The Crisis of Pastoral Virtue

Jul 14, 2022 10:13:34 AM / by Mark Farnham


Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias, Catholic priests, numerous well-known Southern Baptist pastors. Never has more attention been given to the lack of integrity and virtue in those who are supposed to be spiritual protectors and nurturers. And the disqualifying sins run the gamut of sexual immorality to abuse of power to financial indiscretions.

Conservatives are no less immune to moral and spiritual failure than anyone else. We may pride ourselves in believing right doctrine and in our fastidiousness about obedience, but we have seen that people can believe the right thing and do the right thing without actually being the right kind of person.

In Peter’s second epistle he exhorts us to “add to your faith virtue” (v. 5). The urgency of this effort is seen in Peter's words: make every effort (v. 5), be even more diligent (v. 10), I intend to constantly remind you of these qualities (v. 12), I am going to agitate you with these reminders (v. 13), and I will make every effort so that you will think about this constantly and be able to recite them (v. 15). In other words, Peter emphasizes seriousness of the consequences of a lack of virtue, and the significance of the blessings of virtue.

A lack of virtue results in spiritual sterility (v. 8) and shortsightedness (v. 9). Virtue results in effectiveness and fruitfulness, as well as the promise that you will never fall catastrophically, and that you will be provided a rich entrance into the eternal kingdom. Certainly, this is strong motivation to cultivate virtue in our lives.

So, what is virtue? Virtue is the excellence of qualities that arises from a disposition to do good for its own sake for the common good. Virtue arises out of a heart dedicated to God in truth, seeking to be like Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Virtue is displayed in the beatitudes and the fruit of the Spirit. It involves the mortification of sin and the cultivation of genuine love for God and his glory. A virtuous person still sins, but his heart’s desire is to please God, so temptations to serious sin seem distasteful and abhorrent. Hence the promise that a virtuous person will never fall into catastrophic sin.

There is a crisis of pastoral virtue today. It can be seen in the fear, cowardice, and apathy that keeps pastors from leading their churches in biblical discipline of sinning members. It can be seen in sneaky and underhanded manipulation of the truth when confronted. We see it in questionable behavior that if exposed would disqualify men from pastoral ministry. We see it in impression management, the attempt to spin a situation when it might make us or our ministries look bad. We see it in sinful anger defended. We see it in narcissism, dismantling, gaslighting, and controlling. We could go on and on. We have a crisis in pastoral ministry. And virtue is the answer.



Shepherds 360 is pleased to welcome Mark Farnham as one of the speakers at our 9th annual Church Leaders Conference. Hear Mark further in the Ethics in Christian Ministry workshop track.

Topics: Christian Ethics

Mark Farnham

Written by Mark Farnham

Mark Farnham (Ph.D., Westminster) serves as Professor of Apologetics at Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary in Lancaster, PA. He is also the founder and director of Apologetics for the Church, a local church training ministry equipping ordinary Christians to share and defend their faith effectively. He is the author of Every Believer Confident: Apologetics for the Ordinary Christian and coauthor of Talking About Ethics: A Conversational Approach to Moral Dilemmas. Mark has been married to Adrienne for 33 years, and they have three married children and five grandchildren. Mark is a kidney transplant recipient and cancer survivor.

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