The Kind of Behavior by Children That Disqualifies Their Father for Pastoral Ministry

A pastor’s children are to be kept “submissive” according to 1 Timothy 3:4. They should obey their father and follow his instruction in the home. Titus 1:6 requires the same of the children, and depending on whether one translates pistos as a noun or an adjective, they must be “believers” or “faithful.” Either way, they must follow the teaching of their father.

Titus 1:6 goes further, however, to describe what must not be characteristic of the behavior of these children. They must not be “open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (ESV). This is the kind of behavior by a father’s children that disqualifies him for formal pastoral ministry. What follows below is an attempt to explain exactly what kind of behavior this is.

First, for whatever “debauchery or insubordination” may be, the children are to not be “open to the charge” that they do such things. Literally put, they are “not with accusation” by another in these matters. This behavior is uncharacteristic of their lives, which seems to imply that their friends and close associations are free of the same, leaving them altogether in the clear.

Second, the term debauchery comes from asōtia, a combination of a- (“without”) and sōzō (“to save”). The etymology itself gives the idea that this behavior is reflective of a child without salvation. Debauchery is equated with being “drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18), and Peter’s “flood of debauchery” describing unbelievers includes “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3–4). A related word describes the prodigal son in Luke 15: “He squandered his property in reckless (asōtōs) living,” which included having ravenously “devoured” his father’s “property with prostitutes” (Luke 15:13, 30). Of both asōtia and asōtōs, “The original meaning is… ‘incurable’” and thus “denotes… ‘one who by his manner of life… destroys himself’.”1

Third, a pastor’s child cannot be guilty of insubordination. The etymology of this word likewise indicates something lacking in the child, combining a- (“without”) with hupotassō (“to be subject, subordinate”). Whereas 1 Timothy 3:4 requires the child to be “submissive,” Titus 1:6 requires the child not to be the opposite, a child guilty of “insubordination.” The idea is a willful and rebellious refusal by the child to be subject to the rule of the father in the home. This word describes false teachers in Titus 1:10 and is translated “disobedient” in 1 Timothy 1:9, one item in a list of descriptions that are contrasted with someone who is “just” or “righteous” (dikaios). The insubordinate, disobedient child is unjust, unrighteous, and a defiant unbeliever.

If debauchery and insubordination are characteristic of a man’s children, he cannot be a pastor. If he cannot manage his house so that his children are free from this behavior, then neither is he able to care for the household of God (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4–5).

May we as pastors and Christian leaders lead our homes well in order to better care for the church today. And may God be gracious to our children to truly believe the gospel and grow in Christ.

  1. Werner Foerster, TDNT, 1:506. []