What do you look for in your pastor?
What do you look for in a pastor? You went through this exercise a little over a year ago. When Pastor Janke accepted a Call you worked with the district president to prepare a list of potential pastors. As part of that process President Naumann or one of his representatives solicited your input – hopefully – about Bethel’s needs. This exercise aided him in identifying pastors with the gifts and abilities to serve at this particular place at this particular time.
Think back to that dim, dark past. What were you thinking? Probably what many people at many parishes have thought. “We want someone who will be faithful to the Word of God.” Hopefully that was near the top. Then what else? “We need someone young and energetic.” “We need someone older and more experienced.” “We need someone who can work with kids or get our youth back.” “We need someone to do outreach.” “I hope we get a nice guy.” “I hope his wife plays the organ.” “I hope he has kids so we can grow our Sunday School.” “I hope he can be my best friend.” We could expand the list into infinite, I imagine.
And yet, also crawling around in your minds were probably dirty little thoughts like, “I hope he won’t make me too uncomfortable.” “I hope he won’t tell me to change things.” “I hope he understands how we’ve always done things.” “I hope he understands who’s in charge.” “I hope we can control him and make him do what we want.”
It’s easy to think of a pastor as an employee: someone who matches YOUR qualifications. And while, to a degree that’s true – you don’t call someone who can’t deal with kids to deal with kids, or someone with no energy to be a street missionary, or someone with bad health to live in an overseas mission that stresses health – in the end, the qualifications that matter most for a pastor, the things you should look for, are those laid out by God in His Word.
We have that before us today. The apostle Paul writes to one of his companions, “my true son in the common faith,” about this very topic. Paul writes to Titus working on the island of Crete, and tells him what to look for in a pastor.
He starts with morals. Paul tells Titus to look for men above reproach, not open to blame. He wants one-woman men, not Casanovas or someone burning through wives. He talks about children: they should be believers, not reckless and wild, totally out-of-control lawbreakers. In other words, his family shouldn’t be going beyond what sinners “normally” do. To Timothy Paul explains: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”
Paul goes on: “not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” Again, I imagine you saying “Yea and Amen” to all this. “Of course this is what we want!” And you trusted President Naumann to bring you only names that met those criterion so you could focus on others: outreach, evangelism, good with kids or families, technology whiz, good bedside manner, at my beck and call, etc.
But notice, Paul doesn’t list any of those things. Neither here nor in Timothy where he also talks about the proper characteristics of pastors. The only purely pastoral characteristic Paul lists in 1 Timothy 3 is “apt to teach.” Otherwise, everything he says there, just as what you’ve heard so far here sounds a lot like how every single one of you is supposed to behave.
Note that. You don’t get to put your pastor on a pedestal and expect from him a behavior and lifestyle different from yours. In other words, it is totally fine for me to come to you and say, “Would it be okay with you if your pastor did this or that, said this or that, or lived this way or that?” And when you say, “No, of course not, he’s a pastor,” then when you say that, I get to shoot back, “You don’t get to do it either! Stop your selfish sinful ways!”
We tend to do that. We tend to exalt the pastor (and by extension his wife and kids) and put them on a pedestal. We expect from them more than we ought. They are, after all, sinners like you. And then, what’s worse, when they fail to meet your expectations, we blame the Church and God and quit. “Well, my pastor did this or said that.” “That pastor’s wife, I can’t stand here.” “Did you know that our pastor’s children sin? Hypocrites!” And while the pastor and his family probably do share some blame, shame on you, you pharisaical hypocrite when you do that.
Now, this doesn’t allow for the opposite either. Some Lutherans – people and pastors – like to react to this “holier than thou” trap by going in the opposite direction. We Lutherans like to revel in the freedom God gave us. Among a group of American Evangelicals who have forbidden all fun – no drinking, no smoking, no card-playing, no dancing, no rock music, no roller skating, no theater, no jokes – we like to distinguish ourselves and become the drinking, smoking, swearing Lutherans! “Dawg gone it, we’re going to drink. And smoke. And swear.” In church if we could get away with it. It’s cool and hip, to adopt Luther’s earthy language, Luther who didn’t shy away from talking about bodily functions and ways to use human waste to shame the devil or drive off false teachers. It’s hip to adopt some of the cruder expressions of the English language, because, well, we can, it’s cool, and we’re Lutheran!
Just as hypocritical. And ignoring Paul’s words. Paul didn’t say pastors must be perfect, angelic saints. There exists no such thing this side of heaven. But they must be mature Christians. They must work diligently, strive to be above reproach. For one reason. Not to shame you with holier-than-thou behavior, but because of what Jesus calls a pastor to be: “entrusted with God’s work,” “a servant of God,” “an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness,” a man who “hold[s] firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
Your pastor is God’s servant, owned by God, not you. He does God’s will, not yours, or even his own. Christ told the disciples, “Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
Your pastor is an apostle, not like Paul, but in the basic sense of the Greek verb behind this word: sent by God, by a divine call. A pastor is not his own man. He is God’s picked man. Picked to serve at this place, at this time, with God’s Word and Sacraments.
Why? “For the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.” To bring “his word to light.” To do “God’s work.” To “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” All of this rests “on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” This non-lying, always truthful God, His ministers, His pastors, must faithfully represent.
How? “He brought his word to light through the preaching.” God makes Himself known through preaching. You know, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” This is the office of the ministry, the ministry of the Word. This is no task for hirelings and employees. Because a minister of the Word must, every Sunday kill you. He must tell you that you stink, because you sin. You deserve death and damnation. Every Sunday. Because you look for all the wrong things in a pastor. Because you fail to model your life around the very same qualifications God gives to His called servants. And your pastor calls you out. How long would you employ someone like that at your place of business?
Yet the Lord institutes this office. He calls men into it. An office we honor, because no other office does this kind of killing: a killing that’s for our good, because God only kills so that He can bring to life. Remember Paul: “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life.” This is the sound doctrine that Paul commands Titus, and all pastors to hold firmly to.
And the pastor has no choice. Jesus assigned the pastor to preach. Behind that word stands the idea of a herald, one sent by a king with a message. This ties in with being a servant and an apostle. The pastor doesn’t speak his point of view. He speaks God’s. Which you heard in the verse of the day: “My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long.”
Thank God that’s the job, to speak God’s righteousness, because neither mine nor yours passes muster. Only God’s does. And God gives you the preaching the Word, baptizing, and communing to do that: to distribute this righteousness you lack, a righteousness found in Jesus! We confess in the Augsburg Confession: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.”
Thank God, that no matter what you look for in a pastor, Jesus sends this. He sends preachers with His tools – preaching, Baptism, Communion – to show us our unrighteousness and His righteousness, to show us Jesus, to give us Jesus, to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation, so that our faith and our knowledge rest not on our own lives, not on the life of a pastor or his family, not upon anything else, but upon the “hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” Which He gives to you in time, through Jesus: Jesus who revealed Himself not as some goody-two-shoes, but as the obedient man who gave Himself up into death for us, the disobedient, and then showed Himself to be the resurrection and the life. All for you, for your life, for your salvation, for your resurrection!
God decided this in eternity, and through pastors, He gives Jesus to you in time. So that you can live with Him forever. Amen.