Mailbag #75: Does a Wife’s Alcoholism Disqualify a Deacon? . . . Should the Qualifications of a “Youth Pastor” Be Different? . . . Responding When We Feel “Pressured” to Join a Church

Mailbag
02.22.2019

An otherwise qualified deacon candidate is married to a woman who is an alcoholic. Does this disqualify him from service? »
How should a youth program be ran? Should the qualifications of a “youth pastor” be different from an elder? »
My husband and I feel “pressured” to join a church we’ve just started attending. What should we do? »

Dear 9Marks,

Recently, our pastors and deacons had a discussion about a potential deacon candidate.

Everything about the man personally is qualified. Some, however—myself included—believe he might be disqualified from serving as a deacon because his wife is an unbelieving alcoholic. A few data points: they were married before he became a believer, and he has been exemplary in being a believing husband to her. However, I don’t believe his family situation sets the right example that God intends a deacon to portray.

In my view, he’s the right man in the wrong situation, but I could be wrong. Another hesitation in my eyes is that our deacons really serve more like elders but are called deacons.

Any input is greatly appreciated.

—Matt

Dear Matt,

I’m going to assume for the moment that 1 Timothy 3:11 is best translated “the women” and not “their wives.” This is contested, but if Paul is referring to the wives of deacons, this man would not meet the biblical qualifications of a deacon.

Whether we apply the qualifications of an elder or a deacon to this particular situation, there is no prohibition against the congregation electing a man who is married to an unbeliever. If he is married, he is simply to be faithful to his spouse—a one-woman-man (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). Being married to an unbelieving wife is not, by itself, a disqualification from church leadership.

Nonetheless, before moving forward, a few questions are in order: Would the weight of church leadership make it harder for this man to evangelize his wife? Will his unbelieving wife be able to provide him the support he needs to lead the church effectively? More importantly, should this man not serve as a deacon so he can attend to his wife’s struggle with alcohol?

In short, it may be unwise for this man to serve as an elder or a deacon even if he meets the biblical qualifications for church leadership.

The elephant in the room is whether this brother is disqualified due to what you describe as his wife’s alcoholism. Is there any sense in which her continuing struggle is a reflection of poor leadership on his part? If so, perhaps he is not managing his household well (1 Tim. 3:4, 12). Only those closer to the situation can answer that question.

You’re rightly concerned about the example of this man serving. But it could go two ways. He could be the model of a faithful man honoring God by leading his church in the midst of a trying home situation. That’s a good example! Or, he could be man who needs to give more careful attention to his marriage but, instead, is leading God’s bride. That’s a bad example!

Consider raising some of these questions with the other leaders of your church. I pray God gives all of you wisdom.

—Aaron Menikoff

Dear 9Marks,

Most churches in the West (especially SBC churches) have a youth program along with a youth pastor. How should a youth program be ran, and should the qualifications of a “youth pastor” be different from an elder? I find myself at odds with the seemingly low view and qualifications placed on “youth pastors,” as if the shepherding of teenagers requires lesser attributes than of a lead pastor. Thank you for any advice.

—Wilson

Dear Wilson,

As you probably know, youth programs—and youth pastors—are relatively new additions to the local church. Millions of young people heard the gospel, believed, grew in their faith, and became disciple-making disciples for roughly 1,900 years with no dedicated youth program or youth pastor to help them.

Jesus gave the church the mission of making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. However, he didn’t say, “And do all that exactly like this . . .” And so, a church is free to decide to have programming for young people as a method of making disciples. But they must assemble regularly to hear the Word preached, observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and faithfully administer discipline.

Since having specific programming for youth is only one method churches could employ in seeking to make disciples, I can’t tell you how it should be run. But I can offer you a few principles.

  1. Youth programming should not take precedence over regular gatherings of the church, particularly Lord’s Day worship.
  2. Youth programming should not attempt to replace parents as the ones who bear primary responsibility for the discipleship of their children.
  3. Youth programming should be a helpful complement and supplement to the regular preaching ministry of the church and family discipleship at home.

Your second question was whether the qualifications for a youth pastor should be different than those of an elder. This question is much simpler to answer. The Bible doesn’t not speak of youth pastors—only pastors in general. And God gives very specific qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. If a church wants to appoint someone to oversee the souls of the young people in the church and call him a “youth pastor,” that’s fine. But according to Scripture, he must be a man, and he must meet all the qualifications of an elder. Anyone who doesn’t meet those criteria cannot rightly be a called a “pastor,” even if we add another word before it. In the cases where the man leading the youth is not a recognized pastor of the church, you might call him a “youth director” or something like that.

—Allen Duty

Dear 9Marks,

My husband and I started looking for a new church close to our new home. We have been to Sunday service 4x and Wednesday night Bible study 1x at one Southern Baptist church. We shook hands with the pastor last Sunday after church. He told us we should become members, and that the new members’ class was starting this coming Sunday.

Another elder said the same thing to us a few weeks ago, as have several others. Is this usual for Southern Baptists? We are both fully immersed baptized Christians that have held memberships elsewhere. We believe in church membership, but have never felt pressured to join a church. Our previous church didn’t want you to be a member until you had attended for six months. It’s a nice church with nice people, it seems biblical, but we just feel pressured. Is four weeks a usual length of time? This is our first time at a Southern Baptist church.

Thank you!

—Virginia

Dear Virginia,

Thank you for your question, Virginia. First off, let me say: (1) with 47,000+ churches in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention, I wouldn’t say that there is any “typical” practice among Southern Baptists with regard to membership. Each church will have its own policies and procedures. (2) The length of time necessary to decide on which church to join varies according to circumstance.

It may be that the church you’re attending is a bit aggressive in the way it’s inviting you to join. It may also be that these conversations are independent of one another and don’t necessarily reflect the church’s culture. It’s difficult to judge which is the case. Yes, some churches can be tempted toward self-centeredness and therefore become too pushy in the building of their own kingdom. These churches wrongly pressure attenders to join their church, as if they know God’s will for them.

Whether the church you’re attending is applying inappropriate pressure is impossible for me to discern from afar. At the same time, we should receive—and enthusiastically welcome—biblically warranted invitations to commit to some local congregation.

As you discern whether this congregation should be your new church home, remember to interpret their actions charitably since “love believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7). Because we love and understand that the nature of Christian living is in the context of church community, churches and pastors should serve their Christian guests by helping them find a gospel-preaching church to commit to as soon as possible, even if it isn’t their church. Pastors can’t help a guest toward membership without some biblically warranted pressure in raising the issue.

Ultimately, I can’t give a definitive answer to the question about this particular church because I don’t know it. Continue to value church membership, avoid churches who genuinely pressure you, interpret others’ words with charity, and welcome invitations to join a church.

—P. J. Tibayan