Ethics: Too Fat to Enter the Ministry

What would you do Wednesday!

A friend is told by his pastor that his weight is keeping the pastor from signing off on his seminary application.

A good friend of yours approached his pastor about going to seminary and entering vocational ministry. The pastor knew of his ministry aspirations. They finally met to discuss the pastor’s approval and endorsement on the seminary application.

A point in the meeting was reached where they discussed the pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. Your friend read verses 1-7 out loud. Your friend then asked the pastor if he thought there were any apparent disqualifications in his life.

The pastor gently answered, “Yes, please read verse 2 again.”

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Timothy 3:2 ESV)

The pastor then noted that he thought your friend’s weight was a problem. Your friend admitted that he needed to lose about 70 or 80 lbs, but did not understand what that had to do with verse 2. He also admitted that at one point he would have been guilty of gluttony which is why he has weight to lose, but has since repented.

The pastor highlighted the word self-controlled.

He agreed with to your friend that gluttony was not the issue. But since he is still overweight he has shown himself not to be self-controlled by way of curbing his desires and impulses when it comes to food. Instead, the pastor pointed out that your friend still eats enough to sustain his overweight frame. The pastor explains that he should be prudent when it comes to food and taking care of his temple, especially, since he admits he needs to lose weight.

So on the basis of lacking self-control, the pastor declines approving your friend for seminary or vocational ministry.

How would you advice your friend?

  • Respect the pastor’s authority and insight.
  • Respect the pastor, but exegetically challenge him.
  • Find another church.
  • Start and pastor a home church with weekly potluck.
  • Or…
Let's connect!

tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,Culture

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 C.M. Cole October 10, 2012 at 10:40 am

Wow! While I may respect the pastor’s authority, and acknowledge that he may have insight, I am not convinced this would be a reason to reject the application. The individual has acknowledged his sin of gluttany, and has said he repented. I suppose the pastor MAY be in a position to think otherwise, based on the person’s current girth, but, unless he’s got access to this man’s menu plans, and knows that he has basis for a nutritional analysis, I’m thinking perhaps it’s a little beyond the scope of his own calling.

2 MarieP October 10, 2012 at 10:41 am

“He agreed with to your friend that gluttony was not the issue. But since he is still overweight he has shown himself not to be self-controlled by way of curbing his desires and impulses when it comes to food.”

I’m a bit confused. Isn’t gluttony “not to be self-controlled by way of curbing his desires and impulses when it comes to food.”

3 mburatov October 10, 2012 at 10:45 am

This is a tough one. The Scripture is clear, and gluttony is a problem that we in the United States have become too complacent about; no argument. My problem is that we are balancing on the precipice of legalism. How overweight can someone be before they are disqualified from the ministry? Do we use Body/Mass Index (BMI) as specified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a yardstick? As someone who has struggled with weight his entire life, I am acutely sensitive to this topic. According to WHO research, some Asians can have a normal BMI, but are still overweight because of their light frame, low bone mass and lithe body types. Should all lithe-bodied Asians be required to have lower-than-normal BMIs to be ministerial candidates?

I think the issue is self control and not appearance. There are people who are not self-controlled when it comes to food, but they do not look as though it affects them (my oldest daughter as a case in point, who takes after my wife and can eat whatever she wants and never gain a pound). There are other very disciplined people who still seem overweight to our eyes. Therefore, I think self-control has to be assessed by criteria other than how someone looks.

In this example, it seems as though the candidate is massively overweight and would be classified by WHO standards as “morbidly obese.” Such an individual should lose weight because their condition will severely compromise their effectiveness for the Lord. Also, the words of an older Christian should not be set aside so easily. The candidate should ask the pastor how much weight he will need to lose in order for the pastor to recommend him. Once a goal is set, he should prove himself to be self-controlled in order to secure the recommendation.

4 Tommy B October 10, 2012 at 10:52 am

I am an overweight man. I could stand to loose 80 to 200 lbs myself. These qualifications are haunting to me, because when it comes to food I know I too often lack self-control. Gluttony is also (usually) not an issue for me, but I know I could eat healthier and smaller portions to control and improve my health. I am often grieved over my sin, but too often my grief is in response to the evidence of my sin (my weight and the way I feel) rather than my lack of self-control (the underlying sin).

I understand how sensitive this issue can be, but I don’t understand why we treat the sins that cause obesity as “respectable”. It’s unfortunate that in this scenario, the situation came to this point. I believe the qualifications for a church elder are not exclusive to men seeking to pastor a church, but that they are benchmarks all godly men should strive for. Can anyone honestly say that a man ought not be self-controlled, above reproach or sober minded? Sin is sin, and we ought to hold one another accountable in every and all ways.

