I’m Not a Pastor
Apparently I confuse people. I don’t mean to, but I do.
It becomes apparent mostly on line when someone writes that I should do something in particular, or I should refrain from saying something, or there’s some standard I’ve not met. It all stems from a single misunderstanding often expressed in this recurring question:
“Where do you pastor a church, Tim?”
It might also come across as “You pastors shouldn’t write blog posts like that” or “Pastor like you should be careful in how you’re perceived” or something similar. The writer is often saying I am held to a high standard and need to watch out. It’s true. Church leadership is held to a high standard. They must be above reproach. (1 Timothy 3:2.)
But applying that verse to me is a product of the original confusion because I’m not a pastor. I never have been and don’t plan on changing careers to become one. I like what I do. That doesn’t mean I don’t have high standards applied to me in my job, though.
I’ve been a judge since 1995, coming to the bench at the decidedly young age of 35. It was a steep learning curve. One of the things I had to learn was the standard of behavior required of judges.
The California Code of Judicial Ethics is a body of ethics canons which covers everything from maintaining decorum in the courtroom, to private business transactions, to family dynamics, to prohibitions on political activity. This code is law and if there is a violation of any of these canons of ethics a judge like me is subject to investigation and discipline by the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance. Discipline can range from a private advisory letter for a minor and easily remedied infraction to removal from the bench.
If someone reads a blog post and thinks I’ve failed to meet the standards of conduct for a pastor, it might also mean that I’ve not met the standard for a judge. After all, integrity in office is pretty much the same for one and the other.
Then again, some of the prohibitions I’m under not only don’t apply to a pastor but would be silly if they did.
Let’s say someone you and I know is in court and needs a character witness. You think I’d be helpful and ask if I’d appear on their behalf. No can do; being a character witness is forbidden by law. On the other hand, having someone’s pastor vouch for their character not only isn’t against the law but it’s practically part of the pastoral job description.
Yet the fact that there’s a difference between the expected conduct of a pastor and a judge does not mean that there are no biblical standards for a non-pastor like me to meet.
Cause to Complain or Cause to Commend
God’s people have the blessing of Jesus’ righteousness being their own, as “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:22.) In that righteousness, we can now treat others rightly.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6.)
It is not only in how we answer people, that is, how we respond to them, but also our conduct in initiating interactions with others.
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:8-10.)
So the standard for all of us – pastors, judges, teachers, plumbers, doctors, students, adults, children – comes down to this: follow the Spirit’s leading, not our old sinful desires. How? Opportunities to help come up all the time, and as Paul told the Galatians the best thing to do is take advantage of those God-given opportunities.
If doing this still leads to confusion, it won’t be my fault. As Mark Twain told the Young People’s Society at Greenpoint Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn in 1901:
Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest. (Wikiquote.)
Astonish and gratify. As long as it’s the product of following the Holy Spirit, it’s all right with me. As the Bible says:
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (Romans 12:17.)
It may confuse people, but it’s the right thing to do.