Bible Question:

Should our pastor continue in the ministry after his wife divorced him?

Bible Answer:

Is your pastor guilty? If so, how should the church respond? Those are the two most important questions that must be considered when answering the question, “Should our pastor continue in the ministry after his wife divorced him?”

Should A Pastor Continue In Ministry After A Divorce

God Has Qualifications For Pastors

Some Christians are not aware that God has given us qualifications that are to guide us in choosing pastors. Unfortunately, some Christians operate with the world’s perspective that job or ministry performance is the criteria for determining if a pastor or elder should be appointed or “elected” to office and continue in office. They tell us to not be judgmental and just look at their performance. But in 1 Timothy 3: 2-7 and Titus 1:5-9 God has given us qualifications for selecting pastors, also called elders, and these qualifications are to be used to determine if they should remain in office. These qualifications do not include any statements about job or ministry performance. All of the qualifications are about character, family, home life and public opinion. God is more concerned about a man’s righteous behavior and heart than he is about “job or ministry performance.” Moses is an example of a man who had a great ministry. He had great “job or ministry performance” but when he sinned, God removed him from his ministry (Numbers 20:9-13; Deuteronomy 32:51). His personal behavior was more important that his performance. The message “Moses – Call To Faithfulness” will provide an explanation of what happened.

One of these qualifications states that the pastor must be committed to his wife and is not lusting after other women (1 Timothy 3:2). Another says he must be self-controlled and respectable (1 Timothy 3:3) and his children are in submission (1 Timothy 3:4). That means the conduct of his children in the home, in the community and at church will determine if he becomes a pastor or remains as pastor. One more qualification is in Titus 1:7. God says that he cannot be quick-tempered. It is recommended that you read about the qualifications of a pastor or an elder before proceeding. Here are two articles to help you understand the rest of this Q&A. “What are the qualifications of an elder?” and “Who are the elders?

Is Your Pastor Guilty?

Sadly, justice is missing in our society and often in our churches. Why? Because citizens in a nation and people in a church are frequently judged guilty based on second and third-hand information. It is called rumor or gossip. Gossip is a sin (Proverbs 20:19; 2 Corinthians 12:20). Many people and leaders in churches have been judged to be guilty by individuals who do not have first hand information. The old phrase “he said, she said” is very true. The phrase means that we should not believe the wife or the husband in a divorce situation unless we have reason to also hear the other side of the story. Proverbs 18:17 captures the issue.

The first to plead his case seems right,
Until another comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:17 (NASB)

Therefore, we must be careful what we believe when we listen to someone. In John 7:51, Nicodemus defended Christ against slander with these words.

Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” John 7:51 (NASB)

In 1 Timothy the Holy Spirit warns,

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NASB)

If a pastor or an elder is guilty of sin and they are not repentant, that is they do not stop their wrong behavior, then that pastor or elder should be rebuked in front of the church and removed from office.

How does this apply to a pastor? The answer is that only the wife and husband truly know the truth. Second, the elders of the church or the leaders of the church should be the next ones who know what the husband and wife are claiming. Those who will know the least will be the church members, unless one of the spouses is gossiping. This means that the congregation will not know everything and they will probably not know the most sensitive details.

Consequently, how should the church respond? They need to trust the leaders, the elders of the church. The only facts that should be accepted as truth is what is communicated by the leaders. This comment assumes that the leaders have performed a complete and careful investigation. After listening to both spouses, they have then made a just decision. Justice is the key word. If the congregation cannot trust the leaders of the church, it is time to leave the church.

How Should The Church Respond?

The qualifications of a pastor are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The common statement in both passages is that the pastor must be “above reproach.” In 1 Timothy 3:2 we are told that an elder “must be above reproach.”

An overseer, then, must be above reproach . . . 1 Timothy 3:2 (NASB)

In Titus 1:6 we are told,

. . . any man is above reproach . . .Titus 1:6

The Greek word in 1 Timothy 3:2 is anepilemptos. It means that an elder or pastor “cannot be legitimately criticized.” In Titus 1:6 the Greek word is anenkletos. It means that an elder or pastor “cannot be accused of any wrong doing.”

Both of these passages teach us that an elder, including the pastor, must be one who cannot be legitimately criticized of wrongdoing. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 causes us to respond slowly if the pastor is repentant. See “What is the meaning of the word repentance in the Bible?”  You will discover that repentance is not being sad that someone did wrong.

For a list of the qualifications that an elder must satisfy, please see 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:5-9. When an elder fails to satisfy these qualifications, he is disqualified from holding office.

Does A Pastor’s Divorce Disqualify Him?

1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 both state an elder must be “the husband of one wife.” The literal Greek is a “one woman man.” That is, he is completely devoted to his wife. Divorces are the result of an ongoing number of unresolved issues in a marriage. In 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and Titus 1:6 we discover that an elder is one who manages his household well. His children are obedient and his wife is in subjection. This demonstrates that he is a model example of one who knows how to lead his family. His family members are Christians who are obedient to the Lord. If these characteristics are true of him, then he is qualified to be a leader in the church.

Some think that an elder/pastor is innocent or a victim when he is divorced by his wife. But when a wife divorces an elder/pastor her actions reveal that he has failed other biblical qualifications. Clearly also his wife is not obedient to the Lord, which means that his household is not in order.

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) . . . 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (NASB)

This qualification reveals that a divorced man failed in his leadership role. This also reveals he fails in his  leadership role if his children are disobedient. His weaknesses or faults that resulted in the divorce can eventually affect the church too! The divorce demonstrates that the elder/pastor is disqualified from leading the church.

Therefore, assuming the church elders/leaders have truthfully and accurately communicated the truth, it appears the pastor is disqualified and should not continue. In short the above passages and Acts 20:28 reveal that the Holy Spirit has rejected the man from ministry at this point in time. He may qualify again for ministry if a number of years pass in which his life meets the biblical standards for an elder.

Those who might object to the conclusion, because they believe that we are not to judge others, should carefully read the study “Can We Judge Others?” You will discover that Jesus was not preventing us from evaluating the character of potential spouses or the qualifications of leaders for example; otherwise, we would not have any basis on which to select any potential husband, wife or leader. What is important is to please our Lord by selecting the pastors and leaders He wants.

Conclusion:

1 Timothy 5:21 warns the church leaders and the church to practice justice. One of the core problems in many churches today is that they are soft on sin.

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (NASB)

We miss the point that God rejected Moses because he hit the rock in Numbers 20 rather than speaking to the rock. Today, we think what was the big deal? The rejection of Moses by the Almighty seems to be unreasonable because we have such a low view of the qualifications for a spiritual leader. Hebrews 13:7 teaches that he must be an outstanding example worthy of being followed.

Are you truly qualified to be a church leader? If so, the holy standard that you must set is very high.

Suggested Links:

What does a Christian do when their pastor sins?
Our pastor has sinned. The elders will not take action. What should we do?
Sinning Pastors/Leaders: What to Do?
Who are the elders?
What are the qualifications of an elder?
When should a person leave a church?
Church Leadership – Function and Qualifications of Elders
What is the meaning of the word repent or repentance in the Bible?
Moses – Call To Faithfulness
Church Leadership – Function and Qualifications of Elders