5 Questions
On a Pastor's Piety

Michael Horton | 5 Questions: On a Pastor’s Piety

1. Do you see the need in our day for a renewed emphasis upon the pastor’s personal piety and godliness? Is legalism or libertinism the main problem among ministers today?

I’m not sure how to respond to this one. I don’t read church history—or the present—in terms of either legalism or libertinism being the main problem. I think that they’re two sides of the same coin. What’s behind both dangers is autonomy. I don’t have to submit to anyone, belong to anything, and put down roots anywhere. Self-justification and self-assertion are too similar to contrast. For example, as a body the PC(USA) is clearly antinomian. And yet, the very same people are purveyors of “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” It’s just as legalistic as the caricature of the old parson wagging his finger at the little boy for kicking a ball on the Sabbath.

2. Does the minister’s spiritual growth and piety play a significant role in the congregation’s spiritual growth and piety? How about the leadership?

Absolutely. Paul and Hebrews call believers to imitate as well as submit to and pray for their leaders. That’s why qualifications for ruling and teaching elders include piety. It’s also why questions on piety are very properly included in examinations of candidates for the ministry. In my experience, an angry, frustrated, and selfish pastor (especially if he has surrounded himself with similar elders) typically inculcates these vices in the collective life of the congregation. Pastors who do not spend time in the Word and prayer regularly for their own edification in private, as couples, and in family worship, should not be surprised that the congregation doesn’t take such disciplines seriously.

3. How do you cultivate and maintain personal holiness as a busy pastor?

First of all, by not thinking of the second clause (“busy pastor”) as an antithesis to the first (“personal holiness”). The diaconate was established so that pastors could devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer. So when I am less consistent in personal disciplines, I shouldn’t try to let myself off the hook with the “busy” excuse. Second, there’s the advice of Weight Watchers for what to do when you blow it: “Just because a tea cup is chipped, you don’t throw out the china.” As the Sabbath was made for man, so too these other disciplines. The consistency is there for our benefit, to give us blocks of time to feed our own souls, to revel in the gospel and to delight in the law.

4. What are some clear and present dangers to a pastor’s sanctification and walk with God?

As a minister on loan to a seminary, I don’t experience the same pressures as a full-time pastor. However, a few challenges come to mind. First, pride. Power can go to one’s head. I routinely here ministers talk about “my church” and “my ministry.” It’s not anyone’s church and ministry but Christ’s, which He rules through a plurality of elders. I even hear talk of “succession plans.” Our polity runs counter to these ideas, but the idea of the “celebrity pastor” is far too common among us. Second, the Internet. The private and even secret nature of the medium affords greater possibility to indulge temptation. Pornography is an epidemic. I also think of the vices that some pastors indulge on their laptops that they might restrain in person, attacking fellow presbyters or members without having spoken a single word to them in person and in private. When they have blogs, it’s easy to spend too much time and divulge too much about the minister. When this happens, the office becomes less important than the person. Third, burn-out is a real challenge. When ministers are expected to be CEO’s, therapists, and everyone’s best friend, they burn out themselves and their congregation instead of diligently tending to their calling.

5. In regard to personal holiness, what advice would you give to young ordinands training for the gospel ministry?

First and foremost, do everything that you can do to ensure that you are being sent to seminary by a local church and presbytery. If churches supported ordinands financially and spiritually more than they do, many of the pressures, stresses, and anxieties imposed on young families would be greatly alleviated. They could focus more on continued growth in Christ, marriage and family, and studies. What do they hear from their pastor and elders regularly concerning their gifts and godliness? Are they taking such counsel seriously? And when they go to seminary, they should establish themselves immediately in a local church. They should not see the seminary community and their academic studies as a substitute.