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"The Pastor's Authority, Priority, and Accountability"

Mar.2, 2014 1Tim.4:11-16; 6:3-5,11-16


In any human organization, leadership makes a difference. The Christian church is not just a human organization, but still, choosing the local leadership of a congregation is an important step. A few weeks ago in our journey through Paul's first letter to Timothy we looked at criteria for elders and deacons. In today's passage the focus is more on Timothy as the lead pastor or overseer. What should characterize a good pastor?

A minister had just resigned his position as pastor in order to answer the call of another congregation.A lady in the congregation came to him and said, "Pastor, we hate to see you go.Things will never be the same again." The pastor said, "Oh don't worry, Mrs.Johnson. I'm sure the Lord will send you a new pastor better than me." Mrs.Johnson said, "Well, that's what the last several pastors have said, but they keep getting worse and worse." (!)

Ever since the scandals involving televangelists some decades ago, the public have been increasingly skeptical of clergy standards. Just a couple of months ago the Gallup organization announced Americans' rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47%, the first time this rating has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67% in 1985. So sinking to 47% is a 20% drop! In terms of ranking, pharmacists, nurses, and grade school teachers are at the very top, around 70 or 80 percent. Clergy fit in just below police officers and slightly ahead of day care providers and judges.

Clergy failings are nothing new. In 1Timothy 1(3), Paul reminded Timothy he'd left him stationed in Ephesus "so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer..." Already, even at this early stage in the Christian church, clergy "cons" were dishonestly taking advantage. What were some of their characteristics? 1:4 they devoted themselves to "myths and endless genealogies" (4:7 "godless myths and old wives' tales"). They promoted controversies (1:5), turned to meaningless talk (1:6); Paul says in 1:7 "they do not know what they are talking about..." In 4:2 he describes them as "hypocritical liars whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron." In 4:3 they were forbidding people to marry and ordering them to abstain from certain foods - using their power and authority to control others unnecessarily. In 6:4 Paul criticizes teachers of false doctrines as "conceited" - the word literally means "puffed up" / wrapped in smoke; they "understand nothing." Such a person "has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain." (1Tim 6:4-5) Paul then describes the consequences for those who want to get rich - ruin, destruction, being pierced with many griefs as a result of their love of money.

A young minister about to deliver his first sermon asked a retired pastor for advice on how to capture the congregation's attention. "Start with an opening line that's certain to grab them," the older man said. "For example: 'Some of the best years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman who was not my wife.'" He smiled at the younger man's shocked expression before adding, "She was my mother." The next Sunday the young clergyman nervously clutched the pulpit rail in front of the congregation. Finally he said, "Some of the best years of my life were spent in the arms of a woman who was not my wife." He was pleased at the instant reaction - then became panic-stricken, and said, "But for the life of me, I can't remember who she was!"

Sometimes the desires of the false teachers were more physical in nature. And the consequences of yielding to such temptation are no laughing matter. In 2Timothy 3(6) Paul writes, "They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires..." It's all too easy for clergy to abuse their authority by soliciting sexual favours from those in their care.

A story in the news this past week reflected badly on a former Catholic priest who subsequently lived in the Auburn area. Mr DelBianco, who in the 1980s served at parishes in Wallaceburg and Windsor before leaving the priesthood in 1996, was found guilty of one count of gross indecency and two counts of sexual assault. The victims were teenage girls.

Paul concludes his description of the false teachers' faults in 6:11 by urging Timothy, "But you, man of God, FLEE FROM ALL THIS!..." If church leaders are not to get sucked into temptations of sex or greed or proud empty ramblings, what should be a pastor's focus?


There is a certain authoritativeness, a tone of command that rings through Paul's writing here. 1:3 "command certain men not to teach false doctrines;" v5 "the goal of this command is love;" 4:11 "Command and teach these things;" 6:14 "In the sight of God...I charge you to keep this command..." Also 1:3 "I urged you," 4:6 "Point these things out to the brothers..." Any leadership position in an organization MUST exercise a certain amount of authority, because there's responsibility attached.

