Pastors set the Pace: A Call for Pastors to Adopt as Example for the Church

Church historians cite William Carey’s mission to India as the fount of modern missions. At a time when some Calvinistic Baptists, thinking God would not employ the efforts of men to spread the message of His kingdom, squelched Carey’s pleas for international missions efforts, Carey pressed his ministerial associates to consider the blessings they enjoyed in Christ and the world’s need to be reconciled to the Savior. In an effort to persuade fellow pastors to form an alliance and begin sending missionaries to India, Carey wrote his now famous volume An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.[1] Carey compared the work of those he was trying to persuade to the work of a trading company taking its products to foreign lands. After detailing the dangers, trials and toil businessmen must undertake in order to sell their goods in new markets, Carey wrote, “Why these fears? Whence all these disquietudes, and this labour? Is it not because their souls enter into the spirit of the project, and their happiness in a way depends on its success?”[2] Carey then turned his attention to the church, writing, “Christians are a body whose truest interest lies in the exaltation of the Messiah’s kingdom. Their charter is very extensive, their encouragements exceeding great, and the returns promised infinitely superior to all the gains of the most lucrative company.”[3] Carey concluded his comparison of secular entrepreneurs and ministers of the gospel with an exhortation that summarizes both his Enquiry and his life: “Let then everyone in his station consider himself as bound to act with all his might and in every possible way for God.”[4]

Carey argued persuasively that God is pleased to use means to advance the gospel—and thus every believer is right to consider his gifting and life situation as a means toward God’s end. Many recognize the church as God’s means to care for orphans.[5] But who within the church might be equipped to personally take these children into their homes, giving orphans a nuclear family as well as connecting them with the resources of gospel-life in a local fellowship? Based upon analysis of statements about leadership in 1 Timothy, Titus and 1 Peter, I suggest that pastors enjoy a unique position for helping the church to care for orphans, fulfilling James’s ideal of pure and undefiled religion (Jas 1:27).

1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9

The pastoral qualifications in 1 Tim 3 can be categorized in various ways and I suggest three headings. First, exemplary Christian moral integrity in spheres both proximal (“the husband of one wife,” 1 Tim 3:2; “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?” 1 Tim 3:4-5) and public (“sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable,” 1 Tim 3:2; “he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil,” 1 Tim 3:7). Second, the ability to teach Christian doctrine (1 Tim 3:2). And third, hospitality to the needy (1 Tim 3:2).[6] These headings provide an apt framework for the very similar list Paul wrote in Titus 1:5-9. In light of the dark situation on Crete (“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” Titus 1:12), it follows that those serving as pastors would need to set the pace for good doctrine and good deeds.

And this is exactly what Paul called Titus to identify in potential elders, men that: showed Christian behavior in private (“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,” Titus 1:6-7) and public (“he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain…self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined,” Titus 1:7-8); were able to teach (“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 1:9); and had a reputation for good works toward the needy (“hospitable, a lover of good,” Titus 1:8).

1 Peter 5:1-5

Though 1 Peter and each of the Pastoral Epistles address distinct audience situations, conceptual points of contact link Peter’s and Paul’s views of the relationship between good doctrine and good deeds. Both Paul and Peter exhorted the church to trust in God’s sovereign authority and submit to the civil leaders over them (1 Tim 2:1-6; 6:13-16; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Pet 2:13-17). Each implored slaves likewise to submit to their human masters (1 Tim 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Pet 2:18-20). Paul and Peter sketched the duties believing men and women should fulfill in Christ (1 Tim 2:8-15; 5:13-16; Titus 2:1-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7). Both authors noted that in light of the increasing darkness and hostility facing the church (1 Tim 4:1-5; 2 Tim 1:8-12; 2:3-7; 3:1-9; 4:16-18; Titus 1:10-14; 1 Peter 1:6-9; 3:13-17; 4:1-6, 12-19), the church’s public good works would shine the Christian message all the more brightly.

