I stared, wordless, as the pastor opened up what I assumed to be a briefcase, and instead offered to mix me a drink from his portable bar. It was 1970 something, the location, a hunting lodge somewhere in South Dakota. I’m alone in a meeting room with a pastor I’ve just met two days prior. I don’t remember what I said in response. What I can recall is the sound of all the warning bells clanging in my head. My alcohol free home life did not prepare me for this strange encounter.
My husband, Ken, and I dated during college. He served as the leader of a youth group for his home church and invited me to accompany him, his team of leaders and youth group on a mission trip during the summer. We partnered with a youth group from a neighboring church along with their mid-thirties youth pastor who Ken admired a great deal.
The older pastor called a meeting of all the youth leaders after we arrived in South Dakota. Unfortunately, I arrived on time and alone by ten minutes. I think I stammered out a no thank you and probably sat there awkwardly while he mixed a martini. When the others arrived, no one seemed surprised or made any mention of the bar. I noticed that as our meeting progressed the pastor became funnier and louder. Three martinis can do that to ya.
I want to consider the phrase “not given to drunkenness” in the leadership quality list in Titus chapter one. I can’t help but reflect on my own family’s history with alcohol. Alcohol’s influence reaches through generations. My great grandfather’s alcohol-fueled, harsh parenting scarred my own grandfather, his son, deeply. Grandpa could never discipline my Dad and his siblings in any way because of that. This left grandma as the sole disciplinarian.
My maternal grandfather created quite a colorful history for himself in his twenties and thirties, also fueled with alcohol. A ship-builder, he spent his free time hustling games in pool halls and gambling in back-room poker, living on the edge of the law. A life threatening fall from the top of a mast prompted a radical conversion to Christ and eventually led him to full time pastoral ministry. He and my grandmother, just like my father’s folks, tolerated no alcohol in their home. In spite of knowing their father’s history, my mother and two of her siblings became social drinkers. My mother renounced that lifestyle before she went to Moody Bible Institute. She and my Dad modeled an alcohol free home for my brothers and I.
A day came when the Holy Spirit prompted Ken and I to turn our backs on a social drinking lifestyle. Yes, ignoring all my grandparent’s warnings and counsel, I too drank socially for a number of years. Why did we stop and subsequently keep it out of our home?
Before I answer, let me plainly say that I do not allow myself the luxury of judging any other believer’s stance on drinking. I’ve heard people passionately teach and discuss both sides of this issue. However, one thing the Bible IS unflinchingly definitive, and unarguable about is drunkenness.
”Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness…” Romans 13:13
“ And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit..” Ephesians 5:18
I’ve never experienced the joys of drunkenness or hangovers. Drinking to that point never ever appealed to me, but I’ve known lots of folks and their glamorous tales of waking up with fur in their mouths, a splitting headache and no memory of previous night’s events. So, why don’t I drink anymore if it wasn’t a problem for me?
First, Ken and I both felt a clear directive from God that he did not want any kind of intoxicating beverage in our lives.
Second, we observed that a few drinks is not always so simple. We ministered to alcoholics, and their ravaged families, who couldn’t drink just one glass of anything. One glass triggered such an overwhelming craving for more, that it always mushroomed into many drinks.
Third, as leaders, we also became aware of younger believers watching us for life and behavior cues. During his younger years, working with the youth pastor I mentioned at the beginning, Ken decided getting schnockered must be okay for pastors. Coming from an unbelieving family, all he knew about following Christ came from watching older believers around him.
Fourth, we didn’t know what might be hiding out in the inner nature and DNA of our own child. We’ve known a number of alcoholics who were raised without it. We felt no guarantee that simple social drinking for us couldn’t become an addiction for our daughter.
To summarize, drinking didn’t mean enough to us to risk hindering our walk with Christ or anyone else’s. We lacked passion to wrestle with God about making a place for it. He spoke to us clearly. Every thought, everything in our bloodlines, our culture, our quirks and anything else that matters pertaining to this topic is intimately known by God concerning Ken and I. We trust him to know what’s best for us, our family and our witness and ministry to others.
I encourage you to seek God if the two of you have never had a conversation about this. Right now, it’s a large deal in our culture and alcoholism rates are high. Believers need to be equipped to engage in discussions about hot topics. As the apostle Peter said, “Always be ready to give a [logical] defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect,” (1Peter 3:15 AMP). If you don’t drink, be ready to explain, in a non-judgmental way, why. Believers who engage in social drinking should be prepared with a non-defensive answer, as to why it’s acceptable.
Either way, let me state again, drunkenness is not normal for believers and completely out of bounds for a leader. Giving our minds and bodies over to any substance is a no go in the kingdom. God is jealous for us and intolerant of anything or anyone who holds more sway over us than himself.