One of my ongoing studies is of the qualifications of an elder. My church has called me to be an elder (or pastor, if you prefer) and the Bible makes it very clear what a man must be if he is to hold this office. Most broadly, he must be above reproach—he must live in such a way that no one can cast doubt on his sincerity as a Christian, so that no one can charge that he makes a mockery of Jesus Christ. This one qualification is further described by many more: sober-minded, mature, hospitable, humble, and so on.
There is one qualification I may think about more than any other and it’s this one: He must be thought well of by outsiders. An elder must have the respect not only of believers but also of unbelievers. And here is how this one challenges me: To be respected he must be known. The qualification is not, “If he spends time with unbelievers, they must respect him.” No, it assumes he will be living at least some of his life in view of unbelievers and that, as he does so, he will make a positive impression on them.
My struggle here is that I work alone from my home and, when I emerge, generally do so to spend time with my church. I have to be very deliberate to create opportunities to know and be known. But even when I was on full-time staff as an associate pastor the situation wasn’t a whole lot better: I worked at the church among Christians and did not consistently find myself in settings with unbelievers. This is not at all uncommon for pastors. They often spend relatively little time with unbelievers, and especially in settings where they can deeply engage with them.
So, am I thought well of by outsiders? I don’t think they think poorly of me. What concerns me, though, is that I’m not convinced they think of me at all. And I think many pastors find themselves in that very same situation.