The List Everyone Is Talking About
Over the last few months the Ashley Madison hacking scandal has hit the conservative evangelical community particularly hard. The most notable names that have appeared on “the list” have been Josh Duggar and YouTube vlogger Sam Radar, and Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. A recent Christianity Today article by Ed Stetzer reports that some 400 pastors and church leaders will be stepping down from the ministry.
Based on my conversations with leaders from several denominations in the U.S. and Canada, I estimate that at least 400 church leaders (pastors, elders, staff, deacons, etc.) will be resigning Sunday. This is a significant moment of embarrassment for the church—and it should be. ~Ed Stetzer
Add to this the Tullian Tchividjian scandal and you’ve got a firestorm which has lead to a flurry of articles, blog posts, and podcasts on how churches should react toward a pastor who is on “the list” and who may be stepping down. Most of those posts have come to the defense of these pastors calling for grace, forgiveness, and restitution. No one is really denying that they have been unfaithful to both their bride and the Bride of Christ, but they are acknowledging, rightly so, that the local church is a place of repentance and forgiveness. If there is any place these pastors should be able to go, it’s the church.
The List Nobody Is Talking About
As I have heard, read, and watched people come to the defense of these pastors, it has started to make me feel a little uneasy. Do I deny that Christ’s blood can cover sins like adultery and unfaithfulness to the church? No, it’s not that. I affirm that these men need to be restored in their Christian walk through repentance and faith in Christ. Still, I can’t shake the uneasiness that I have when I see people coming to their defense.
Yes, grace should abound, but something in the back of my mind still makes me uncomfortable when I hear people talk about bringing these men back to the pulpit, and back to leadership in the local church. As I was wrestling with this uneasiness it occurred to me that there’s another list that no one is talking about. A list no one ever talks about. The first list is the list of e-mail accounts, and other data, associated with pastors who, for whatever reason, were looking for a good time outside of their marriage covenant on the Ashley Madison website in total disregard of their flock and family.
However, there is a second list. It’s a list will not be published on the dark interwebs and it will not get an ounce of air time in the national news media outlets. The list I’m talking about is the list of all the names of the godly pastors who continue to remain faithful to their spouses, their families, and their local flock. It’s a list of men who have given themselves over to their wives, their children, and their churches in complete and total sacrifice to the call of Jesus Christ upon their lives. It’s the list of faithful men whose names will never appear on a list like Ashley Madison, but you may find their name from time to time in the local obituary section under “officiating.”
It’s this list of pastors, the ones who have embedded themselves into local communities through funerals, marriages, baptisms and countless services to the community, that I want to talk about. What’s at the heart of my uneasiness is our insatiable desire to continually praise those who have proven to be unfaithful, while at the same time continuing to disregard those who may be less flashy, but nevertheless remain ever faithful. Listen, the news media will cover the unfaithful men. The media loves to smear the cause of Christ by the failures of unfaithful men. It was no mistake that in a haystack of over 30 million accounts the first proverbial needle that was plucked out was “Josh Duggar.” That was intentional smear journalism at it’s best. We can expect nothing less from the media.
However, we don’t have to jump into the mud with the pigs to defend guys like Tullian, Duggar, Radar, or the some 400 Christian leaders who are expected to step down from ministry in coming weeks. Yes, there is grace for those men, but those issues need to be sorted out at the local level with their families and their local assemblies. We, on the other hand, ought to be turning our attention away from all the media mudslinging and start paying honor, no, double honor, to those men who remain faithful to the pastoral call in a wicked and perverse generation.
It’s Time to Honor Faithful Men Who Are Worthy of Double Honor
As people clamor for the restoration of their favorite celebrity pastor on the basis of grace, mercy, and forgiveness, I’d like to turn the conversation toward the pastors whose names aren’t on the Ashley Madison list.
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. ~1 Timothy 5:17
I’m writing this post at a pretty peculiar time in my own life. I am in the process of stepping down from a ten year pastoral ministry. No, it’s not because I’ve been unfaithful or because I’m on a moral “hit list.” Truthfully, it’s because I’m tired. Pastoral ministry is unlike any other job. I have heard that it is comparable to being a CEO or President in the business world but I’m not sure how that’s determined. I don’t know many CEOs who have been pastors or vice versa.
While the running joke about pastoral ministry is that pastors only work on Sundays, the truth is we never stop working. Pastors never know when someone will get sick, pass away, be in an accident or just need prayer. Pastors also never know when two members will get after each other about a ministry, carpet color, paint, or some other seemingly meaningless dispute that he must immediately arbitrate. Pastors never know when some random thought about a text of Scripture will wake them up at 3:00 a.m. and won’t let them get back to sleep. It’s a ministry that consumes the man and it’s a work that he can never set aside. Not for a single second. I don’t know a single pastor who wouldn’t agree with this.
As a result, I’m not surprised that we see men in ministry failing. I’m not surprised that we see them living double lives. However, I am surprised that the ones who are faithful don’t always get the “double honor” that Scripture explicitly calls for. 1 Timothy 5:17 explicitly states that those men who remain faithful to the labor of the Word and doctrine are worthy of double honor. What is double honor? No pastor likes to talk about this, but in the context of 1 Timothy “double honor” seems to imply double pay. Note the very next verse,
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
Paul seems to suggest that the Scriptures themselves call for “double honor” for the laborer in the Word who is faithful in his calling. Pastors don’t like to talk about this text because it comes off like he’s asking for more money for himself. However, I’m in a unique position in life right now. I’m on my way out of pastoral ministry. At this juncture no one can accuse me of looking to pad my own pocket with this article. Truthfully, no one could ever successfully mount that accusation, but right now I’m in a position to say what most pastors can’t say from their pulpits: Give faithful pastors and teachers double honor. It’s not a suggestion, it’s a command from Scripture, backed by Scripture.
Beyond the obvious financial implications of this text is the understanding that faithful men who labor in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word are worthy of our honor. Not our normal, typical, “honor” but our double honor. Rather than trying to defend and prop up men who have disgraced the name of Christ and proven themselves to be unworthy of honor, we should be turning the thrust of our time, attention, and support to those men who have remained faithful to God and his Word. We need to give double honor where the Scripture explicitly says double honor is due.
Question for Discussion
Has your pastor been faithful?
How long has he been serving faithfully?
What can you do to give him double honor?
(Note: Let’s avoid giving ourselves honor by talking about how we used to or have given double honor. Instead, let’s talk about how we are going to do it going forward.)