The Privilege of Pastoral Ministry

“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,
not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;
not for shameful gain, but eagerly…”
(1 Peter 5:2)

There have been a lot of articles circulating on the internet lately about the difficulties of pastoral ministry.  After having been a pastor for 12 years, I could probably write a list of my own.  Pastoral ministry can be isolating, discouraging, emotionally and spiritually exhausting call.  We encounter people in some of the hardest times of their lives: when they are hurt, lost, angry, alone, shamed, caught, desperate for an answer.  Sometimes as Pastors we shine, and we bring comfort and hope to those in need, other times we respond with the same brokenness we have encountered, and we only make matters worse.  This calling is tough, and not everyone is equipped for it, not everyone is called to it.  But those who are called know the unique privilege of pastoral care.

Several times this past week I’ve had people come to me and say something to the order of, “I don’t envy you your job.”  This week I’ve had two funerals for men in my congregation, men who were faithful members of the congregation I serve and men I counted as friends and brothers in Christ.  It has been a struggle for me to write the services for these men, but it was also a privilege that I do not take for granted.

Yes, it is difficult to speak from the heart on such an occasion.  But when you consider that it is also an opportunity to proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ, to share the hope we have in Him, to take part in His ministry of compassion in binding up the brokenhearted; it is an honor that I could never turn down.

Yes, it is painful to sit with a family as they watch their loved one die.  But when you consider that this is an opportunity to witness a saint passing from one glory to the next, to be there to recount the mercies of God and the promises afforded in God’s Word for such a time, to be an ambassador of God’s kingdom; it is an honor I could never turn down.

Yes, very few will willingly walk into a situation where a family is in crisis, where the consequences of a lifetime of bad decisions come crashing down, where years of bitterness and hostility have created a wall of division.  But to be able to speak a word of grace, of peace, in such a time, to take part in the ministry of reconciliation that was established on the cross of Christ; that is an honor I could never turn down.

No, shepherding has never been a highly valued form of employment.  In the days of scripture it wasn’t a position that attracted the best and the brightest.  But a good shepherd lovingly cared for his sheep, guided them to quiet waters and green pastures, protected them from harm, and delivered them healthy and strong to his master. 

This is the privilege of pastoral ministry: to guide a congregation through difficult times, to sing over them words of peace and promise, to feed them with the feast of the heavenly banquet, to refresh their hearts with streams of living water, to lead them in joy to before their Lord. 

Were it not a calling, I could never do it.  Had I to rely on my own strength, I would be a complete failure.  But since God is the one who calls us to serve, then equips those whom He calls, I will gladly, eagerly, faithfully shepherd the flock. 

SDG

Only wretches need grace…

“Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'”
(James 4:6)

Whenever I am asked to do a funeral for someone who is not a member of my church, I always remember my first “non-member” funeral.  It was a sad, sad, story.

After 75 years of marriage, a loving wife who had cooked every meal, done all the laundry, and handled all the bills was gone, leaving a husband who didn’t know how to care for himself.  Within a month he committed suicide.  He could bear to live without her, he didn’t know how to go forward on his own.

The pastor of the church they belonged to was out of town, and I was asked to lead the service.  I met with the family to find out about his life, his faith, those things in his life that made others better for knowing him.  No one had anything positive to say.

The children of this couple remembered their father as angry and quick-tempered.  Not even the man’s pastor could offer anything for a eulogy.  The only thing she could offer was that he had been in church a couple weeks back, and had come forward to recieve communion.

The funeral came, and I was struggling to find the words to say.  So I said what everyone knew, but was afraid to say out loud (I was in someone else’s church, officiating a sermon for a stranger in a sanctuary filled with strangers – I could pretty much say whatever I wanted.)

I said that the deceased was a hard man to love.  He was often angry and quick-tempered, and he seldom evidenced the fruit of a life of faithfulness.

And then I said something no one expected – He is just like everyone of us.  The man we had gathered to remember was a sinner in need of salvation, a sheep who had strayed from the fold.  While some of us may deal better with our sins, putting on a good front, pretending that its not really all that bad, we are each of us unloving and unlovable, in desperate need of help.

Then I finished with something like: The bottom line is, the grace that saves us is the same grace that saves those around us.  If anyone has any hope for salvation, it is not in our goodness, our commitment to the cause, our abiliy to make it seem like everything is okay.  Our hope for salvation is in the atoning work of Christ, who while we were still sinners proved his love for us in dying for us on the cross so that by faith we may live in Him and with Him a life that glorfies God.  There is no difference in the fare.  There is no difference in the grace.  The grace that covers me is the same grace that covers you, the same grace that covers the lowliest of all.

Friends, we are saved by grace, and that is a humbling thought.  For grace is only necessary for the wretched, healing is only needed for the sick, salvation is only for those who are doomed.  We are none of us above it, we all stand in desperate need of God’s grace.

Since we are covered by the grace of Jesus Christ, and because it is the same grace for each of us that gives us hope, should not that same grace lead us to be gracious to one another?  Let’s be honest, we all long to be treated with compassion, grace, and mercy.  We all know our shortcomings, we know our own faults.  We pray that when we spread ourselves too thin and things start falling apart, when our old nature, the way of the flesh, creeps up again, we pray that God will be gracious and renew, restore, and redeem us in Jesus Christ; and we hope that other Christians, other sinners saved by grace, will bear with our shortcomings.  Shouldn’t we, especially in the church, treat each other with the same patience and grace that we desire for ourselves?

I supposed I’ve said all of this just to be reminded, and to remind you, dear reader, of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  If you want people to treat you graciously, be gracious.  If you are looking for encouragement, encourage others.  If you want to be loved, be loving.

SDG