We could very well believe an advertisement ending like this:
Position Vacant: Pastor. ...should also be highly flawed — but importantly — they must know it.
Besides this, there are more obvious credentials we’d expect to see: ministry or theology qualifications, relevant experience and excellent references.
It’s the character that sets apart ministers most of all. They can have won awards at seminary, been engaged in ministry for the Lord for years, and have been an instrument of salvation for many people, but it’s their humility to know their flaws and be unashamedly honest about them when it counts that’s most important.
Humility is the enduring image of Christian ministry (Philippians 2:5-11).
Fortunately, I’ve known several pastors who’ve made this grade — and their parishes have been blessed commensurately as a result.
Lessons from the Apostle Paul
Paul was far from perfect. Despite his ardent devotion to Jesus he was still very human and dealt with character flaws (Romans 7:14ff) and had a nasty daily blight — a “thorn” — to deal with (2 Corinthians 12:8).
Reading Paul’s letters we get the impression he was given to emotion as he implored followers to grow in the faith. He was no stranger to conflict.
Paul was flawed. Yet, we don’t often like to think of him that way.
Still, less so, do we want to see our pastors that way. They’re pillars of our spiritual community; representatives beyond to the broader populace. This is why it’s critical that they own their flaws and even glory in them, for the grace of God resident in the fact they’re even called (chosen) to lead within the Body of Christ.
The pastor is nothing if not a fool for Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10). They buck that role to their peril.
Mistakes are Redeemable – Cover-ups and Badly Handled Conflicts Aren’t (Mostly)
As observers of those ministers who’ve lasted the journey as compared with those who’ve fallen, we can safely assume that a transparent humility will guard the pastor like nothing else will.
Their mistakes are repented-of. They’re hence models for the rest of their Christian community about how grace works in the midst of broken lives.
Scandalous cover-ups and unreconciled conflicts — even one — however, can harm the minister’s service (and the work for Christ) irreparably, though nobody is castigated beyond grace to rise again.
From some there’s no return; at least not to the previous heights and breadth of reach achieved. But with repentance God is glorified.
Mistakes that are admitted are the champion quality of the pastor with human leadership qualities that the secular world cannot understand, let alone replicate. The pastor knows each mistake, handled well, magnifies the grace of God.
Humility is the masterstroke qualification defining the pastor’s ministry. Success and failure rest with it.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to Pastor Bob Clark, ministry formation lecturer, who impressed the ideal of humble character on BTCWA seminary students in 2005.