Why are pastors told to be above reproach? Knowing that they too are sinners, isn’t this asking too much? What does it mean to be “above reproach?”
A Definition of Reproach
A reproach is an expression of rebuke, disapproval, correction, criticizing, or open disciplining. A pastor is supposed to be above reproach meaning that he should possess character that goes well above anything that would require a reproach from the church, his family or from the public. To be above reproach is to live in such a way that there is not even a hint of scandal or inappropriate behavior that would bring shame to the church.
A Pastor’s Job Requirements
First Timothy 3:1-7 tells us just how much above reproach a pastor should be,
“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.”
Paul is saying that God requires a pastor to have a sterling reputation in the community (v 7), he must not be a womanizer (v 2), neither should he be a drunk, brawler, or greedy (v 3), have a godly home with obedient children (v 4), nor a new believer or one that is full of pride (v 6), and have self-control and not have violent tendencies (v 2, 3). If a church calls such a man, they should ensure that he qualifies by having these in his character.
Paul gives more instructions for pastors, sometimes called elders. Every elder is not a pastor but every pastor is at least an elder (Titus 1:5) as Paul explains to Titus when he is choosing men for leadership positions in Titus 1:6-9. Paul says that they must be “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.”
Paul adds to the pastoral requirements that they must “give instruction in sound doctrine” but “also to rebuke those who contradict it.” That means that the pastor can stay above reproach if he teaches sound doctrine…that is found in the Bible of course…and to rebuke those who contradict what Scripture says. Not easy no, but there is no choice for a pastor if he is to stay above reproach before the church and the community.
Why Pastors Must Be Above Reproach
The main reason that pastors must be above reproach is because God says so it His word. That is reason enough in itself but there is more to it than being a direct command from God’s Word. A pastor is a symbolic representative of the church and of God and if his reputation is one of ill-repute, then this gives the church a black eye and can destroy the pastor and the church’s witness to the community. Even most of those who do not like the idea of God understand that Jesus was a very good person, a good teacher or had excellent moral qualities. They may not bend the knee to Him but the vast majority of people, even among other religions, see Jesus as a supreme example of how they ought to live. Pastors must strive to live in such a way that the community at large will see Christ in their lives. When pastors live in ways that are contrary to the Bible they make non-believers think that all Christians are hypocrites and live lives of duplicity.
Related reading: What Would Jesus Do? 10 Daily Choices To Be More Like Him
The pastor must also abstain from every appearance of evil because sometimes the church and frequently the public will not give the pastor the benefit of the doubt (1 Thess 5:22). Even if there is no sin in what he is doing, he must not even appear to be doing what is considered sin. There was a new pastor in one small town that I heard of many years ago. He was seen coming out of a tavern and was walking rather unsteadily. Two citizens saw him come out of the tavern and assumed that he was drunk. He later heard about it by gossip. What came back to him was that some of the town’s citizens saw him coming out of the tavern drunk. He was so drunk that he could barely walk. The truth was that he had been visiting a shut-in widow from the church that lived upstairs. This building was adjacent to the tavern. It looked as though he had walked out of the tavern but he was actually coming out of a stairwell from the shut-in’s upstairs apartment and he had sprained his ankle coming down the stairs. Even though the pastor was not at fault, these people who saw him didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. They had assumed that he was drunk when he left the tavern, which he had not actually been in. You see the point. Pastors must not even appear to be doing evil. The pastor didn’t do anything wrong and even though the pastor knew it, the two citizens didn’t. His reputation was somewhat soiled by something that was not even true because appearances can be deceiving.
It’s not only the pastor that should be above reproach, the members of the church should also be because they too can hurt the witness for the church and the cause of Christ. We too must abstain from every appearance of evil. I once counseled a young Christian couple who were boyfriend and girlfriend and lived together. They insisted that they slept in separate bedrooms and never had sex. I told them that it doesn’t matter because most of their neighbors assumed that they must have been having sex because they lived together. What was worse, they knew that they were Christians. They hurt the witness of the church even though they didn’t have any sexual immorality occurring (allegedly). It didn’t matter if they weren’t. What mattered was that non-believers thought that they were because they were living together. I strongly suggested that they live separately because they were giving the appearance of evil and even if there was no sin, they were bringing shame on the case for Christ by their doing so. May it never be so among the Bride of Christ as He desires we live holy lives and this includes being above reproach.
Another article worth reading : Should Pastors Be Paid? A Bible Study
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