I am not saying that the pastor or other saints are at fault here. I know that I am responsible for my sin, as is the young man in this scenario. Just this morning, I ate a sausage mcgriddle on the way to work. Okay, I ate two. And drank a coke. I knew it was bad for me and I should eat something healthier, but I put temporal pleasure above my physical health and worse than that, above my eternal duty to honor and obey God. Oddly enough, I was particularly grieved over this today–then I just happened upon this ethics blog post. God is sovereign!

While I believe in a perfect world the pastor in this scenario (or perhaps others who are close to the young man) would have approached the young man sooner about his apparent lack of self-control, the advice is sound and the young man should submit to his pastor. He should invite his pastor to take a closer look at his lifestyle, habits and diet and perhaps his pastor can labor with him to overcome this sin, by the grace of God. Another outcome might be that the pastor realizes his assessment was wrong, and that there is no lack of self-control. Either way, the absolutely wrong thing to do at this point is rebel against the pastor.

Perhaps there could be some health issue, and I suppose in that case the pastor would need to wisely consider whether there is an actual sin problem causing the obesity–but if the young man is simply ordinarily everyday just fat, his pastor is doing the loving and right think to hold him accountable for his sin. Just as we should dig deeper when a man’s marriage is struggling, we should dig deeper when there is evidence of sin in other areas of life, such as physical health.

Thank you for this post. I am rightly grieving over my sin at this moment, and by God’s grace will set goals and seek accountability to combat it.

5 Nutriaboy Johnson III October 10, 2012 at 11:25 am

Since he’ll probably be told he can’t have any alcohol while enrolled in seminary (an unbiblical stance based in poor doctrine) then why would he care about this? If we can skew and ignore some texts, why not others? Just join a health club, lose the weight, then enter the program.

6 David (NAS) Rogers October 11, 2012 at 9:39 am

I would hope that the pastor would speak to any person with the following Scripture in mind:

Mark 10:42-44

42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.
43 “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.

7 Even If Ministries October 11, 2012 at 10:24 am

Mark, sometimes your ethics questions drive me nutz! 😛

However, it is good that you bring them up. Theological suppositions are something that should be faced and worked through by everyone. Questions of ethics force us to to get to the root of what we actually believe and whether that belief is actually in congruence with the text.

That being said, I have seen this scenario and so many like this one acted out by leadership that I have served under over the years and many times the I have watched first hand the damage they do and have done to other believers.

First problem – it is a HUGE one: Prayer first! Where did this pastor go to Adonai in prayer. Prayer should be the first step in any decision!The text is NOT a book of rules to make check marks by! It is instruction from a loving father to be obeyed out of, and because of, our adoration for our Father who sacrificed his one and only unique son so that we might live.

Second problem – Accountability. Where did the pastor go to someone he trusted in the Lord for accountability regarding this after prayer? We are a body of believers called to be servent leaders, not trickle down management disqualifiers.

Third problem – How blessed are the poor, meek, those who hunger for righteousness, who show mercy, pure in heart, who make peace . . .as long as they are not fat?!?

Fourth problem – Sophron within the context of this chapter which is absent in the Septuigint except for Maccabees and there it is about a quaility of the mind – men that are able to restrain thieir emotional desires (Think Joseph and Potiphar’s wife). It is about strength to suffer – temperance. From the Greek mindset such as Aristotle comes the contrast of temperence vs self-indugence. This verse is from a Hebraic mindset “using” Greek words, not Greek “thought”. “Married” is a key Hebraic thought here. Also, to make sure he is beyond reproach (think Simon in Acts and why he wanted to be able to heal). Not a drunk. Chaste, sensible, modest. Hospitality which is very Hebraic – kindness to strangers (Think Abraham) – “let the poor be members of thy household.”

Point is, if the overweight man, that has repented, is called by God – what man is qualified to nullify that decision of God? His weight is something him and God will work out together.

If he has not been called by God, it doesnt matter what his qualifications or body status is. He could be the most physically fit man in the world and meet every qualification checkmark there is and it would not do him any good.

Was Sha’ul (Paul) qualified as a murderer? Would he be rejected from the ministry because he was not beyond reproach for that murder? . . . In fact, from the perspective of the Jews at the time, it would be a little like Charles Manson saying God had called him to the ministry. We know that he was called by Yeshua (Jesus) on the road to Damascus. Would he be rejected by this pastor too?

Sorry for the long post Mark – I’ll stop here.


8 BWright April 30, 2013 at 11:03 am

That’s why I’ve completely stayed away from the teachings of Moody. (sigh)


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