In the first handful of verses in his letter to Titus, Paul lists the qualifications that church leaders must have in order to effectively lead a local church. As you read through the list, and indeed the entire letter, you may be struck with this idea: the importance of instruction in sound doctrine that must come from the pastor and the elders cannot be over-emphasized. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy Word as taught,” Paul writes. That is and must always be the very foundation of ministry. Do you love your pastor because he knows your name and smiles at you? Or because he comes to visit you when you’re sick? Or because he tells funny stories and has a great sense of humor? All of those are good qualities and cannot be dismissed. But there’s one quality that your pastor must have that trumps all the rest. He must be a faithful preacher of God’s Word. Alistair Begg told his congregation that they will know he has stopped loving them when he stops teaching them the Bible. That’s it. Don’t measure your pastor or your elders’ love for you by how many warm fuzzies you feel when you are around them. Smiles and hugs will not change your life. Solid biblical preaching and teaching, under God’s authority and by His grace, will.
There is no substitute for this qualification in church leadership. An elder or a pastor may have a great marriage, solid kids, and good character in the community. He may be known far and wide for his kind words and good deeds. He may be well respected by other ministers for his pedigree and his grasp of biblical languages. But if his teaching undermines the authority of God’s Word, he is the blind leading the blind. If what he holds firm to is the popular notion that all religions are valid and true, or that only part of the Bible can be trusted and he will determine that for his congregation, or that biblical truth must bow to culture, he is standing on shaky ground and will lead others to do the same.
The Dakota Indian tribe was known for its common sense wisdom. They said for example that if you discover you are riding a dead horse, dismount. Here’s how this basic wisdom has been re-worked for church life in America; think of the dead horse as unbiblical thinking and unbiblical preaching. Some churches do nothing about the dead horse, and simply change riders, or pastors. Others say, “This is the way we’ve always ridden dead horses.” Some churches form a committee to study the horse in order to see how dead it really is. Other churches reject the notion that unbiblical thinking is a dead horse at all. They merely re-classify the dead horse as “living impaired.” No, the only way to address the dead horse of unbiblical thinking or unbiblical teaching is to hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught. That’s what pastors and elders must do.
We just had the pleasure of a visit from a family that lives on the island of Jersey, which is a bailiwick of the United Kingdom. It is off the coast of Normandy, France, and my new friend is an Anglican pastor there. He and his family stayed in our home for five days, and much of our discussion centered on the church all around the world as it drifts from its moorings. His prayer is the same as mine: that God would bring those who stand in pulpits everywhere back to the trustworthy Word.