Should a pastor continue in ministry if one of his sons, arriving at a mature age, proves to be an unbeliever?
Well, as you know, that hits close to home. So maybe the best thing I can do is tell you the way the elders at Bethlehem managed this, because that's me.
When that happened, I went to the elders and I said to them, "Here's the situation. I think my son needs to be pursued by the elders as far as you can, and then he needs to be excommunicated if he doesn't respond." He was 19 years old.
And so for I forget how many months they did this. Maybe six months or so. And I said, "I am willing to step back and go on a leave of absence, or resign, or whatever you think appropriate in this situation." They never faced this before with any theological thoroughness.
So for those months they were pursuing him, talking with him. He was working for one of the elders at the time, and they had some conversations. And we were studying the issue, because it says in Titus 1:5-6 that the children of elders should be pista (faithful). Tekna is the neuter word for "children" in Greek, and pista agrees with it. So it is "faithful children."
Now if you just absolutize that as "they must be believers" then not only would I have had to resign, but every pastor would have to resign until his children become believers. (I'm giving you one of the arguments against it. Children become believers, they're not born believers—unless you have a very unusual view of baptism as an infant baptizer.)
So the idea would be that you can't be a pastor until they become believers—say, nobody with children under six should be a pastor. Or another take would be that if they profess faith and then walk away from it you have to leave the pastorate.
Well the elders studied that through and they wrote a paper. It was just a two page thing that said that a pastor shouldn't resign on account of an unbelieving adult child. [Editor's note: This paper isn't available, but you can read another similar one by Justin Taylor.]
And so they let me press on, but we did follow through with the discipline. And God was merciful to, I believe, use that letting go to awaken and restore. And I'm thankful for it.
So I don't think the point of those stipulations in 1 Timothy and Titus is to lead to the quick resignations of pastors, but to discern whether a man has a maturity and a giftedness to lead a well-ordered family. That's what it's for.
How can you manage the flock if you can't manage your household? And good management doesn't mean perfect outcome. It didn't for God, and it doesn't for us.