Since the very public fall of a prominent pastor(and that’s as much as I’ll directly say about that), I’ve heard plenty of people offering opinions and thoughts of what makes a person “above reproach” to serve as a church leader or pastor. The go to verses are:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 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? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV)
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, 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. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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 1:5-9 ESV)
These are some heavy charges here and the few discussions that I’ve had with people leave some Christians with the impression that I may be taking these inspired words too lightly. But the fact is that when I look at these words, they scare me. I’m not a pastor and despite the encouragement by my own pastor as well as a few friends, I don’t think it’s in the cards for me. Part of the reason is because I do take these words very seriously. When I see the words “beyond reproach”, I see the entire list laid out before me and wonder which one I barely follow, not which one do I fail at. To be honest, I can’t imagine anyone being above reproach based on these lists. These are rules and guidelines for leaders. Without any snark whatsoever, if you could read and check off each and every one of these qualifications and say, “yes, that’s me as a pastor” or “that’s my church’s pastor.”, contact me, I’d love to dialogue with you.
My question is not whether someone can somehow be considered above reproach, but whether or not after some moral failing, that someone might eventually be looked upon as someone “above reproach” again. While these scriptures point to qualifications, they don’t appear to rule out the possibility to be restored in these qualifications. To be above reproach or blameless is not to be morally perfect, to which we can all agree. According to one commentary, it means that when someone does falter or fail, they repent before God and if needed, seek restitution or healing if someone’s been wronged. To be above reproach is be honest about our sinful condition, so honest that no one could hold it over us. No one can point a finger at us, exposing our sins to the world, because our lives are laid bare before God and man. We admit our faults, we bend our knee and we are forgiven.
Despite that truth, in that moment of indiscretion, whatever it may be, we are still broken by our sins and depending on the sin, we have probably broken a relationship or two, or more. This means there are repercussions for our actions. Repercussions that will require time for healing. I wouldn’t presume to attach a specific timeframe to how long that might take, but I would say that it would be quite an extended period, at least in my mind. I do think after a time there is, at some point, the possibility of restoration. This is true of the lowest layman in the pew who serves in the smallest things and the preacher from the pulpit who declares the good news for all to hear. I hold the standard of these scriptures high and because I do, I don’t think there should ever be a quick restoration or a casual dismissal of ANY sin as simply covered under grace. It IS covered under grace, but time is needed. It is needed for that person to focus on their relationship with God and their immediate friends and family which whom have probably been affected the most.
Here’s the main reason I believe “above reproach” is always possible. Because there is forgiveness. The Gospel is a message for sinners, present tense. That includes, the one who’s yet to hear about Christ and the one who comes to church every week and the one who preaches this gift of grace to us. The Gospel is always reminding us of our need for a Savior, a rescue from ourselves. I admit, some of us can look a lot uglier than others on the outside. It appears some need a rescue more than most. But, I’ve met too many pastors willing to admit that the ugliest sinner often stands before their congregation each Sunday telling them the good news of God’s grace because they so desperately need it themselves. My own pastor, in a sermon, told of his youthful and far from perfect “Christian” life spent in the same church he would later shepherd. He admitted in his sermon and later to me that he was preaching the gospel to a congregation full of people who, “knew him when.” They knew him as a young Christian and if they looked at him as someone above reproach at all, then it was only because of Christ’s salvation which was given to him, which is really the only reason any of us could ever fully and truly be “above reproach.”
Besides the peek we get into to the imperfect lives of our contemporary church leaders, I’m thankful for the Old Testament stories of men like King David with his sinful ways and Jonah, a proclaimer of God’s Word as well as a whiner and complainer. I am encouraged by the small and often faulty faith of Peter, and also Paul, whose honest account of his fight with sin, included his failures. All leaders in some ways, all failures in others. All blameless and above reproach because of the one who took their reproach as his own, Jesus Christ. Those are the stories that make me wonder. They make me wonder about God’s grace poured out for me as I check off failure after failure on that list. Handing it back to God, humbled by the truth of it all and then having God hand it back to me, written across the entire list in bold letters:
ABOVE REPROACH AND BLAMELESS BECAUSE OF CHRIST.