The Bishop Basil of Caesarea is well known in church history for being one of the most influential theologians of the early church. Basil was a stout theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early church. At the same time, Basil was also known for his care of the hurting and neglected. It was once said of Basil that “his words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.” This is powerful imagery for pastoral ministry, imagery that connects our pastoral calling with our Christian character.
When one examines the character qualifications for pastors in the New Testament, especially in the Pastoral Epistles, it becomes clear that there is a standard for spiritual and moral maturity (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). In short, pastoral character is vital for faithful ministry. Don Carson has said on many occasions that what is most remarkable about the qualifications for a pastor is that they are so unremarkable. In other words, the quality of character called for in pastors can be found mandated for all Christians in other parts of God’s word.
So, while the pastor is not expected to be the ideal of perfection, pastors are to be mature exemplars of the character demanded of all Christians. One way to think of it is that pastors lead with a limp. While not perfect, pastors are to set an example in Christian character (1 Peter 5:3). This has several implications for pastoral character, and for the development of Christian character within the congregation.
First, as pastors, we must apply God’s word to our own lives as we call the congregation to do the same. The unique element found in the qualifications for pastors, other than being a recent convert, is that a pastor is to be set apart for the teaching of the word. As we know, the teaching of the whole counsel of God includes how to live a God honoring life (1 Timothy 4:16). Pastors must submit their lives to the word they proclaim. For example, it is hard for us to call the church to care for the hurting and neglected, unless we too are committed to the same.
Second, pastors are to lead in repentance. Philosopher Charles Taylor has described our secular age as “the age of authenticity”. Taylor’s analysis is helpful in showing us that confession of weakness and repentance can actually help to endear us to our people. Our people need to see that the character in the Christian life isn’t marked by the sinless life; it’s marked by the repentant life (1 John 1:9). Christ is the only sinless shepherd. We cannot call people to repentance when we are not repenting ourselves. In many ways, the bedrock of pastoral character is a willingness to repent (Ephesians 2:8).
Third, pastors are to commit themselves to the community of faith in which they serve. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone, even for pastors (Hebrews 10:25). The church community is the primary context where Christians are called to work out the application of God’s word. Moreover, the church community is the place where your need for the gospel is powerfully revealed. This is why it is important for the pastors to be deeply invested in the community of the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). God uses those around us to reveal our sin and encourage us to godliness.
I think all of us want churches full of people with honorable Christian character. This starts with the hard work of developing character within our own lives. Too often pastors want the rain of God’s blessing in their ministry without passing through both thunder and lightning. Pastor, we are expected to lead the congregation not just with the words of our lips, but by the fruit in our life. Our words will be thunder when our life is like lightning.