Yet the Lord Jesus seems to have intended the church not to repeat the mistakes of Judaism. In Matthew 23 Christ condemned repeatedly the hypocritical practices of the teachers of the law and Pharisees, who tied up heavy loads and put them on people's shoulders but wouldn't lift a finger to help them. Jesus cautioned His followers, "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.The greatest among you will be your servant..." (Mt 23:8-12) So Jesus seems to be warning the church against becoming overly hierarchical: it was to be primarily grass-roots and egalitarian, without people getting too conscious of status and office. He redefined "greatness" in terms of SERVICE. Peter too seems to have envisaged this new organization as fairly "flat" for he calls believers "a holy priesthood...a royal priesthood, a holy nation..." (1Pet 2:5,9) so the protestant reformation promoted the concept of the "priesthood of all believers".

So when we talk about the authority of the pastor-teacher we should beware of laying on titles too thick: not "Rabbi" or "father" or even "teacher". If we're talking one on one or casually in a small group, my first name serves just fine! If you're wanting to address me formally in a meeting or large group, "Pastor Ernest" is sufficient - no "reverend" etc. (please!)

A man called a certain church and asked if he could speak to the Head Hog at the Trough. The secretary said, "Who?" The man replied, "I want to speak to the Head Hog at the Trough!" Sure that she had heard correctly, the secretary said, "Sir, if you mean our pastor, you will have to treat him with more respect and ask for 'the reverend' or 'the pastor'. But certainly you cannot refer to him as the Head Hog at the Trough!" The man responded, "I see.Well, I have $10,000 I was thinking about donating to the building fund." The secretary exclaimed, "Oh my, hold the line, I think the big pig just walked through the door!"

Two New Testament passages (both by Paul) invest the office of pastor with some authority. 1Cor 12:27f "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.[hear the egalitarian emphasis?]And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues." Eph 4:11f "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up..."

Where is the pastor's authority based? Paul's letter to Timothy reminds us that authority ultimately belongs to God: 6:15 "God, the blessed and only Ruler [Sovereign], the King of Kings and Lord of lords..." Paul here was actually being quite revolutionary in view of emperor worship: Domitian for example was called "our lord and god".

6:13 hints at Jesus' own authority, who "while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession..." What was that? Back to John 18:37, ""You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king.In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."" What's going on here? Jesus asserts His own Kingship, and that His Kingdom is that of the truth, the single ultimately real lasting Kingdom.

So Paul invokes both God's and Jesus' authority in His charge to Timothy. But there's also the authority of Scripture. 4:13 "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching." As Jesus said in John 17(17), "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." Christians believe we come to understand the mind of God through His revelation in Scripture by the Holy Spirit. So a major part of the pastor-teacher's job is exegeting or explaining Bible truth. 2Tim 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." Scripture is the church's "yardstick"; church life, Christians' behaviour (including that of clergy) is subject to Biblical boundaries. So good pastors labour at investing time and study and preparation in Biblically-based sermons.

A pastor once decided to work on improving his preaching. He decided to record the Sunday morning service so that he could critique his sermon delivery. The first Sunday of his experiment he came home right after church, sat down on the sofa, and put the MP3 going through his earbuds. He listened to the opening prayer, the hymns, the announcements, the scripture reading, and then he heard himself begin the introduction of his message...About thirty minutes later he woke to the sound of the congregation singing the closing hymn. (Hmm!)

Paul also suggests the pastor's work builds on the authority of DOCTRINE. 4:6 "If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed." 6:3 Those who teach false doctrines do not "agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching." The Church throughout the centuries has sought to build on Scriptural truth, interpreting it and applying it afresh in terms each generation can understand. So pastors benefit from reading authors who seek to go deeper into theological topics that apply the Bible to current life, such as CS Lewis or Philip Yancey or John Piper and Os Guinness, and so on. What authors are you reading that provide DEPTH in your Christian experience?

