ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) — Over the past few years, perhaps you’ve noticed the proliferation of beards among young/er/ish pastors in the SBC. Aside from being fashionable, I was recently reminded of an important point about personal integrity and beards from the Prince of Preachers (and beards) himself, Charles Spurgeon.
In “Lectures to My Students,” Spurgeon says, “Alas, the open beard of reputation once shorn is hard to grow again.” This classic quote contains a wealth of information and a timely exhortation.
First, Spurgeon reminds us that the personal integrity of a pastor is a public matter. Like a good beard, personal integrity is on public display. One can no more hide his true character than one can hide his facial hair.
In his own day, Spurgeon lamented the lack of personal holiness among many pastors: “It is a shocking state of things when good people say ‘our pastor has undone in the parlor what he has done in the pulpit’ he preaches very well but his life does not agree with his sermons.”(1)
In his excellent book “Spurgeon on Leadership,” Larry J. Michael recounts a story in which Spurgeon parted ways with a friend and ministerial colleague, Joseph Parker. Spurgeon became aware of Parker’s attendance at secular theaters and “could not fathom [his] support for such worldly amusements.”(2) Spurgeon was willing to endure relational hardships to preserve what he considered to be the high public witness of pastors.
The “open beard of reputation” is not only a reminder that personal integrity is a public matter, but also that it is hard to obtain and relatively easy to lose. We all know the names of recent public ministers and Christian leaders who have fallen into sin and disqualified themselves from the office of pastor, and by extension, denominational leadership. Indeed, as Spurgeon says “self-indulgence has slain its thousands.”(3)
Reputation, like a good beard, is hard to grow. It takes time to cultivate a reputation of integrity, especially with those outside the church. Perhaps for this reason the Bible says that an elder/pastor must have a good reputation with those outside the church (1 Timothy 3:7).
However, like a good beard, a minister’s public reputation can be lost. Michael writes, “… for the most part, a public leader who is found to have committed immoral acts never achieves the same level of trust and confidence he once enjoyed.”(4) In Christ we have forgiveness, and any repentant sinner will find grace with God and should find grace among God’s people. However, Spurgeon reminds us that public trust is easy to lose and difficult to regain.
The next time you see a bearded pastor — or if you are a bearded pastor, the next time you look in the mirror — remember to grow and protect the public witness of your personal integrity.
1 Spurgeon, An All Around Ministry, 191.
2 Michael, Spurgeon on Leadership, 82.
3 Spurgeon, An All Around Ministry, 46
4 Michael, Spurgeon on Leadership, 83.