A few years ago a young man knocked on my door and invited me to his church. I was a little surprised, because of his young age, to discover he was the lead pastor of his church. I must confess that my initial reaction was negative. I remember thinking to myself that I could never follow a pastor as young as the man standing on my porch. I’ve often thought of that encounter and even repented a bit for my initial reaction. Scripture is rife with stories of God using the young and old alike and I’ve come to learn that, in His sovereignty, God can call and use whoever He sees fit. Perhaps I was a little jealous that such a young man had discovered His calling early in life while I was still struggling to determine my own.
But there are advantages to a pastor who has some years on him as opposed to one who is young. At the top of that list has to be an awareness of one’s dependance upon God. Age has a way of teaching us about our own limitations. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that nothing I’ve accomplished for the Gospel was accomplished in my own merit or in my own strength. I have developed an awareness of my own weakness and sinfulness that makes me appreciate God’s grace all the more. That same awareness should be present in a pastor. In his book, What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All Steve Brown writes the following:
Did you ever think that grace (i.e., God’s unmerited favor) is attracted to sin? That’s what the apostle Paul said: “The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
Older, more experienced, pastors tend to be more aware of their weaknesses and their sin and because of that awareness grace abounds. A friend recently shared stories about a rehabilitation ministry he is involved with for recovering addicts. Essentially, addicts are placed in a secluded monastery where the grace of Jesus Christ is liberally applied to their wounds. The stories that come out of this ministry are beautiful because their sins are often so great that grace is multiplied. It’s the same for a pastor who is aware of his own sin – grace is multiplied.
Age, mistakes, regret, persecution, trials, and even sin have a tendency to mature a growing Christian. James puts it this way:
“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, NASB).
Granted, even a young pastor can possess the kind of spiritual maturity I am writing about, but young or old, this maturity is an essential quality in a pastor. The expectations we place on our church leaders tend to get things upside down. We want our pastors to be beacons of perfection. We want them to be the most holy, most perfect, and least sinful members of our church; yet when I think about the pastors that have taught me the most I discover they are the ones that know first hand the cost of their own sin and appreciate the grace it took to place them in the pulpit. Should pastors strive to be holy and provide an example for us to follow? Absolutely. But I don’t want a pastor who has simply read about trials – I want one that knows first-hand what I’m going through and can relate to my problems. Heck, if Jesus can relate to our temptations, shouldn’t our pastors?
“15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Our leaders need to remember their sin and remember the grace that conquered it. The Apostle Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament penned these words:
“15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Paul went on to set the standards required of our pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:
“3 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Above reproach, a one woman man, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted, gentle, peaceable, not greedy … there’s a reason these qualifications are written in the present tense. I don’t want my pastor to nurture any addictions, or to be angry, or to have a wandering eye … but if he can tell me about a time when his life failed to meet those qualifications and then tell me how Christ intervened in his life with grace … that’s the gospel! That story of redemption is going to resonate with me and give me hope … because I’m a sinner too.
I suppose I’m not arguing for physical maturity as much as I am spiritual maturity. We see pastors fall all the time. Ministries, families, and churches are far too often ripped apart because we’ve put someone in the pulpit that wasn’t spiritually mature and lacked an appreciation for the gravity of their own sin and the grace it took to conquer it. To reference Paul one last time, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 2:9) and unless a person understands that, they have no business in the pulpit.