The Pastor is Usually NOT the Most Sanctified Person in the Body
This year is my 12th year in the pastoral ministry. To some, that might sound like I'm just getting started. Unfortunately, by statistics, it would seem that it is ONLY the sheer grace of God that I have even made it this far, and I give Him thanks regularly. For every imperfection that people see in me, I could give them 20 more to add to their list.
I am going to let you in on something that most people in Christian Culture fail to understand:
Your Pastor is likely NOT the most sanctified person in the church
Does that surprise you? Disappoint you?
If it does surprise you, then I would say that it is symptomatic of the culture that creates the downfall of many of the pastors who I have seen struggle in their sanctification, because it creates a culture where vulnerability is looked at as weakness and therefore struggles goes unconfessed, struggles become sin, sin becomes patterns, and before you know it, the pastor is in too deep to feel like they can confess something that they should have felt free to confess before they had to get to this juncture.
Where did this notion even come from? How did this notion become a commonly held thought? Why are people so surprised when a pastor struggles with sin?
As I ask even those couple of questions (and I could easily ask more), can you see how these commonly held views could create a culture where pastors do not feel free to struggle, or even work out their sanctification, because they feel the crushing weight of the expectations of the eyes that are watching to be without flaw?
Now before anyone think that I am trying to lower the bar, excuse sin, or anything of the sort, I assure you that I am not. There is a high bar set in terms of character in passages like 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5 and others. But nowhere does it say that the pastor would not struggle or that they would be sinless. They are to point people to the ONLY ONE who was sinless.
Nowhere does it say that a pastor does not require the same grace to live out their Christian walk as any other believer either.
And that right there friends is where so many of my beloved brothers have been crushed in the pastoral ministry. Their position was in large part graceless. Their failures were magnified rather than given grace. They were expected to give grace to struggling sinners, yet were not given grace to be a struggling sinner. PASTORS NEED GRACE JUST AS MUCH AS ANYONE ELSE IN THE CHURCH. I feel like it needs to be said, but why? Why does it need to be said? Why is it something that comes so unnaturally to people?
Well let me, in no particular order, make a few statements, ask a couple of questions, and maybe dispel some faulty notions:
1. Where in the bible does it state that the pastor should be the most sanctified person in the congregation, or that they should not struggle with sin? Let's start with the foundation of God's Word, because that is our basis for where we should go to look for answers. I'm gonna let you in on a little secret. You can read the bible cover to cover (in fact, please do) and you won't find that anywhere in the Scriptures. But, but, what about where it says "that pastors will be held to a higher standard", which leads me to...
2. It does't say anywhere in the bible that pastors will be held to a higher standard regarding their present level of progressive sanctification- I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have heard that "verse" that is not a "verse" tossed out in order to justify being graceless toward pastors. Let me tell you what it does say. It says that a pastor is to be "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3:1-2), which means that their lifestyle is not given over to unrepentant patterns of sin, especially the ones outlined in 1 Timothy 3. The place that this misquote probably comes from is James 3:1 that states that "teachers will be held to a higher standard". That means that we will be called to give an account for how we handle the teaching of God's Word, and in particular that we are not to mislead God's people by falsely teaching God's truth. Or it could come from Hebrews 13:17, that says that pastors "will have to give an account" for those under their care. Ironically, people that like to quote that verse leave out the first part, but that's for another day. But it is a true reality that we will have to give an account before Jesus for those who have been entrusted to our care.
But, you put it all together and IT STILL does not say that the way pastors pursue Jesus or go about their sanctification should be held to a different standard than the other pilgrims who are trying their best to love Jesus with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength but stumble and fall along the way.
3. Pastors are called to TEACH grace, and to EXTEND grace, so shouldn't they also RECEIVE grace? This is perhaps the one that has stung the most, caused the most wounds, and even caused scars that still to this day hurt and have not gone away. I will never understand how churches can teach grace from the pulpit, cultivate a theology and culture of grace, be filled with a people who are aware of their need of grace, but when it comes to their leaders, are unable to give leaders grace. Since I already said I don't understand it, I don't have much to say about it other than- it is unacceptable and unbiblical.
4. If you have young pastors do you REALLY want them to be the most sanctified person in your church? I am trying to write this blog series about pastoral ministry in general and not about my experiences specific, but I am 37 years old. Not sure if that makes me young or old. Probably depends on who you ask. We have another pastor who is 29. DO YOU REALLY EXPECT THEM TO BE MORE SANCTIFIED THAN THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN WALKING WITH JESUS FOR LONGER THAN THEY'VE BEEN ALIVE? I mean, think about that question again. Please. If the pastor is expected to be the most sanctified person in the body, then who do they go to when they are wrestling with areas of their sanctification? I PRASE GOD for our silver haired saints who smell like Jesus infinitely more than I do. To put it quite bluntly, if there was no one in my church more sanctified than me, it would frighten me. It would also leave a pastor with very few options in terms of who to go to when they are facing various struggles. And that, my friends, is a big reason that has led to the culture of fallen pastors. They feel this weight to be the most mature, when I can say at least for myself- I am most certain not, and I am grateful for those who are more mature in Christ than me. So lastly...
5. Do you have a culture where your pastors are free to struggle like the other Christians in the church? Can your pastor struggle? Can they even admit that they struggle? Can they confess their shortcomings and receive grace like we would give to someone else who was not in leadership confessed their shortcomings would receive? If you suspected that your pastor was struggling, would you give them the benefit of the doubt or jump to judgment? If your suspicions were confirmed is this person cast out in your eyes? These are worthwhile questions that I pray you would take seriously if we are ever to know what it means to create a community and culture of grace.
So, there you have it. Your pastor is a wretched sinner. I hope that does not drop a bomb on you or surprise you in any way. If it does, then consider asking yourself why.