March 27, 2013

Who disqualifies whom?

by Josiah Grauman

“You’d better behave, or daddy will lose his job.”

ducks in arow

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.

I will be goodDoes 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.

burdenHow 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.

Josiah Grauman


Josiah is the director of the 'Instituto de Expositores', a Spanish language training institute at Grace Community Church, where he and his wife serve as missionaries.
  • Nils Halland

    I heartily agree, can I pose the question then, does the lack of children (i.e. unproven family leadership skills) disqualify unmarried/childless eldership candidates? Sorry I know this is not what you’re implying singleness is by no means a barrier of entry to ministry as illustrated throughout the Bible OT and New but how then do we marry the concept of proven personal leadership prior to (and during) the appointment of public leadership? Can we use a read across e.g. supervised leadership in small home groups etc as a substitute? And must the ‘children’ then be not open to the charge…

    • Nils,

      You pose an excellent question, and one that is difficult to answer, because I like to stick to exegesis… and the text says nothing about this issue. Paul assumes in his description that an elder is going to be an older man who has children and a well established reputation. Yet, we know there will be cases of younger elders, perhaps more like Timothy, who do not have as much of a reputation to examen. (No time here to get into Paul and Jesus and other unmarried men with no children, who, though perhaps were not ‘elders’ technically, served as a pattern for elders).

      I would give the illustration of Pastor MacArthur and myself. I have children, but they are too young to be born again. My leadership in many ways is yet to be proven. On the other hand, when I listen to Pastor MacArthur preach, I do it seeing his four children and a large group of grandchildren all listening to his sermon. I hope we are both above reproach, but he is obviously beyond a lot more possible reproach than I. In other words, all elders should be proven to be above reproach, but not all will be so to the same degree in all areas.

      Getting to the point, if it is textually difficult to come to the conclusion that a man who has no children could be disqualified on these grounds, since he has no rebelious children to disqualify him, I would have to answer your question affirmitavely: Do everything you can to look for leadership in other areas.

      Lastly, if we are to lay hands on no one quickly (1 Tim 5:22), and to make sure elders are not a new converts (1 Tim 3:6), perhaps it should be more rare to lay hands on a young man with no wife and children. That is, if we want to make sure they are above reproach, our elder boards should probably be more full of men with white hair and grandchildren then young guys with snotty snosed kids ;).

      Hope that helps,

  • I would add that this is applicable not only to elders but deacons as well since the requirements are nearly the same. Being a deacon’s kid, I can say that it isn’t just preacher’s kids who have that notoriety. 🙂

    • Martha,

      Well said.

      Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well, 1 Tim 3.12.

  • Michael Coughlin

    Well said.

  • Do you have any children? 😉

    • Yes, but I’m in that convenient position I speak about ;). They are still at home. Thus, I speak to this issue not as one who has made it to the other side and am showing you how, but as one who is desperately studying and praying that the Lord would use me in any way possible to save my children!

  • Barb Barrick

    Excellent article, heartily agree, and I will post and pass it on, although not sure where you are going regarding elders being disqualified after children leave home. That would be a troublesome view from my perspective. And on that note, my observation of more than 45 years in ministry and having met hundreds of pastors, elders, and deacons, we might be back to twelve apostles (elders) if that were enforced. And no I don’t believe apostles are for today–that is a joke for comparison purposes. We’ve known very few ministry families who had 3 or more children where all adult children are walking with the Lord in the manner the parents have prayed for and without having a prodigal child for a season at least. But, for me while that is sad, and a heartbreak often for the family, it is our Sovereign God who works in us, both for salvation and for sanctification.

    • Barb,

      Thanks for your question. I guess I just have two thoughts:

      1. My point in the article is not to argue for my position on ‘believing’ children, but rather to give some thoughts for how elders should raise their children. Furthermore, I would submit to you that if a pastor has three children and all bolt out of the house at age 18 and don’t come back to church, he should be disqualified on the grounds of how he raised his children while they were at home, a leadership that produced so much of a hatred for the church in his children.

      2. I think we should be more concerned with obeying the command than worrying about the implications of what will happen if we do. I trust you agree with that statement, so I’ll leave it at that…

      Lord bless!

  • MikeWorrell

    Might I suggest Glass Houses – Why Spiritual Leadership Must Begin at Home by Chris Hamilton. He speaks very well and clearly to this issue.

  • “… 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.” I believe this is the heart of the Father in the parable of the prodigal son(s). I think this is God’s model for parenting as it illustrates the radicality and sheer power of His Grace toward us. Ultimately, we come back to the Father because we are sons and not spiritual orphans. So then we obey out of love and wanting to please our Father in heaven. Only those who have realized that they have already been accepted because of what Christ has done for us are free to obey out of love and gratitude toward our Gracious Father.

    I have 3 little ones at home right now and I too pray that I would demonstrate to my children the same kind of love that my Father in heaven has given me. A radical, unconditional and undeserving love that I can never repay but will enjoy because of His faithfulness to those whom He has made his children. Amen Josiah! Thank you for this post.

  • Susi Johnson

    Josiah thank you so much for this post! It so affirmed my gratitude for my dad who has been in the ministry for 30+ years. Growing up as a pastor’s kid I did feel a deep sense of responsibility knowing that my actions and choices reflected on my dad but this was so much more because I was a people pleaser rather than my dad putting pressure on us to behave for the sake of his job.
    I am so thankful for my dad’s desire to see his family walking with the Lord first and foremost as opposed to how our choices and actions would effect his employment.
    Also, knowing your family, it is a blessing to read this and know that your precious wife loves the Lord and serves her family and church with her whole heart. What a precious example she is of a woman who affirms God’s calling on your life and ministry!

  • Could we infer from the Titus 1 passage that the Lord will sovereignly confirm a man serving in the position of an elder by graciously electing his children when they reach an age appropriate to believing?

    • more correctly, …”by graciously saving his children when they reach an age appropriate to believing, having elected them before the foundation of the world.” (Thanks, Mike)

  • I have started to read your articles pastor Josiah, I consider them a blessing to us! May the Lord continue to bless your ministry.