The qualifications for those who may serve in the church office of an elder/pastor/overseer (they refer to the same thing) are laid out explicitly in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and they are referenced in 1 Peter 5:1-3 as well. Let’s take a closer look at these passages so we can get a better idea whether or not the elders/pastors/overseers of Grace Church are qualified or unqualified to serve in that role. We have emphasized key words for your convenience.
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:5-9)
5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3)
First, we would like to point out that none of these passages and no one we’re aware of is claiming that anyone needs to be perfect in order to be an elder/pastor/overseer! Jesus is the only perfect pastor. Any statements that would insinuate otherwise miss the point of what we are saying and what the Scriptures require. Elders/pastors/overseers are not required to be perfect, but they are required to meet certain biblical qualifications in order to serve in that capacity. Let’s look at just a few of the qualifications which recent disclosures would call into question.
The first qualification listed in 1 Timothy 3:2 is that an elder/pastor/overseer must be “above reproach.”
According to Kenneth Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, the word translated as “above reproach” literally means “one who cannot be laid hold upon.” This means that a pastor/elder/overseer “must be of such a spotless character that no one can lay hold upon anything in his life which would be of such a nature as to cast reproach upon the cause of the Lord Jesus. He presents to the world at large such a Christian life that he furnishes no grounds for accusation.”
In a similar manner, the word that is translated as “blameless” in Titus 1:6 & 7 requires a pastor/elder/overseer to “live such an exemplary life that there is no occasion to call him to account or bring a charge against him.”
Both of these requirements from 1 Timothy and Titus are getting at the same thing. The word for “above reproach” requires a certain kind of character, and the word for “blameless” requires a certain kind of life.
The very existence of all the stories on this site calls this first important qualification into serious doubt.
The next qualification we’re going to look at in 1 Timothy 3:7 is that an elder/pastor/overseer “must also have a good reputation with outsiders”.
That’s a pretty straight-forward requirement. It’s not enough for a pastor to convince a faithful few that he’s a great guy. He’s also got to have a good reputation among those who don’t share his beliefs or attend the same church.
Often the community where a pastor lives will have a more impartial assessment of a his character than those Christian friends of his who may tend to wear rose-colored-glasses. These “outsiders” might include city officials, school administrators, contractors you’ve worked with, businessmen and women, university employees, or the family members of those who attend the church where that pastor serves.
Based on the feedback this site has received, as well as other information some of us are aware of, we feel this is another qualification which should be called into question.
The third qualification we’re going to look at is the phrase, “not overbearing” from Titus 1:7.
Sometimes this word is translated as “arrogant” and it refers to someone who “refuses to submit to authority.”
Ben Merkle explains it this way,
“An arrogant person is a self-willed person, one who is constantly insisting that things be done his way. It is the opposite of being gentle or forbearing. He is inconsiderate of other people’s opinions and feelings and attempts to get what he wants regardless of the cost to others. Such a person does not make a good elder because the elders must work together as a team, seeking the best for others and not for themselves. A shepherd must be gentle with the sheep and not seek to overpower them by his strong will.”
This may be one of the most convicting qualifications of all. The leadership at Grace Church is willing to say just about anything and change just about anything as long as it’s their decision and it allows them to maintain ultimate control. Over the years we’ve experienced all sorts of empty platitudes, half-apologies, partial-repentance, and temporary surface-level changes, but somehow they always manage to maintain the same degree of power and control. If you really want to know whether or not Grace Church leadership meets this requirement, then all you really need to do is disagree on an issue that may cost them something, and then just refuse to follow their man-made traditions (processes/orders/rules). That’s when you really get to see what lurks just underneath the surface. As long as you’re a willing and agreeable servant who does what you’re told, they can seem like the most humble and godly people you’ve ever met. But as soon as you become “difficult to lead” it’s a whole different story.
If you haven’t done so already, we would recommend that you read Elder123’s emails that describe some of what happened during a disagreement between the elders, and then decide for yourselves whether you thought anyone was overbearing.
These are not isolated incidents. As the stories tell, and as the names on the Supporters Page indicate, these are serious and long-standing patterns of sinful behavior which do not line up with the qualifications an individual must meet in order to serve as an elder/pastor/overseer. For over 10 years, we have seen little more than cosmetic adjustments that never deal with the root of the problem and therefore continue to produce the same rotten fruit.
The fourth qualification is closely related to the third one and we find it in 1 Peter 5:3.
Here the apostle Peter commands the elders to serve in a specific way and he describes it as, “not lording it over those entrusted to your care.”
Other versions translate it as, “not domineering over those in your charge,” and it has the idea of not trying to lead or control someone through the exercise of superior force.
It’s a refusal to use the ungodly methods of coercion, manipulation, or intimidation to get people to fall in line and do what you tell them to. It’s an insecure style of leadership that creates a culture of fear instead of a culture of joyful faith and compelling peace.
Grace Church leadership wants everyone, including their current “members,” to think that their sins are not as serious or as consistent as they seem. They want people to think that these are just minor imperfections which led to a lot of unfortunate misunderstandings in the distant past. They just want everyone to know that they’re sorry about them, they’ve been improving, and things are better than ever. And since there’s nothing to worry about, everyone should just get their focus back on what’s most important, glorifying God by unquestioningly following their slightly imperfect, but always improving leadership.
This is not how we see the situation. And we feel that most reasonable human beings who take the time to read through this site will agree that something is deeply wrong here. Something that calls their qualifications to serve as pastors/elders into question.
In light of the serious and consistent presence of these disqualifying characteristics, many of us feel that the only healthy way forward would be to follow a plan similar to the one we laid out here.
We hope and pray that these leaders will agree so they can get the help they need before they ruin any more lives, including their own.