I have been thinking more this week about Dr. Mohler’s challenge to develop ministers who exhibit the character of the minister described in 1 Thessalonians 2, viz. the nurturing mother and loving father. The Apostle Paul speaks on a number of occasions about ministry and discipleship in the context of spiritual parenting, and in one particular case juxtaposing the difference between his relationship to the people of God than that of other teachers. To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote,
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:14-16).
Paul argues that there a countless guides, tutors, or instructors who can teach and admonish people in biblical truth. But Paul separates himself from these by explaining his role as one of the most intimate relationships one can have—as a father to his children. Paul opened wide his heart to them, and to the Thessalonian church he explains that such an open heart is manifest when, “being so affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).
Now, what makes such a minister? What keeps us from merely having “countless guides” as pastors and ministers in our churches? Truth be known, churches often rely upon very little biblical criteria for prospective ministers. Granted, this is much to benefit from being seminary-trained, and I encourage those feeling called to pursue higher theological education. But I feel like there is this idea that the predominant requirements for a biblically qualified and competent minister are met through the current mode of theological education. Yet consider again the passages which speak of the kind of man God considers qualified to lead in ministry:
“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 3:2-7)
“And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25a)
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:5-9)
Now, the positive marks are the following: above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, gentle, manage his own household well, keep his children submissive, well thought of by outsiders, kind to everyone, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness, a lover of good, upright, holy, disciplined, and hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.
And the negative marks include: not a drunkard, not violent, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, not a recent convert, not be arrogant, and not quick-tempered.
Given our heavy reliance on theological education (resumes, degrees, etc.) for ministers today, of the long list of positive and negative marks seen above, how many can be discerned and approved in the seminary context? I think that we can determined whether they can “be able to teach” and “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught,” yet is it not clear that the majority of the qualifications which are those intangible, character-driven qualifications can only be discovered in a local church context? Could it be that we have created a system that can turn out “countless guides” but fail to produce spiritual “fathers”? I would argue that the best place to look for ministers of Paul’s conviction is in the local church. How else can we discern whether a man is hospitable, gentle, sober-minded, self-controlled, upright, holy, well thought of by outsiders, etc.?
In summary, if we are going to look for ministers based on a biblically-prescribed criteria, then we must look for God-called men not merely based on resumes or theological acumen discovered in ivory towers but also God-besot men whose proof text are found in the purity of their heart, obedience of their children, love of their neighbor, openness of their home, treatment of their enemies, and reputation of others. These men may have the benefit of the ivory tower, but they define themselves by the blessings of muddy trenches.
Perhaps if theological education and training returned to the local church, the qualifications of God-called men could receive sufficient attention so as to discern the difference between the good shepherds and hirelings, between the Peters and the Simons, and between the fathers and guides. This in no way an argument to do away with higher theological education, but if we are going to consider the totality of what Scriptures speaks of a man appointed for the work of the ministry, then we must look to both the towers and the trenches where we don’t distinguish God’s servants by the color of their collar but by their conformity to Christ.