In 1956 Billy Graham wrote, "America seems to be pleasure-mad.We have to be amused morning, noon, and night.Television is making a tremendous change in America's spiritual sensitivity.I have had pastor after pastor write me and tell me that he can see the difference in the spiritual life of his congregation since television came.People have to be amused, and we do not have time for thought, meditation, prayer, and Godly pursuits, as we used to." That was nearly 60 years ago; how much more do we lack depth in our "wired" generation when everybody's tethered to their smartphone?


What should a pastor's priorities be - what's he to pursue? Not, according to 6:4, being conceited - is that the big church, having a large listening audience to the TV broadcast? 6:5 not supposing "that godliness is a means to financial gain." If you're in it for the money, ministry's the wrong place to be. What then are GOOD goals for the pastor-teacher?

4:12 "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 5 qualities to aim for: two externals - speech, life (behaviour); 3 internals - love, faith, and purity. How about those, aren't they excellent priorities?! Speech, life; love, faith, and purity. Now, those familiar with 1Corinthians 13 might have expected "love, faith, and hope" - we do see hope mentioned just 2 verses before in 4:10, "We have put our hope in the living God..." But for pastors, Paul seems to stress "Love, faith, and PURITY." Perhaps with the authority of leadership he's aware temptations to abuse that authority sexually will be great.

There are some parallels earlier in his letter: 1:5 (listen closely) "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." So as a pastor I need to stop and ask myself, "Are my flock experiencing me as loving?" (Not just laying-down-the-law doctrinally; but unlike the teachers of the law in Jesus' time, willing to 'lift a finger' to help those who are burdened.) "Is my conduct pure?" Am I getting tempted in certain areas? Here risk management and "protection plan" policies help provide boundaries. And is my faith sincere? Do people see me trusting God? Am I relying on my own abilities and cleverness, or do I lean on God, waiting for Him, boasting in Him not exalting myself? 1:4 "God's work...is by faith."

Paul also points to good goals for Timothy in 6:11: "But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." Faith and love appear here again. Perhaps "purity" is akin to "righteousness" and "godliness". Then there's endurance - hanging in there. When I was settled in my first pastoral charge, the average stay of clergy over the preceding 4 decades was just 2.5 years; I wanted to break that pattern, and by God's grace stayed for 7. Endurance means getting past the "honeymoon" stage in a pastoral relationship.

Paul adds that Timothy should pursue "gentleness". That's a significant factor for someone in authority - leadership Jesus-style does not involve 'throwing your weight around' but leading gently, serving those in your care. 2Tim 2:24f "And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth..." Church leaders can afford to be gentle because we realize the real authority rests in God, who alone is Sovereign and has the power to change people's hearts.


Paul doesn't suggest to Timothy that pastoral leadership is going to be a cakewalk. 6:12 "Fight the good fight of the faith." The Greek word is one from which we get our English word "agonize": "Struggle the good struggle..." as in a wrestling match. It can be an uphill battle.

Next phrase: "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called..." Literally, "get a grip on" eternal life; seize it, latch onto it (a greased pig comes to mind!). How? One important factor in this fight or struggle is ACCOUNTABILITY. 4:16 "Watch your life and doctrine closely.Persevere in them (lit.'stick to them'), because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."

Who's going to help keep the pastor accountable, to watch their life and doctrine closely? 4:14 mentions "the body of elders" that "laid their hands on you". I need the support, encouragement, and checking-up of the elders this congregation appoints. Also we have a routine process of pastoral ministry review every couple of years that Elder Gary oversees.

In 5:17 Paul says "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." But that doesn't mean they're not accountable; 5:20 "Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning."

But the pastor's ultimate accountability is to God. 6:13 Paul's charge to Timothy is "in the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus..." Final judgment is in view here. Will I be "great" in "serving" by Jesus' standards - Him who gave His life as a servant to ransom sinners? Paul's charge is to keep the command "without spot or blame" until Jesus' appearing - that's a high standard! One for which any pastor will need God's help - and a congregation's prayers. Let's pray.