If you ask me, one of the most intimidating verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” This is especially frightening to me because I seem to have made a hobby of picking fights. If you’ve read this blog lately, it seems to have become a forum for challenging the thoughts and positions that Christians hold most dear. This is a change I’m actually happy to accept. It’s not because I think I’ve got all the answers. To be honest, on a good day I’m likely half wrong, and completely off base on the others. Which…brings me to my next question.
In 1 Timothy, Paul talks about the qualifications of deacons and bishops. I suppose you can argue about whether this is or isn’t for the modern church, but my personal belief is that it is. Maybe we don’t have deacons and bishops in our local church, but I think we can accept that church leaders need to be appointed by the church, and there should be certain criteria by which they are chosen. The interesting thing is that most of the requirements given to either position are outward actions (i.e. the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, not double-tongued, etc). Because leaders are typically appointed by members of the church, how else are we supposed to choose the right candidate, except if we use actions to determine the position of the heart. This is where the slippery-slope begins. How do we choose the right leader when outwardly, he could be blameless, yet on the inside, he’s full of pride? On the other hand, what if someone doesn’t exactly “fit the mold,” but is the most righteous?
The bottom line is that we do the best we can, but ultimately, we don’t know the condition of a heart. My concern with how we hire the typical church leader is that they seem too good to be true. The problem is two-fold. First, when the church finds out that they are actually human and capable of mistakes, it sets the leader up for a massive fall and the church up for undue disappointment. Secondly, it creates a sense in the general congregation that, should they as a layman fall short of this example (which is hardly ever the reality of the person in the leadership role) they aren’t a “good Christian.” I should say that I’ve had the privilege of knowing many local pastors who make no qualms about their humanity. Bryan Stupar, Ron Salsbury and Paul Sisemore, just to name a few, are completely imperfect, and they’d be the first to admit it from the pulpit.
That said, here’s a question for you. Would you hire someone who smokes, drinks and curses, but absolutely loves Jesus, as your pastor? Most churches would say absolutely not. It seems to fly in the face of what we consider a good witness of the gospel of Christ. Or does it? What if I told you that man was C.S. Lewis – a man guilty of all four offenses? This is the disconnect; that if you asked a church if they would hire C.S. Lewis as their pastor, they would undoubtedly say yes. But if you simply looked the outward actions, without knowing the man, you would never consider it, which begs the question – is C.S. Lewis not qualified to be a church leader, or are we looking at the wrong criteria when making our decisions? It seems as if Christians put a lot of stock in what not to do. So much so that my fear is that it outweighs the question of, does this person love Jesus? Personally, I refer to Matthew 7. I don’t know the condition of the heart, and many times, the outward actions are not an adequate representation of the position of the heart. To be honest, I’m more afraid of the “too good to be true’s” than the “C.S. Lewis’.”
The real question is, what makes us clean? Ultimately, it’s nothing external – it’s Jesus. If this weren’t the case, we’d all be screwed, right? But the beauty of the Christian church is that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective. Our witness is that Christ came for sinners, of which we are king. So, given that we are all on the same playing field, maybe it’s time that we reconsider how we choose those responsible to lead us. Since we can’t know the condition of the heart, we are limited to external markers. Just make sure that the external marker you are judging someone by isn’t trumped by your internal sin.
Ultimately, I don’t have an answer to the question of criteria. I’m not sure how to choose the right leader for your church. I’m just saying that we should be careful – because it might be that the black sheep is the right one for the job.