Imagine you’re on the team at your church that is responsible to hire a new Senior Pastor. Your team has met many times to get all your ducks in a row. You’ve reviewed the elder/pastor qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. You’ve discussed what type of pastor you think would be best for your congregation. And you’ve discussed the amount of money you plan to offer him. So you create the job posting, post it on a few websites, and wait for responses.
Your First Response
A couple days later, you receive your first response. It’s from an Iraqi named Abraham. So you begin to scan his résumé. The first thing you see is that he claims God has spoken to him on multiple occasions. On one such occasion, God called him to move from Iraq to Israel because God had promised him land there. On another occasion, God had promised him a son by his elderly wife, Sarah. And on another occasion, God called him to sacrifice this son. In all three cases, Abraham believed God would do what he promised to do.
As you continue reading, you see that the rest of his résumé isn’t quite so flattering. On one occasion, he moved to Egypt and told a fib that his wife was his sister because he was afraid the Egyptians would kill him to get to her. Apparently he didn’t learn his lesson on this matter because he did the same thing again when he was back in Israel. As you continue reading, you see another red flag: he has multiple wives. Not only was Sarah his wife, but he also married her servant, Hagar, and had a concubine, Keturah. Remember that “belief” Abraham had in God about which you already read? Well, you find out that when God promised Abraham a son and things weren’t working right with Sarah, he married Hagar in order to have a son with her thinking this might be the son of the promise.
Based on his résumé, would you choose Abraham to be your next Senior Pastor?
Your Second Response
A few more days pass and you receive another résumé, this time from a Middle Easterner named Isaac. So you begin taking a look at his résumé. The first thing you notice is that his résumé is much smaller than Abraham’s résumé, which means there’s probably a lot stuff hidden in his life. As you begin scanning it, you see that like Abraham, Isaac claims to have spoken directly with God. But this appears to be the only mention of God in his résumé. How deep do you really think his relationship is with God?
Furthermore, as you continue reading, you begin finding some dirt on Isaac. First, he consummated his marriage with Rebekah before he had even gotten a chance to get to know her. Second, he pulled the same stunt as Abraham one time by lying to a king saying that his wife, Rebekah, was his sister. Third, although his two oldest sons were twins, his choice of which son would be heir of the promise God made to him was different than the one God chose.
Based on his résumé, would you choose Isaac to be your next Senior Pastor?
Your Third Response
Before your posting expires, you receive one final response from another Middle Easterner named Jacob. Having not been super impressed with the first two applicants, you were hoping maybe Jacob would be a better candidate. So you began looking at his résumé. To start with, you see that Jacob claims to have met with God face to face and that during this encounter, God changed his name to Israel. That’s pretty significant! Then you see that Jacob is a hard worker and a good shepherd. All great qualities to have for a pastor!
But then as you continue reading, you find that Jacob has more dirt on his record than the other two combined. When Jacob was a teenager, he tricked his twin brother into selling him his birthright as the oldest child. A few years later, he deceived his ailing father by pretending to be his brother so that he would receive the best blessing. Because his brother was angry with him, he went to live with his uncle’s family in Syria who worship a different set of gods than Jacob. On the way there he tried to bargain with God.
When he arrived at his uncle’s place, he fell in love with his cousin, Rachel, and asked for her hand in marriage. He and his uncle made an agreement for Jacob to marry Rachel, but his uncle deceived him by giving him his older daughter, Leah, instead. A week later, Jacob also married Rachel. After Leah was bearing children but Rachel wasn’t, Rachel gave Jacob her servant as his wife. When she bore children, Leah also gave Jacob her servant as his wife, meaning Jacob has four wives.
After living with his uncle’s family for a while, Jacob decided to go back home to Palestine. So he packed up his family and stuff and left his uncle’s family without saying “Goodbye.” On his way out the door, Rachel stole her father’s household gods, meaning that she doesn’t worship the same God as Jacob.
Jacob has twelve wild sons with his four wives. His oldest son slept with Leah’s servant, the one who was Jacob’s wife. His second two sons killed every male in a local city all by themselves when their sister was raped by the prince of the city. His fourth son slept with his own daughter-in-law thinking she was a prostitute and had twins by her. And some of his sons sold his favorite son to a band of traders who sold him as a servant in Egypt.
Based on his résumé, would you choose Jacob to be your next Senior Pastor?
Meeting with Your Team
Prior to meeting with the rest of the team, you decide to do a quick evaluation of the applicants. What do you think about Abraham? He does appear to have a lot of faith. What do you think about Isaac? He has the least amount of dirt on his résumé. Or what do you think about Jacob? He is the father of an entire nation. Would you choose to proceed forward with interviewing any of these guys for the open Senior Pastor position?
Now that your team is together, they read together the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. After deliberating for a little while, they conclude that they can’t justify interviewing any of these candidates because they all fail the tests. None of them are above reproach. Two of them have multiple wives. None of them are really all that respectable. Two of them are unable to keep their children submissive. There’s little evidence of faith in one of them. Only one of them seems to know more than a couple attributes of God, making them disqualified to teach. And none of them are thought of well by outsiders, hence the reason why they must’ve lied so much about their wives. Time to go back to the drawing board!
Based on their résumés, I don’t know a single church in this country who would entertain the idea of hiring one of these three men to be their Senior Pastor. All three of them led pretty messed up lives.
Yet, these are the men who God associates himself with throughout the Bible; he claims to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham is cited over and over again as a role model for faith. Jacob is cited over and over again as the father of the nation of Israel. And his twelve sons are cited over and over again as the twelve tribes of Israel.
I recognize that these three men were never in the running for a pastoral role at a church to shepherd the flock, so you could say that I’m not comparing apples to apples. You’re right, I’m not comparing apples to apples, but for a different reason.
Which currently presiding Senior Pastor is ever going to have his story told in the Bible for all generations of people to read? Not a single pastor living today is going to have his story told for generations and generations. But people have been hearing the stories of these three guys for about 3,500 years. They were shepherds in their own ways while they were living and continue on as shepherds even though they’re no longer on the earth. Yet, God chose these three guys to be the fathers of his people.
What’s the Application for Us?
I could cite many people throughout the Bible who God chose not only to belong to him, but to lead his people, who wouldn’t have met the “qualifications” for elders/pastors. Look at Moses. Look at David. Look at Paul. None of them met all the criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, yet he chose them anyway.
God doesn’t choose people to be his followers based upon their merits. If he did, none of us would qualify. Even the Pharisees who dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” weren’t righteous enough for God to choose them. As a matter of fact, Jesus passed right over them when he chose twelve men to be his disciples.
God saw Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as righteous because God imputed that righteousness to them which he was able to do because of Jesus’s death on the cross, not because of anything they did to earn it. In the same way, God sees all of his chosen people today as righteous, not because of anything they did to earn it, but because Jesus’s righteousness is imputed to them. It doesn’t matter how bad your résumé is; God can still choose you and make you righteous.
I’m challenging us to rethink what Paul intended when he wrote 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Did he really intend for us to only allow people whose lives look like the ideal person mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to be pastors/elders? Or did he intend something else? How do we marry these two ideologies, one which shows that God chooses whomever he wants regardless of their qualifications and one which appears to indicate that we should only choose people who meet a certain set of qualifications?
I welcome additional discussion around this topic.