Today I have been reading Galatians and Colossians, and thinking as I did that of the Apostle Paul. For sure he was indeed an Apostle, but as we read of him in the book of Acts and as we read his letters to churches and to individuals, there are so many brushstrokes that fill out that picture. We see him as an apologist, a missionary, a worker of signs and wonders, a theologian. The hue that I saw today though was Paul the suffering, struggling, worn out but still persevering pastor.
Perhaps some of you who read my blogs are exactly that: suffering, struggling, worn out but persevering pastors. I wonder if you would dare allow Paul to do something for you? Would you allow him to help you see yourself as a pastor the way he saw himself: as making up what was lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of His Body, the Church? His desire was to present the Church (even those parts of the church he had just heard about but had never met face to face) before the throne of God as mature in Christ. Read Galatians and Colossians for yourself – it can be done in very little time – and you will see what I mean.
Where did his struggle come from? Well, in the two letters I have referred to, we could sum it up in one word; religion. Sometimes it was the religion of the type that observed special days and seasons. Sometimes it was religion of the type that had lots of rules. Sometimes it was religion that majored on the supernatural, visions and angels etc. Whatever form religion took, he saw it as ministering to pride, powerless over sin, self indulgent, feeding self and pride which was destructive to the unity and peace of the Body. He saw it as a bewitching and he cursed whatever lay behind it with an Apostolic denouncement. However impressive, beautiful, orderly, supernatural it looked, it was deadly and he knew it. Sadly it seems there is something about human beings that is drawn to religion, and that deadly draw can still be a temptation to those who are converted, born form above and filled with the Spirit. Paul’s letters are letters to Christians, true born again believers, but believers who were in danger of losing their way.
The point is this: he was aware of the precise nature of the attack upon a pure faith in Christ. If you are a pastor, be aware. To that awareness, add humility and ask God for courage and wisdom to know how to preach a word that His love for the Church within you requires to be preached. Sometimes people will say to me after a sermon, “Were you preaching at me, were you talking about me?” Sometimes they say that because it is as though the word preached has being speaking into the secret things of their own hearts and I can genuinely say “No, I had no idea I was speaking into your life. It was God speaking to you by His Spirit through His Word.” A other times though in answer to the same question I would at times say, “Of course I was. I am your pastor. It is my job to speak about what I see, to speak into what is attacking the flock.” By the way, you have to know your flock in order to pastor them. That is maybe something you need to think about if you have a teaching ministry that almost takes pride in not pastoring in any other way other than through preaching and teaching.
So Pastor, in the words of a song from the early days of the Charismatic Movement, words I warmed to and liked, which were taken from Scripture, but which had to my ear an awkward, jumpy, brain-jangling tune: “Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you!” What is the current trend drawing the flock committed to your care away from a sincere devotion to Christ? Get on to it right away with all the wisdom and words God is able to give you. Alongside the religions that can arise that are peculiar to the church – times, seasons, rules, rituals, spiritual experiences – the world which rejects religion is a religious place – just look at the religion of atheism, the religion of rights and entitlement, the religion of saving the planet, the religion surrounding matters like sexuality and gender etc.
It is a tireless and at times thankless job being a pastor. When the Chief Shepherd comes you will get your reward. In the meantime, be prepared to suffer to struggle in all the strength which He is able to mightily inspire within you.
God bless you. Oh one final thing. Make sure you are not just a stupid pastor bringing suffering on yourself. Make sure you are not a lazy pastor. Make sure you are not a bitter pastor, a Shepherd who has become an out of control biting sheep dog. Try not to speak from discouragement or bitterness or your words may end up being toxic even though they seem to you to be honest and real. Whether something is true is not the only consideration before a pastor speaks. Imagine if Jesus told us every area where our living for Him and our thinking was still not conformed to Him and to His mind, in one go! It would be pretty devastating. Try to speak from being “in Christ’ to those who are “in Christ.” What would He say and how would He say it?