by John Ellis
As someone who is divorced, remarried, and who has served as a pastor, this question is not abstract for me. Years ago when I was first approached about the possibility of serving as a pastor, I initially balked because of my divorce and remarriage. In fact, I resisted becoming a pastor for several years over my concerns about asking people to submit to my pastoral authority who believe that a divorced man violates Paul’s qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. However, after much prayer and counsel, I relented. I’m still not convinced I made the right decision, though.
As a pastor, you inevitably discover that more church members than you realize bump up against certain aspects of your life and theological positions in ways that are difficult for everyone involved to get over. Most often, the friction is the result of pride and majoring on minors (including, at times, the pastor), and it’s incumbent on the pastor to continue to prayerfully love and serve the upset individual(s) with integrity while not allowing undue criticisms to send him into an existential tailspin. Having members of the congregation upset at the pastor does not necessarily disqualify the man from pastoral ministry, though. If Paul’s standard for being a pastor included being liked and respected by every single member of the church, almost no man in the history of the Church would qualify. There would be quite the shortage of pastors.
However, even with that understanding, I believe that asking people to submit to the ecclesiastical leadership and authority of a man who violates their interpretation of the qualifications to be an elder is a different matter. While serving as a pastor, I struggled with guilt while conducting membership interviews. I struggled with the thought of whether I should disclose my divorce in case the perspective members believe that divorced and remarried men are disqualified from the pastorate. The senior pastor believed disclosing my situation was completely unnecessary, as did the rest of the elder board. Pastor friends with whom I confided my struggle urged me to let it go and rest in the assurance that I’m Biblically qualified and those who disagree are wrong and should adopt a better interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:2.
I don’t know. Maybe.
On my end, though, that perspective feels self-serving. Yes, I believe that those who believe that divorce is an automatic disqualifier from pastoral ministry are incorrect in their understanding. Expecting them to immediately “get over it,” change their interpretation, and be okay with me being their pastor doesn’t seem very, well, pastoral to me, nor does it seem to be a realistic expectation.
That being said, I would love for all followers of Jesus to come to a better understanding of 1 Timothy 3:2; not just for my sake, but for the overall health and sanctification of Christ’s body. To that end, I am thankful for the faithful and gracious teaching of Dr. Thomas Schreiner in the video below. Regardless of your position on 1 Timothy 3:2, I encourage you to watch the video.