“You’d better behave, or daddy will lose his job.”
What does a pastor tell his children (or wife) concerning the reality that their conduct has a direct bearing on his livelihood? Obviously it is a conversation that will probably happen, but I propose that it is a mistake to tell your family that if they misbehave, the man of the house might end up on unemployment. Telling your children to stay in line so that you can stay at work may seem necessary, but the reality is that such comments seem indicative of the kind of thing that a pastor who is disqualified might say to his family. Let me explain.
Regardless of your view on what it means to have ‘believing’ children, it is indisputable that 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 list the requirements for an elder. In other words, the child isn’t running for office; it is the father who is being examined. It is his moral character, his leadership, his teaching ability, and his headship that are in view. Having ‘believing’ children reflects on his ability to lead souls, and that is what matters if he is going to lead the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Therefore, instead of thinking that a child can disqualify his father, it is much more biblical to understand that the father disqualifies himself if he neglects to wisely manage his family.
Does this seem like just semantics? If it does, I’d suggest you talk to a few pastors’ kids (they are notorious for a reason), and I think you’ll find the difference is night and day. The father who worries about his children disqualifying him often runs his house by rules and regulations that can create Pharisees who, out of fear of consequences, give lip service to their father’s God until they move out of the house. At this point, consequences cease and the heart is revealed. Unfortunately, since this kind of father almost always holds the view that out-of-house apostasy has no bearing on his elder qualification, all is thought to be well. Of course, even if he didn’t hold that view before, when his children move out and rebel it’ll be an incredibly convenient time to reevaluate that doctrine.
Is that the kind of man you want to watch over your soul, one whose leadership is marked by an exasperating legalism?
Of course, this applies not only to children, but also to wives. If a pastor’s wife resents the fact that her husband is a pastor who always prefers others and never her… in terms of qualifications, who’s fault is this? I would argue that the one doing the disqualifying is the pastor who didn’t lead his wife to love the ministry. He is the one who didn’t care enough for her soul. So again, instead of thinking, “oh, his wife disqualified him”, we ought to understand, “he disqualified himself by not loving his wife more than himself and his own aspirations.”
So, the next time an elder steps down and says it’s because of his wife or child, know that his very description reveals the heart of the problem. He needs to step down not because of them, but because of himself. Unfortunately, it’s so easy to worry about somebody else’s actions in a relationship. We’re really good at setting up rules to make sure our wives submit and our children obey, instead of making sure we love our wives and are instructing and disciplining our children without exasperating them.
Thus, I would submit to you that the qualified pastor is the gospel-oriented husband and father who is concerned most about his own pursuit of Christ, leading his family by the hand all along the way. They know that he would drop anything to minister to them; they know it is his joy and privilege to manage his household well. And while it is a joy, it is also his biblical responsibility. 1 Timothy 3 doesn’t contain suggestions; they are things an elder must be.
How foolish, then, is it for a pastor to make his child or wife bear the burden of what he must be? This is his burden to bear, not theirs. I don’t want my children growing up fearing that any misstep of theirs is going to get me fired. I want them fearing that any sin they commit is grievous in the sight of the God I love, and at the same time, any sin, however heinous it might be, will receive a full pardon from Him if they repent and believe, a pardon that will be reflected in the loving embrace of their dad as well, no matter what that means for me. This is my prayer; this is what I want them to be concerned about: Their relationship with God, not the status of my employment.