It’s not easy to become a pastor. A pastor is not qualified to ministry by something as straightforward as obtaining a master’s degree or possessing the ability to hold the attention of a crowd. A pastor is qualified to ministry by something far rarer and far more difficult to gain: godly character. He must be a certain kind of man. Among other things, he must be a committed husband, a caring father, a man of gentleness and modesty, a model of integrity, humility, and self-control. Of the twenty or so qualifications, there is but one related to skill.
There is also one qualification related to chronology—“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). There is a correlation between time and maturity and a further correlation between maturity and humility. Time brings maturity and maturity fosters humility. We enter the faith arrogant and it is only through the passing of time and the testing of trials that we gain humility. This qualification exists to guard the church from thrusting men into ministry who have gifts, talents, and knowledge that might make them suitable, but who do not yet have a proven track record of humility. Christian history proves repeatedly that giftedness makes a woeful substitute for character.
If I may, I’d like to apply this qualification by extending it just a little bit. I’d like to extrapolate from pastoring to some other areas in which Christians benefit from the godly character and growing humility that comes only with time.
The Christian world seems able to support a nearly infinite number of books, programs, and ministries related to marriage and parenting. Few of us feel adequate to the challenges of raising children or loving a spouse. We address our inadequacies by turning to experts, lining up en masse to sit under their teaching and benefit from their wisdom. Yet a surprising number of these are written, founded, or run by people who have very little experience. Their scant experience makes them less than ideal as teachers or mentors, for time has not yet given them humility. In fact, I’d wager that the longer you parent, the less confident you feel in so much of your parenting; the longer you’re married, the more inadequate you feel in guiding anyone else.
Not too long ago I encountered a marriage ministry founded by a couple who were just a few years into marriage. They were eager and willing to write books and host seminars and travel far and wide to share their wisdom. It is possible they have much wisdom to share, especially as they mine the deep riches of Scripture. But their wisdom has not yet been tried and tested in the furnace of real life. Their wisdom has not yet been tempered by the humility that only comes with the passing of years.
I understand the temptation. After four or five years of marriage you have already learned so much. You’ve identified so much selfishness and seen so much growth in character. You’ve established good habits and patterns and perhaps taken an even newer couple under your wings to help them through the early days. All this is true. But you’re still only getting started. There is so much you’ve yet to experience, so many trials that have yet to come your way. Your knowledge and confidence may well have outpaced your humility—and it’s that humility that marks the best teachers.
After a few years of parenting it may feel like you’ve got this thing solved. Your little ones are well-behaved, they are learning their lessons, memorizing their verses, and sleeping through the night. You’re raising them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But you haven’t yet dealt with a child who fully-accepts and then fully-rejects salvation, a tween who has few friends but plenty of self-loathing, a teenager who falls into patterns of sexual sin. Humility comes through these trials, not apart from them, as you face your utter inability and lack of answers. Humility comes as you realize how little you really know and as you cry out to God for his help.
When it comes to pastoring, a novice in the faith may have exceptional talent and a near-perfect grasp of the facts but must not yet be in ministry because he lacks proven character. In the same vein, a newly-married couple may have an abnormally strong grasp of the principles of marriage, but still lack the humility to speak with authority. Parents of young children may know all there is to know about parenting, but still not be suited to guide others. Authority comes with humility and humility comes with time. Facts come easy, but character comes hard.