Elliffs focus on pastoral integrity
CAPE GIRARDEAU – Once the final session of the 2006 Missouri Baptist Convention ended, messengers traveled home and began to unpack their bags. At the same time in Colorado, dirty laundry of a different sort was just beginning to come out. The drug and sex scandal of a prominent Colorado pastor broke like a swollen river through a dam. Wave after wave of media pundits and Internet bloggers castigated the whole of Christianity on account of one man’s sin.
When the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba, he said, “Because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme.” Through these recent events, pastors are reminded of the vital necessity of personal integrity and godliness.
Pastoral integrity was at the heart of the messages preached at the MBC Pastors’ Conference. The official theme was, “The Master’s Builder: A Life of Integrity from the Book of Nehemiah.” Vic Borden, president of the conference, developed the theme with the idea that by God’s grace Nehemiah was able to accomplish great things because of the integrity of his character. In like manner, God works through ministers in the church who keep themselves clean and pure, dedicated and set apart for God’s service (2 Timothy 2:21).
Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “The best of men are men at best,” and the prophet Jeremiah warned “The human heart is deceitful above all things.” As the old hymn proclaims, “Prone to wander Lord I feel it – prone to leave the God I love.”
In acknowledging the propensity for human moral failure, should we expect leaders in the church to maintain personal integrity and godliness? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” for God holds pastors to a higher standard of conduct and judgment. James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.” Jesus Christ demands integrity and purity from those who would shepherd his flock. Paul commanded Timothy, “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Guided by the theme of pastoral integrity, five men from the Elliff family preached throughout the book of Nehemiah. For the record, that would be one father, three sons, and one grandson – J.T., Tom, Jim, Bill, and Jon. This may have been an SBC first – to have three generations of the same family take the entire preaching duties of a pastor’s conference.
J.T., the patriarch of the family, began the conference with a powerful word of testimony. He said, “I’m here today as an example of the tragedy of sin in a preacher’s life. Twenty-four years ago at the age 65, I left my family and my wife and married my secretary. There are no words that can be spoken to describe what this did to my family and my friends. Why did I do that? The answer is very simple. For a time in my life I let the devil take over, and I did what he wanted to do.”
He chronicled his involvement in the “Battle for the Bible” here in Missouri, and how as a pastor he had built his ministry on the solid rock of the inerrant Word of God. However, his message to MBC pastors was, “No man is ever lifted so high that he cannot fall deep into sin, but God in His mercy will forgive such a man if he repents.” J.T.’s testimony set the tone for the rest of the conference.
Tom Elliff preached about integrity in a pastor’s personal prayer life. He said, “To speak of integrity in a minister’s prayer life in many cases is to just ask them if they even have one.” He quoted statistics revealing that on average pastors spend less than seven minutes a day in prayer.
“Nehemiah was not a minister. He was a layman. And yet he is one of three men the Bible holds up as example of integrity. As such, we should learn from him. The integrity in Nehemiah’s prayer life is shown by the substance of his concerns, the secret of his character, and the sincerity of his confession.”
Jim Elliff preached on the integrity of the local church as driven by men who have a passion for the purity of God. After showing the principle of purity from Nehemiah 13, Jim turned to
1 Corinthians 5. “As a counterpart to the Nehemiah story, let’s see what people who pastor churches have to do,” Elliff said.
“One of the ways that God has designed for us to deal with the purity of the church is to practice church discipline. Do you do that?”
Working his way through the Corinthian passage, Elliff said that the church is a society with rules and boundaries. We should not be puffed up with pride for “tolerance” of sin among our members, as were the Corinthians. The sin that is most tolerated in our churches is the refusal to regularly, if ever, attend worship.
Elliff said, “We make this great claim that we believe in a regenerate church membership, and yet there are three times as many people on the rolls of your church as ever show up for worship.”
However, the apostle Paul says the church must judge its members. The church has every reason to expect members to conform to the rules, and it is the responsibility of the church to stop the contaminating effects of sin at its source. When a church judges its members, it removes its most precious gift—fellowship. Failure to purge out those who are wicked among you is flagrant disobedience.
Jon Elliff, son of Tom, gave a passionate appeal to pastors to have integrity in the pulpit ministry. In chapter 8, Nehemiah led the people down the path of spiritual reform by taking them back to the Word of God.
“Likewise, true expository preaching must be at the heart of our ministry. Nehemiah exhibited integrity in his use of Scripture – the Word was read, explained, and preached.”
Jon exhorted pastors to be diligent in their study, believing that the Word of God is the divinely ordained means for the lost to find salvation and for Christians to grow in their faith.
Bill Elliff asked pastors, “What kind of legacy do you want to build and leave for those who come behind?” Elliff asked.
“Nehemiah led the physical rebuilding of the wall, but the spiritual rebuilding of the people had not yet taken place. We should want to be ministers who leave behind people who have been built up in the Lord and in His Word.”
So, what does it take for a people to experience a revival and reformation? The eighth chapter of Nehemiah shows us that men with integrity get absolutely focused on one thing – seeking and pursuing God.
Bill said, “The people knew that men like Ezra and Nehemiah listened to and obeyed God, and this integrity before God caused the people to listen to the Word of God too.”
Bill pleaded with pastors to consider the question – “Are you and am I a man who listens to God through His Word and by His Spirit, and only then does what God initiates?”
Tom closed out the conference with a passionate appeal for pastors to exhibit integrity by guarding their heart with all diligence. “You and I as ministers must learn what it means to guard our heart,” Elliff said, “for out of it comes the issues of life.”
“The sixth chapter of Nehemiah reveals four assaults against spiritual leaders – distraction, defamation, deception, and discouragement. Each of these assaults can be overcome, but only with God’s power enabling our efforts at diligence.” At the end of the final session Tom invited pastors to come to the front for a prayer of commitment to being men of integrity.
Given the recent exposure of pastoral scandal, the messages preached at the pastors’ conference could not have been more timely or relevant.