence as well. I was not comfortable in pursuing my own calling until a virtual chorus of others confirmed my inner convictions and informed me that a failure to pursue using the gifts that were evident in my life would be tantamount to disobeying the Lord. They then exposed and led me to the path of preparation for ministry that took almost five years for me to complete - remember, even Jesus' disciples walked with Him for more than 3 years before being launched into ministry. There is no substitute for preparation.

Moral failure in ministry is no laughing matter. Let's do our best to police our own ranks and to make sure that if someone rejects the Gospel, they reject it as a matter of their own hearts, not because we've reduced the Good News to nothing more than a good joke. Until next time,


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