Monday, 26 March 2012

The Manse Widows

This has always been a problem in the church and especially for dedicated ministers of the Gospel.  It is profoundly gratifying to know that there are men who have given themselves to the work of the ministry, and who see themselves as preachers of the Gospel.  It is refreshing to see their zeal and determination to preach Christ and Him crucified.

But this comes at a price!  If a minister is single, such as the late Rev. Dr John Stott and Rev Dick Lucas in London and the late Rev William Still in Aberdeen were, then there is no big problem. These were single men who had the freedom to exercise their ministries as they saw fit.  They had no family responsibilities to restrict how they developed their ministries.  They were single men and they would live and work as single men.

But the married minister does not have that freedom.  He has voluntarily taken on additional responsibilities so he now has his wife and family to give adequate time to.  He is a married man who cannot now live as if he were a single man. When he married he voluntarily undertook to live from hence forth as a married man.  For a married man to live as a single man is unfaithfulness to Christ however else he might chose to describe it.

The married man's priorities are:  First to Christ; second to his wife and family, and thirdly to his work in the church.  His wife and family always come in between his relationship to Christ and to His church. This is necessarily the case.

I remember listening (as a young assistant minister) with bated breath to a church Moderator who was by this time into his sixties, confessing with brokenness to the fact that he put the church before his family and as a result lost his family.  He was elected Moderator because he was seen as a good church man.  But for him it was a very hollow honour; what can make up for losing your family for Christ when you put the church before Christ!

What a warning this was.  I had to fight against the temptation to put the church before my family, and most importantly before Christ in my life.  My role was to set a good example to church members and my fellow Christians.  If another Christian is having difficulties in his marriage and he comes to you for counsel, and the problem is that he is not spending enough time with his wife and family, what can you say to him?  How can you, with any credibility, say to this man that he has a responsibility to his wife and family when you, yourself, are defaulting in this very way.

'Manse widows' are usually found where a husband is dedicated to the service of Christ and where that same man is not fulfilling his marriage vows in the way he would expect others to do.  There must surely be a ministry to 'manse widows' who feel lonely, not valued, and overlooked.  These very special women will wonder why their husbands are prepared to give more time with other people than they are prepared to spend with them.

There needs to be a radical overhaul of ministry when this kind of thing occurs. That is not to suggest or imply that the church has got it wrong with respect to full-time ministry.  It is to admit, however, that ministers sometimes get it wrong when it comes to apportioning their time between work and home life.


graham wood said...

"There need to be a radical overhaul of ministry when this kind of thing occurs. That is not to suggest or imply that the church has got it wrong with respect to full-time ministry.

I and countless others who have thought through a doctrine of the church and ministry would agree with your first statement about aq radical overhaul.
However, that sits ill with your second, for actually the church HAS got it wrong with respect to full-time ministry. Why so?
Because, apart from some minor exceptions all denominations base their concept of ministry on received tradition, but not on a full and homest exegesis of Scripture alone (our only authority)
There is no NT basis supporting the centrality or necessity of a pastor as the principle functionary within each local church. Why? Because as Paul explains in 1 Cor.12, the "body is not one part, but many."
This being so it is little wonder therefore that the one-pastor dogma, whether married or single is irrelevant, creates a host of other problems for both churches and for those who see themselves as clergy.
We are therefor mortgaging our spiritual future upon a bankrupt and largely failed concept of ministry.
Please tell me why we do not in obedience to Paul's clear pattern, we do not implement the priesthood of all believers as set out in 1 Cor. 12-14?
To do so would cut out in its entirety the whole "problem" of pastoral ministry as practiced today.

Hazlett Lynch said...

Are you saying that a flock without a shepherd is the biblical model and therefore a good thing for the church?

graham wood said...

Hazlett. I have not said that or implied it in my last post above.

However, a flock can exist and indeed flourish without a "shepherd", as some did in NT times before elders arose within the gatherings. But any NT doctrine of the ministry recognises that this is not the norm - hence Paul exhorts Titus to "ordain elders in every city" - an Apostolic command (Tit.1:5).
However it should be noted that without a single exception the nT always envisages a congregation with a plurality of elders, never a solo pastor, much less the professional, salaried, titled, "first among equals" as per the modern tradition.
As Frank Viola and co-author George Barna point out: (Pagan Christianity authors)
"Jesus pointed out that there is only one force, one stronghold that "sets aside" and "nullifies" the revealed will of God, namely human traditions (Mk.7:1-23).
It is very possible therefore that the 'pastor' doctrine stands as one of the most pervasive human traditions causing a log-jam in Christ's expression on the earth through his Bride - the church".
The remedy for this sad state of affairs is very simple - a return to the NT pattern.
Let me ask, if as the Reformed (a misnomerin reality) constantly affirm in their confessions and Standards "Sola Scriptura", and if appeal is made to them for all other major doctrines, then why does not the same apply to a doctrine of the church?
I ask again - if the body (of Christ) is "not one part but many", as Paul argues in 1 Cor. 12-14; Eph.4 and other NT scriptures, then why do we persist in ignoring NT truth with the substitution of man-made tradition in the form of the solo 'pastor'?
Is it any wonder that the body of Christ is hurting and that those within the current concept of
"ministry" leave it in droves? (In the USA alone approx 1,500 pastors leave the ministry EACH MONTH from the unique pressures associated with their job)
Your own assessment therefore is sound that "there neeeds to be a radical overhaul of the
To return to the central issues in your question. The answer is that Christ himself is the Shepherd, who rules his churches through his Word and Spirit. Elder(s) also play a vital role.
All of Paul's letters in the NT were written to churches, not addressed to "pastors", elders or any leaders.