The Children in a Pastor’s Home: Must They Be Saved?

Two verses describe the children in a pastor’s home, and it is debated whether or not the descriptions in these verses require that a pastor’s children must be saved. This post is a quick look at both sides of the matter and attempt to give my personal answer to the matter.

First, Paul positively states in 1 Timothy 3:4 that a pastor “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (ESV). “With all dignity” could describe how the father managed his household, how the children submitted to their father, or perhaps both.1 If describing the children, this phrase would be similar in construction to Titus 1:6 in which Paul adds a phrase of description to explain how a pastor’s children are “believers” or “faithful” (pistos; see below).2 However, if deacons are described with the similar word “dignified” (semnos) in 1 Timothy 3:8, Paul’s use of Paul uses “dignity” (semnotēs) in 1 Timothy 3:4 could likewise describe how the pastor manages his household in 1 Timothy 3:4–5.3 This being the case, only “submissive” (ὑποταγή) describes the children in 1 Timothy 3:4. This submission is clearly with reference to the children’s father, meaning they obey him in the home. Because this submission is to a Christian father in the context of whether or not this man should be a pastor, the child’s personal faith may be assumed,4 but 1 Timothy 3:4 is not altogether conclusive on the matter.

Titus 1:6, however, is more descriptive: “his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (ESV). As one can see from the ESV’s translation of the plural use of pistos as a noun this verse (“believers”), many conclude that this verse explicitly requires a pastor’s children to be believers.

A second understanding is that, even if pistos is understood to be an adjective, one effectively reaches the same conclusion. When used with reference to a person, pistos never describes unbelievers but instead describes one who is actively believing. The sense of pistos, then, would be “children who believe.”5

Or, a third option, it could be that “faithful” is analogous to “submissive” in 1 Timothy 3:4 and is described further in Titus 1:6 by how the children abstain from “debauchery or insubordination.” “But since the following phrase is assumed to probably reflect unbelieving conduct, we end up nearly at the same point.”6

Given these three options, a pastor’s children are either understood to be believers or, as best as one can tell, it looks very much as if they are. It seems unlikely that the early church in a patriarchal context would have allowed for anything less. A father with an unruly home was incapable of ruling the house of God.7

Being a pastor’s child does not automate the child’s faith. And, as with Judas, Demas, and others, just because a pastor’s child makes a profession of faith does not mean that it is sincere. But, at least to me, what seems to be clear is that a pastor’s children should be believers or at least seem to be so. If children are born into a pastor’s home, it seems there should be grace and patience by the church to let the pastor “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) without unduly pressuring the children into a false profession or requiring more of them than Scripture. And if a church detects a problem, they should approach the pastor and father first as the requirement is for him to manage his children and not for the children to make sure their father can remain a pastor. At the least, the children should not be able to be accused of flagrant sin (Titus 1:6). At the most, they are submissive in the home and faithful to their father’s instruction, which one would hope stems from saving faith. May God be gracious that all of our children should believe, whether the children of a pastor or anyone else.

  1. George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 161. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid., 161–62. []
  4. Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 255. []
  5. John F. MacArthur, Jr., Titus (MCNT; Chicago: Moody, 1996), 30. []
  6. J. C. Laansma, “2 Timothy, Titus,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2009), 236–37. []
  7. I. Howard Marshall and Philip H. Towner,  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (ICC; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 158; Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 255. []