Facebook reminded me that I wrote and posted this article three years ago today. My opinion hasn't changed. I give thanks for all the pastors I have known, including my current ones, who understand and take to heart Paul's charge to the overseer.
I have been pondering this for a while. In my life I have known quite a few men "of the cloth" (pastors, priests, preachers, etc.). With many of them I have observed a certain quality that I find it difficult to put my finger on. I have seen it in both priests (I used to be Roman Catholic) and Lutheran pastors as well as ministers from other denominations. For lack of a better word, they are "pastoral." There is something that is just a little different about them, something that sets them apart from the rest of us. Again, it is hard to define and describe, but some of the qualities that come to mind are thoughtfulness, quietness, dignity, caring, kindness, peacefulness, gentleness, serenity, self-control and calm. In short, they are Christ-like. I am probably going to get raked over the coals for saying this, but I also appreciate pastors/priests who in their own demonstration of propriety and decorum make "regular" people want to behave better than they otherwise might. In the same way that I as a parent try not to let my children see me sin (even though I do sin) because I don't want my sin to lead them astray, I appreciate pastors who set a good example with regard to their use of language and their choices in entertainment, dress, behavior, etc. I think men who are charged with standing in for Christ in the worship service often carry some of that aura of holiness into their everyday lives, and I think that is a good thing.
At the same time, I understand that pastors are sinners like the rest of us. Believe me, I understand. But it seems that there are some pastors who, in their effort to warn us about the worthlessness of our own good deeds, go out of their way to put the baser aspects of their humanity on display. Similarly, there are some lay people who go out of their way to encourage pastors in this anti-pietism crusade. This doesn't make sense to me. Does not Paul himself call the overseer to a higher standard of behavior than those he oversees?
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable,able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
I take the statements that the overseer should be "respectable" and "well thought of by outsiders" to be a call for him to adhere to a high enough standard of speech and behavior that he will not confuse, offend, or lead astray one of his sheep or miss the opportunity to minister to someone in need. In my opinion, then, a pastor should not use foul language. He should not tell dirty jokes or use racial slurs. He should use good manners and exhibit modesty in his behavior and moderation in his lifestyle. He should be humble and act like a gentleman, not drawing excessive attention to himself. These are all things I try to do in my own life so as to set a good example for my children; I think my pastor, and pastors in general, should make the same effort for us their sheep. I realize that pastors fail as we all do. But we will all fail less often if we make the effort to begin with.
One final thought. I find it puzzling that sometimes the same people who promote the "Pastors are sinners like the rest of us so don't expect them to behave any better or differently" mantra are the very same people who will blindly follow a pastor simply because he is the pastor and he cannot possibly be at fault. This seems to me a disconnect. If the pastor is a sinner like the next guy, isn't it possible that he has actually somewhere along the way made a mistake or committed a sin? And if so, shouldn't he have that sin pointed out so that he can be brought to repentance and forgiveness like anyone else? And isn't doing so actually a good and positive thing for him (and his sheep) if it leads to a recognition of sin and a change in behavior going forward?
I guess what I am trying to say is that while I realize the man in the clerical suit is a sinful human being, I also look to him as a father figure and teacher, one who has been called to high and holy purpose, and as a result I hope and expect of him certain attributes and behaviors that I don't necessarily expect of the person sitting next to me in the pew. I also hope and expect that when he sins, which he surely does, he does not hide behind his office but readily acknowledges his failings and in so doing models the humility with which we should each approach the cross of our crucified Christ.