Pastors are Examples to the Flock

One of the recurring themes in the recent discussions about the LC–MS “Specific Ministry Pastor” (hereafter SMP) program is the matter of a pastor being an example to his flock.  Discussions held on the BJS website about SMP can be found in the following:

Is a pastor supposed to have a lifestyle that is an example of Christian conduct to his flock?  Or may his lifestyle be one that more or less reflects the standards of the community in which he lives and works?  So, for example, may pastors living in Manhattan or Hollywood live a more “worldly” life than those who live in rural Iowa?  Should “youth pastors” be allowed to “let loose”—or should they be examples of Christian conduct no matter whom they serve?  Does “specific ministry” permit exceptions to the rules for Christian conduct of pastors?

In surfing the Internet (via Google search) for recent talk about the SMP program this weekend, I came up with a mixed bag on these questions.  And I was surprised.  Some bloggers who appear to be Lutheran believe that a pastor doesn’t need to have an exemplary lifestyle.  Some even think that the idea of “pastor as example to the flock” is a “Pietist” idea.

I don’t think that the SMP program was designed to produce pastors who are less exemplary in their Christian conduct.  I don’t think that the persons administering the program are intentionally “letting loose” two millennia of Christian standards.  I don’t think that the vast majority of SMP students are any less Christian in their lifestyle than traditional M.Div. students. But people need to realize that, in the SMP program, some of the safeguards and filters that traditionally kept out unsavory characters from the LCMS ministry have been removed.

Not so long ago, the majority of seminary students (and almost all the younger ones) were graduates of one of the Concordia Colleges, where their growth in the faith and lifestyle was monitored by the Dean of Students and Resident Directors. In the traditional seminary program, even today, men are not recognized as “vicars” or allowed to preach publicly, until they have passed two years of observation as students, as advisees to faculty advisors, and as field workers in local congregations.  Today, in the SMP program, as soon as the student is accepted into the program, he is called “vicar,” allowed to preach, and in some occasions allowed to administer the sacraments (Convention Proceedings 2007, 63rd Regular Convention, LCMS, Houston, TX, July 14-19, 2007 [St Louis:  2007], p. 135).  In the SMP program, lifestyle observation happens after the student is already functioning as a pastor.  That is a significant difference and change from all previous methods of pastoral training in the LCMS.

Is the concern for an exemplary lifestyle by the pastor a Pietist idea?  Hardly!  It is an apostolic command for all ministers of the Christian church, being commanded in detail by Saint Paul in his Pastoral Epistles.  The two lists of specific qualifications for a pastor are stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.   These lists are collated in the Concordia Self-Study Bible under the heading “Qualifications for Elders/Overseers and Deacons” (1983 edition, p. 1854).

On the matter of “example” in general, Saint Paul commands Timothy “Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).  If you think Paul is too strict, since Paul gets so much abuse today, Peter commands the same thing to the elders, that they be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).

Luther doesn’t budge an inch from these commands.  In his “Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors of Electoral Saxony” [1528] (Luther’s Work 40:313), he commands: “The preachers are to exemplify a godly life, so that the people take no offense but better their own lives. . . . If one or more of the pastors or preachers is guilty of error in this or that respect [either in doctrine or life], the superintendent shall call to himself those concerned and have them abstain from it.”  In the LCMS parish system, the “superintendent” is equal to the Circuit Counselor.

Martin Chemnitz continues the pattern set by Peter, Paul, and Luther.  In his Enchiridion [1593] (St Louis: CPH edition, p. 158), he writes that in “the last chief part of the examination [for the ministry] . . . pastors should by solemn exhortation be spurred . . . to lead a pious, honorable, and blameless life and to be earnestly reminded on the basis of Scripture how important this is.”

Johann Gerhard, in his grand Theological Commonplaces, now being published in English (St Louis:  CPH edition), has much to say about this topic (to purchase books in this series, go to:  In Volume XXVI/1, On the Ministry, Part One (published 2011), sections 166-169 (pp. 241-245), 181 (pp. 265-266), and 182 (pp. 264-265) address the matter of the pastor’s lifestyle.  Gerhard quotes from the Pastoral Epistles, I Peter 5:3, Ambrose, Hincmar of Reims, 4th Council of Carthage, Council of Laodicea, Ivo of Chartres, Gregory of Nazianzen, Gratian’s canon law, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Augustine, Jerome, the Constitution of the Electoral Saxon church, Gregory the Great, and other Scripture passages.

In summary, Gerhard writes, “Integrity of life and honorable behavior are required chiefly and especially of a bishop, not just because of those general reasons that demand these from all other Christians but also particularly for this reason: that they may be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), that in all things and in every respect they may offer themselves as a “pattern of good works” (2 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:7), that they not, because of their wickedness of life, expose their ministry to the reproaches of enemies and set up an impediment or hindrance to the Word’s fruit-bearing, and thus cause the name and doctrine of the Lord to be blasphemed” (ibid., section 182, pp. 265-266).

You can debate all you want about how much academic study is required to become a Christian pastor in today’s world.  But the matter of the Christian pastor’s lifestyle, and the observation and examination of that in advance of ordination (1 Timothy 5:22), is not a matter of debate.  That was settled originally in the foundation of the Christian church by Jesus and the Apostles, and was reaffirmed by Luther and his epigones.  We change this requirement only at great peril to our congregations.   What do you think?

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