Sunny Side of The Stream: Good Pastors are Good Husbands and Fathers
I never imagined pastoring could look so simple, humble and frankly family-style.
I took a photo recently of my three church pastors/elders during a Sunday service under a park pavilion. In the photo, one leads worship on a guitar. The other two stand nearby. Behind them, one elder’s daughter rides a scooter and another’s sits on the concrete, perhaps playing with chalk. There’s a playground out of view. An elder’s wife, pregnant, sits in view in one of several lawn chairs. Her toddler walks up to her. Under our pavilion the picnic tables have signs of a finished meal. One table has napkins, plasticware, paper towels, grape juice and a box of Matzahs: our communion elements.
The elders are wearing ordinary, everyday clothes such as jeans, t-shirts, a button down, a flannel, a hoodie and a baseball cap.
That day my elders would lead us in communion and repentance in the context of a meal, as they do every Sunday gathering. We would collectively take time to examine our hearts and lives and repent silently or choose to confess out loud. They don’t always offer a sermon beyond a brief exhortation. Still, I’ve learned tons of theology and life lessons from them in other formats such as Bible studies, resource recommendations and conversations.
The Qualifications of a Pastor/Elder
I used to think that a church naturally has one senior pastor who gets paid to give a weekly sermon in a dedicated building. But, for what it’s worth, I don’t see that exact format laid out in scripture. He would also need to be an example of godliness who can teach others how to live. But that’s a lot of pressure to carry alone, and what if that one, important pastor falls morally under the isolating pressure? And of course, many of the most well-known pastors are charismatic and visionary. But charismatic, crowd-drawing leadership is not a biblical qualification for an elder.
What does it take to be a good pastor? The first biblical qualification of an elder is that he be a good husband and father. Devoted to one woman only, raising godly children, self-controlled: showing that he’s able to manage his own household so that he’s qualified to manage God’s household. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”
I’ve wondered what contributes to moral failures in pastors. While many are godly and remain faithful, some fall — and this causes deep harm to us, the body of Christ. It also disgraces the reputation of Jesus and it pushes away a watching world which needs Him. Are our typical church ways helping us or hurting us? All I can say is that the differences I’ve seen in my most recent church seem to be healthy and biblical, and I feel cared for and safe. Perhaps my experience may be of some encouragement to others.
Confessing and Repenting as a Church Family
I now am a member of a congregation led by three men who are the elders/pastors. They’re committed husbands and fathers, they’re accountable to each other, and they choose the path of being spiritual fathers versus spiritual celebrities.
Our congregation is small and we usually meet in homes for Sunday meetings, Bible studies and prayer meetings. So I’ve gotten to know these elders personally. I’ve watched how they speak to their wives and parent their children. I’ve learned from their example. In fact, being in the home of one elder has changed the way I engage with kids. I’ve learned to look for ways to tell kids what they should do in a reassuring tone, rather than telling them what they shouldn’t do in a demanding tone.
I imagine what it would be like if any one of them were the senior pastor in a typical, larger church setting. A man who gets up on stage and speaks to an audience. And that’s about as much of his life as I see. I wouldn’t really know such a man, and he wouldn’t really know me. That would seem odd and distant, given how personally we’re all connected now, eating a meal together and sharing life, often in our homes. Repenting of our sins together every week. Sharing what we’re going through, our joys and weaknesses, what God is showing us and the behaviors or beliefs we’re struggling to turn away from. Praying for each other.
Examining ourselves, taking communion, repenting and confessing: this meeting is like an immune system for us, a filtering. The elders model confession, examining what kind of husbands and fathers they’ve been that week.
A young man in our congregation who came to faith in Jesus and was baptized last year shared that seeing the way the men in our congregation treat their wives and kids was surprising to him. He thought a man should be tough. During the portion of our meeting when we repent and take communion, he was surprised to see one father humble and vulnerable enough to share openly with tears what he was repenting of. He wasn’t used to seeing men being so gentle, caring and servant-hearted towards their families. “I’ve never seen men like that,” he told me in a phone interview. His view of what it means to be a man began to change.
Accountable to Us and Each Other
In my little church there’s no one senior pastor. No one makes unilateral decisions. No one has veto power. There’s just the three of them, equal in authority, humble, correctable by other godly men, attentive to their wives and children, accountable to one another and accessible to us.
I’m sure there are other churches with similar values, but my experience at this congregation has felt pretty different from other church experiences I’ve had. The absence of a primary senior pastor, for one, since there’s multiple. The fact that we give to meet each other’s needs, and more often than not, our meeting place is free of charge. And the part about meals/confession/communion being more regular than a sermon. We typically only skip communion if we’re baptizing someone and there’s not another good time to do it. In that case, the meeting that’s usually designed for believers to take communion becomes evangelistic.
Now that I’ve been exposed to this system of church government, I realize that a pastor/elder could be any man who follows Christ, and …
- Is a good husband and father.
- Lays down his life for his family, and can be trusted to do the same for a larger group.
- Knows and loves the scriptures and can answer questions about them and teach them.
- Is generous and hospitable, willing to open up his homes for meetings.
- Is humble and accountable, submitted to other men in leadership.
- Has godly character and is an example for others to follow.
A man who wants to be a pastor/elder must be willing to take on great responsibility and have the character to love people through their weaknesses and difficulties and to make difficult decisions for the best of the congregation — decisions for which they will give an account to God.
Lowly “Fathers and Mothers Who Father and Mother,” Not Celebrities of Religious Empires
Allen Hood, a ministry leader I respect, recently shared his heart about the church and what kind of transformation she needs. He wrote:
The Spirit is convening God’s servants and inviting us to be more than entrepreneurs, vision casters, and strategists. He wants us to be fathers and mothers who father and mother families, ministries, businesses, communities, and kingdom initiatives.
The Spirit is wooing us out of the previous season of celebrity Christianity where powerful executives and founders build massive religious empires around the cult of personality. He is calling us to embrace the meek and lowly apostolic model of Jesus who, as the Head of all things, lays down His life for God’s people.
God “wants us to be fathers and mothers.” That’s what I’ve experienced in my church. My pastors and their wives have cared for me through breakups and heart breaks. Laughed with me, counseled me and given me a shoulder to cry on. Helped me process the things of life and discipled me along the way. Taught me how to lead a Bible study and how to correct a child. I’ve watched them invest time and energy in making hard decisions and caring for the needs of the flock at great personal expense.
I know these men are mutually accountable to each other. They’ll accept correction from each other. They’re not some singular, special man whom no one can correct and without whom the church would collapse. I feel safe under their leadership.
As someone who has grown up in the church, I’m relieved to see that the job of pastor/elder can be fulfilled in such a simple, humble and familial way. A man who fills this role mainly needs to be one of several godly husbands and fathers in a community of believers who can be trusted to lead sacrificially and teach biblically. I hope I will always be pastored by deeply dependable, honestly accountable, wise and caring fathers, and always be grateful for their leadership.