Like Paul in the Pastorals, Peter recognized that the elders of the church must set the pace for maintaining Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the face of opposition. At the conclusion of his letter, Peter directed his attention to the elders of the church exhorting them to shepherd and oversee the flock among them by being examples (1 Pet 5:3).[7] This exhortation Peter lists as the antithesis of domineering leadership that called the congregation to act a certain way but did not model that behavior for them. Peter’s logic, like Paul’s noted already, rests on the notion that the church at large required visual patterns of necessary Christian good works. If the church was to take up specific Christian activities to defend the Christian message before antagonists in the world, the elders would have to demonstrate such behavior for the believers under their care.

Pastoral Leadership and James 1:27

Condensed to their core, the elder qualification lists describe men who would be able to teach Christian doctrine, offer hospitality to those in need and demonstrate gospel virtue by means of a well-ordered nuclear family. Paul’s and Peter’s concern that future pastors carry on those marks of the faith in their walks underscore the importance of “exampleship” in the early church.[8]

The religious and socio-economic matrix of James’s audience placed orphans and widows at a point of peril.[9] If the church did not come to their aid, no one would. But the vulnerable situation of orphans and widows was actually a provision for the congregation, giving the believers an at-hand, shovel-ready opportunity to practice their religion.[10] Throughout his epistle, James argued that by practicing their religion of trust in God and unflinching devotion to Him, during their trials the audience in view would become mature, whole, complete, perfect. And James uses two further adjectives in describing the religion he wished for the audience to carry-out in relation to the most needy among them: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (Jas 1:27).[11] The idea in James’s mind would call for the church to rearrange its time and resources even to the degree of sacrifice for the sake of the needy.[12]

But James was not just concerned for the needs of the needy; he saw in the congregation a need for maturity that could be met as the church gave itself to those from whom they could receive no worldly benefit. By looking after orphans and widows, the church would fulfill the kinds of tasks necessary to keep itself unstained by the world (Jas 1:27).[13] According to James, for the church to ignore or abdicate the needs of orphans was akin to hypocrisy—the very opposite of his exhortation for the audience to be mature and complete, perfected in their trial.[14]

Conclusion

William Carey was concerned for his fellow pastors to consider the means God might use to take the gospel to the lost. Teasing out the logic of statements about being an example in 1 Timothy, Titus and 1 Peter, I suggest that pastors are called to exemplify Christianity for the church. Pastors thus ought to have a heightened concern for demonstrating pure and undefiled religion, specifically, caring for orphans in accord with Jas 1:27. Further, I suggest that the designated pastoral tasks of teaching, hospitality and family management specially equip pastors to meet the needs of orphans. In short, what a family-less child needs, the pastor can supply.

Though many pastors and their families feel maxed-out by the routines of ministry—establishing their vision in the church, helping the congregation take the gospel to the world, fighting cultural sins like racism, abortion, and human trafficking. But herein lies the irony. The Orphans’ One Foundation argues that as pastors welcome orphans into their homes, they progress in these very tasks: pastoral orphan care demonstrates exemplary leadership, takes the gospel to the lost, counters the argument for abortion rights, reduces the possibility that orphans might be placed with gay couples and frequently demonstrates how the gospel breaks racial divisions. And as pastors model orphan-care ministry they provide believers a pattern to follow (Heb 13:7), multiplying the affect the church might have on both orphans and the culture. As the pastor slows the pace of his life and that of his family enough to allow orphans to merge into their schedule, the congregation will have a template for doing the same.[15]


[1] Reprinted in Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1998).

[2] Ibid., 55.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] In her article, “Foster Children Need the Church,” Brittany Lind writes, “The need is enormous, but when you consider that there are roughly 348,067 evangelical churches in America, the 430,000 children-in-foster-care number doesn’t seem quite so daunting. Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that can be solved by simply doing the math and distributing children among churches. Many factors complicate the issue, but the numbers are still fascinating to consider” (accessed Jan 4, 2017 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/foster-children-need-the-church).

