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C.J. Mahaney: “The Pastor’s Priorities”

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Those who had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel Conference, or who listened to the audio recordings (available here in MP3 or CD format), no doubt remember C.J. Mahaney’s plenary session which was entitled “Watch Your Life and Doctrine.” He took as his text 1 Timothy 4:16 which reads: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” He taught that, through God-appointed means, the preservation of a pastor and his congregation is at stake in his obedience to this verse. Faithful, pastoral ministry could not be more important and the implications could not be more important, for they are eternal. I know of a great many pastors who were both challenged and encouraged by this session.

As you may know, the sessions from the conference are being compiled into Preaching the Cross, a book that will be published by Crossway in 2007. In the days following the scandal involving Ted Haggard, it seemed appropriate to provide this chapter to others. Though the book has not yet been edited and published, Crossway was kind enough to provide special permission to Justin Taylor and myself to post this chapter. It is Copyright © 2006 by Crossway (used by permission; all rights reserved) and will be available here for only a limited time. While you are free to link to this post from your web site or to download the document for personal use or, we ask that no one else upload the file to their own web server.

So here is your first glance at the forthcoming title Preaching the Cross. The chapter written by C.J. Mahaney is entitled “The Pastor’s Priorities: Watch Your Life and Doctrine.” We strongly urge you to consider making this chapter available to your pastor and leaders, either by forwarding the link or printing a copy. The wisdom of Paul, relayed through C.J., is timeless, but seems especially timely today.

The chapter headings include :

  • Our Two-Fold Task
  • Watch Your Life
  • Sound Doctrine Is Not Enough
  • The Consequences of Neglect
  • The War Within Never Ends
  • We Can’t Fight the War Alone
  • A Model for Your Consideration
  • Watch Your Doctrine
  • Watch the Savior Work

Here is a brief excerpt from the document:

The Consequences of Neglect

Sound doctrine is not enough, because according to Scripture, the fundamental qualification for pastoral ministry is godly character. Neither skill, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, nor reputation, nor personality, nor apparent fruitfulness of public ministry will suffice. Scan 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and you will encounter a profile of personal piety.

Yes, the pastor must be able to teach. Certainly, he must handle the Word of truth accurately and skillfully. But the foundational assumption of Scripture–both for appointment to or continuation in ministry–is that the pastor provide a godly example. Not a perfect example, but an authentic example. As Spurgeon exhorted his students in “The Minister’s Self-Watch,” “Our characters must be more persuasive than our speech.”

If we neglect the command of 1 Timothy 4:16–if we fail to watch our life closely, carefully, and uncompromisingly–negative consequences are inevitable, for ourselves, our family, our pastoral team, and our church. A marked or prolonged inattention to personal holiness in a pastor is a grave matter that must be addressed.

In Sovereign Grace Ministries, here is how we have sought to apply this passage in relation to the pastors of our local churches.

We believe that the biblical requirement for a pastor is not flawless character but mature character. We are all progressively growing in godliness. A pastor who recognizes an area of immaturity, and takes specific action towards change, demonstrates close attention to his life and doctrine. Likewise, if a particular instance of non-disqualifying sin occurs in a pastor’s life, but he genuinely repents before God and the appropriate individuals, this also honors the passage we are examining.

There are, of course, some sins that are particularly serious, both in the effect they have upon others and what they reveal about the condition of the heart. Even a single instance of such sins–sexual immorality, financial impropriety, violent behavior, etc.–would automatically disqualify a man from pastoral ministry. Beyond such grave instances of sin, however, a serious ongoing pattern of disobedient deviation from biblical requirements in the life of a pastor can also be disqualifying.

For example, a single lustful look, quickly confessed and repented of is part of growing maturity. However, a pattern of pornography could be disqualifying. Similarly, an isolated instance of lying speech, promptly brought into the light, is evidence of ongoing sanctification. Repeated examples of deceptive behavior, on the other hand, call into question a pastor’s trustworthiness. Likewise, an outburst of irritation, immediately regretted and repented of is proof the Holy Spirit is at work. But a reputation for anger is not consistent with the biblical requirements for a pastor.

Where such patterns of sin exist, we believe that genuine care for a pastor and church involves a corrective process. Of course, this must be administered with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Occasions requiring the loving confrontation of a pastor in sin have been among the most difficult and painful of my ministry experience. But in the end, the corrective process has normally produced God-glorifying and fruitful outcomes in a pastor’s life, family, and church.

The document is available is PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format. You can download it here.


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