In continuing through the source documents for Classic Pastoral Care, we come to Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians. There are two chapters in that letter which are relevant to the question of character in a pastor. First, chapter VI directly addresses pastoral character. In Lake’ translation with have the word “presbyter”. He begins:
“AND let the presbyters also be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back those that have wandered.” Those who “wander” would be those who have fallen into sin. In reading Bully Pulpit by Michael Kruger, I was struck by his observation that a pastor is to be gentle, which he followed with, when is that ever listed in the job qualifications for a pastor as written by a church? Polycarp begins his discussion of the pastoral office with compassion and mercy. How often have we seen pastors praised for “vision” and “leadership”? How often have we seen books on pastoral leadership? And often on pastoral gentleness, compassion, or mercy?
He then continues with a series of qualities which sound more like “social work” than modern pastoring. In the conservative arm of the church, from which I hail, the pastor might consider his work to be preaching with such acts of service a far second. I think that is wrong. Not because I think preaching unimportant, but rather that preaching should flow out of an intimate knowledge of the Bible and an intimate knowledge of the congregation. After all, one preaches to these particular people. If preaching were merely delivering a public lecture, most pulpits would be better served by reading Spurgeon out loud. But if preaching is also something intimate and loving, it must flow out of intimacy and knowledgeable love:
caring for all the weak, neglecting neither widow, nor orphan nor poor, but “ever providing for that which is good before God and man,”
Here then are some additional concerns: “refraining from all wrath, respect of persons, unjust judgment, being far from all love of money, not quickly believing evil of any, not hasty in judgment, knowing that “we all owe the debt of sin.”” These commands are particularly critical for the pastoral work of counseling.
It is far too easy to favor one person, to overlook another, to make conclusive judgments based upon poor understanding.
If the congregation is to be marked by love (and we must love one another), forgiveness will need to be basic element of church life. We will fail one-another, and thus we must forgive one another readily. That will be most likely to be achieved if the congregation is lead by one who is marked by forgiveness:
“If then we pray the Lord to forgive us, we also ought to forgive, for we stand before the eyes of the Lord and of God, and ‘we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and each must give an account of himself.’”
In all of this, we are to serve the Lord. Notice that our zealous service of the Lord shows itself in our compassion, mercy, forgiveness.
“So then ‘let us serve him with fear and all reverence,’ as he himself commanded us, and as did the Apostles, who brought us the Gospel, and the Prophets who foretold the coming of our Lord. Let us be zealous for good, refraining from offence.”
But such goodness is not open ended and foolish: it is capable a judgment which distinguishes those who belong to the Lord, “Let us … refrain …from the false brethren, and from those who bear the name of the Lord in hypocrisy, who deceive empty-minded men.”
The congregation is then to be marked by love, faith, doing good, “STAND fast therefore in these things and follow the example of the Lord, “firm and unchangeable in faith, loving the brotherhood, affectionate to one another,” joined together in the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. When you can do good defer it not.”
Notice that such kindness and love is to begin with the leadership and then to be found in the congregation.