[6] Towner observes that the demand for leaders to demonstrate hospitality was not a superfluous call to social kindness. Because the church’s commitment to Christ often placed believers in an impoverished socioeconomic position in the Roman Empire, “The practical and sacrificial sharing of one’s home and minimal resources might mean survival for someone” (1-2 Timothy & Titus, 86). Towner notes that the behavior of leaders was intended to have a ripple effect, creating a culture of hospitality in the church. “The New Testament enjoins all believers to practice hospitality (Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:9), but the Pastorals mention it only in connection with those who would serve (5:10; Tit 1:8), who are then to be examples” (ibid.).

[7] I. Howard Marshall writes, “The elders should be examples to the flock, demonstrating in their conduct of leadership the same qualities they wish to see in the congregation generally” (1 Peter [The IVP New Testament Commentary Series; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991], 163-64).

[8] One component of Mark Dever’s paradigm for church leaders is that they must be out in front of the congregation by taking the initiative and establishing a pattern of behavior for the church to follow. Dever writes, “This is what leaders in the church today are to do. As part of our leadership, we’re to be examples” (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013], 253). David Platt observes that many are surprised when they study the qualifications for pastoral leadership, finding that many of these characteristics are to fill the life of Christians generally. Platt concludes, “This truth ought to weigh on anyone who aspires to lead in Christ’s church, since a man cannot lead the church somewhere he is not going himself. Here’s the bottom line: What will happen if the church imitates this leader?” (David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida, “1 Timothy,” in Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2013], 57).

[9] I recognize that James addresses the needs of both orphans and widows. Though widow care is not the specific concern of The Orphans’ One Foundation, many of the principles set forth here could apply to how pastors might exemplify concern for widows as well.

[10] Douglas J. Moo writes, “The matters James mentions in these verses were undoubtedly problems among the Christians to whom he is writing. But they are also frequently mentioned in Scripture as key components of a biblical lifestyle. ‘Looking after widows and orphans’ picks up a frequent OT refrain. In the ancient world, with an absence of money-making possibilities for women and any kind of social welfare, widows and orphans were helpless to provide for themselves. A mark of Israel’s obedience, therefore, was to be a special concern for these helpless people” (The Letter of James [Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000] 96-97).

[11] Peter Davids notes that the combination of the adjectives “pure” and “undefiled” has a rhetorical punch, forming a hendiadys that emphasizes both the presence of a positive element and the absence of a negative one, coining “An idiom for absolute purity” (The Epistle of James [TNIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 102.

[12] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis note that orphans are needy of permanent community and remain in a state of poverty so long as they are treated as a project to be engaged now and then. Chester and Timmis write, “People do not want to be projects. The poor need a welcome to replace their marginalization; they need inclusion to replace their exclusion; to replace their powerlessness they need a place where they matter. They need community. They need the Christian community. They need the church” (Total Church [Wheaton: Crossway, 2008], 80).

[13] “James chides the church for catering to a world system that prioritizes the wealthy and neglects the needy. People who live according to the ways of the world, James says, give attention and honor to the kind of people who can benefit them the most, who have the most to offer them in return for their kindness. True religion, however, doesn’t cater to culture; it is unstained from this worldly way of thinking and living. True religion counters culture and results in sacrificially caring for people who can benefit you the least, who have the least to offer you in return for your kindness” (Platt, Counter Culture, 82).

[14] David Platt writes, “We are a people happy to go to church just so long as nothing in our lives has to change. We are a people glad to be Christians just so long as we can define Christianity according to what accommodates us. The only problem is that in order for the religion of Christianity to be authentic, true, and actually acceptable before God, we have to let Him define what it looks like” (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Christ in James [Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014],26).

[15] R. Kent Hughes writes, “Worship that pleases God involves throwing ourselves on the altar and before the needy world in service. We may plead a lack of time, but if we have time for recreation and social visits we have the time!” (James: Faith that Works [Preaching the Word; Wheaton: Crossway, 1991], 84).

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