Give yourself ten seconds to answer this question: do you know anyone who started out well in Christian ministry but who has subsequently quit or moved on?
That was the easy one. Now give yourself thirty seconds to answer the next one: how many more can you think of?
When Paul write to Timothy and Titus he gave each of them a list of qualifications for an elder, and in the mix of gifts and maturity come four areas which have warning signs attached. Don’t appoint anyone with these signs, and watch yourself and those around you for their appearance. You’ll find them in 1 Tim 3:1-7 (followed by a similar list for deacons) and Titus 1:5-9.
To make them easy to remember, I’ve made them spell out SPAM. You’ve probably developed a spam filter for your email – now’s the time to do it for your heart
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 Tim 3:1-7)
…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)
Sexual sin. When Paul says ‘husband of one wife’ he might be ruling out polygamy, but most probably he means someone who is faithful in marriage. ANd we know the areas that the New Testament forbids – but we probably know more fully than any generation since Paul wrote, what resisting temptation is life in a culture that yells at you to embrace it, and calls you a variety of names (Pharisee, hypocrite, suppressed, closet) when you don’t.
Which means there is no room for self pity or excuses here. Paul also lived in a pornified culture, and he expects Christian leaders to have nothing to do with it. Nothing.
Power. Paul warns us about how we handle those who disagree with us, what our aims for them are, and how gentle we are to be (if you want an example of what an abuse of power looks like, read 3 John, which is a textbook example of a church turning into a cult)
Do you know church leaders who are bullies? Not physically, maybe, but verbally, politically, relationally? Take steps to make sure you have people around you who are strong enough to challenge you, and who will not be cowed by your superior speaking skills.
Alcohol. why does the New Testament so repeatedly emphasise the wrongness of getting drunk, and its particular sinfulness for self control? Well, think of why people get drunk. To have a good time – but what could be better, relationally, than being one in Christ? To ease the boredom – but how could any life with Christ at the centre be boring? To lose your inhibitions – but isn’t self-control one of the fruit of the Spirit? To numb the pain – but isn’t that what the cross does?
Some Christians take this to mean total abstinence is needed; I’m not persuaded of that, but i am persuaded of the complete wrongness of alcohol abuse for a Christian, and therefore especially of the Christian leader.
And, by extension, that applies to recreational drugs too, even if they were to be legalised.
Money. You’ve seen the love of money in a Christian leader’s eyes, haven’t you? I’ve seen it in the ugliness of the prosperity ‘gospel’ in some of the richest parts of the world, and its ugliness n some of the poorest too. Money is deeply deceptive because we can fool ourselves that it is neutral and we can handle it without fear; it is neutral, but the love of it isn’t, and leads to all kinds of evil.
Sex, Power, Alcohol, Money. SPAM.
How’s your spam filter?
Sexual temptation. What are the times, or places, or seasons in life where you encounter sexual temptation? You know what form it takes – does anyone else know enough to hold you to account?
Power. Do you bully, whether physically, emotionally, relationally or spiritually? Is there anyone around who who is not easily intimidated by you, and can hold you to account?
Alcohol. How many units of alcohol (not glasses – they vary and and are increasingly large) do you drink in a week? On your day off? Who loves you enough to tell you to stop after just one glass?
Money. Who knows what goes in and out of your bank account? Does your spouse know where all your money is? How are you doing on honesty with expenses, fees and occasional gifts?
To ponder: Tho old monastic vows hit money, sex and power with poverty, chastity and obedience. Why not the alcohol issue?