Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:12–13
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
I’m going to continue where I left off two weeks ago when I talked about pastoral restraint. When I was growing up, I remember hearing rumors that my pastor wasn’t visionary. At different crises in a church, a lack of ‘vision’ seems absolutely detrimental to the church’s existence. ‘How are we going to get out of this one?’ someone might ask. I have come to a point where talk of visionary leadership tastes a bit bitter. I think at some point my church came to think of ourselves as a beacon of light to the south of the river suburbs. Of course, while it’s true to a point, that is a bit ludicrous given the population and geography of the area. A church of 800 tucked away in a quiet corner Northwestern Lakeville being a beacon to half a million people? Even if each attender was making disciples of 10 other people, it wouldn’t even match the population of Lakeville in 1990 let alone today. Needless to say, the boat was rocky, and I think the church is still sorting out the next vision it should have today.
I don’t think any other church is that different. We are tempted to hope for an outsized difference for any and every church we come across. So you know, we meet in Northeast Minneapolis, a person could assume we’re having some impact. Here’s hoping, but most of our Northeast Minneapolis residents have moved elsewhere and this has been the trend for nearly every church since the advent of the automobile. It is simply one example of how easy it is for us to over-extend ourselves in every area of life (geographically, socially, financially, etc.) So what? Where should a pastor lead a church? What is the visionary outlook for a church? I would suggest one thing: a pastor must lead a church toward faithfulness. Faithfulness to what? God and his word.
It could be helpful to consider the perspective of a generic pastor compared to that of a regular church member. A regular church member regularly receives the word of God, but it often can feel like the pastor inserts his personal preferences into things. From a pastoral perspective (and here we see the restraint I mentioned), an honest pastor tries to lead people with the word of God into faithfulness. This leading however takes wisdom beyond any person’s individual wisdom because of the various hang-ups each person has. Ami showed me an article in a counseling magazine we get, and it is about rebuilding trust. Well, every broken relationship has broken trust in different ways. The author has a mountain of a challenge to help draw out a wise path for anyone to rebuild trust. As they lead, pastors regularly come across land mines in every individual’s experience they have to shepherd the individual and the church corporate through. Some churches had such an abusive pastor in the past, they aren’t willing to entrust true authority to their current pastor. Some churches have such an individualistic culture that the respect given to the pastor is only word service. Other churches have so covered up their past sins that everyone has learned to follow suit: just put a pretty face on and carry on. The point isn’t that we should be perfect. The point is that the unique burden of pastoral leadership isn’t to be visionary but to lead the members God has entrusted to them as under-shepherds toward more and more faithful and God-devoted living.
So these devotions I write are in conversation with perhaps three things: my scriptural study, my general reading, and my conversation with individuals both in and outside the church. My aim isn’t to harm anyone or shame them. My aim is to speak truth lovingly and reflect on an issue that will help us all to meditate and muse on our subject. In Minnesota, we prefer not to talk about anything that would change us, but in the church, in our new citizenship, we actually want to grow.
And so pastors are tasked with leading, and it is often through the thorniest ground in a person’s life. By God’s grace, God actually works through the public proclamation of his word, through his Holy Spirit, and through his church. And by God’s grace, he also works individually through various pastoral visitations. This is perhaps why pastors are expected to be hospitable. It is an expression of their willingness to both always give and be ready and open to hearing.
Honestly speaking, it is interesting how long it takes to acquire a proper balance of listening then leading. Whatever church you are a part of, I imagine that perhaps your pastor prays something for you that you don’t yet know you are in need of. We are often thinking we’ve almost arrived until we hit the next hump in our troublesome, hopeful journey to our inheritance. So I would encourage you to trust your pastors, and entrust yourself to them as those who have to give an account and keep watch over your souls. James shows us one way, call the elders when you’re down and out sick to pray. It is an odd thing that we are so reticent to do such a thing. We are home-bodies, and don’t like to invite others into our trials, but James instructs us that it’s a good thing. And perhaps on the flip side trust that your pastors are seeking to lead you in faithfulness. There are bad pastors out there, call them to account. But for the most part, in our general American distrust of authority, we don’t follow the instruction of Hebrews. We don’t actually make it easy for them to lead. Again, in our current context, I wonder if we more often live in a twilight zone of inaction (neither obeying nor disobeying) as opposed to explicitly disrespecting them. So instead ask, ‘How can I make it a joyful thing for my pastor to lead?’ Certainly, we covet your prayers. Certainly I am grateful when you love my family instead of keeping us distant because I’m a pastor. I was listening to H.B. Charles talk, and he was appointed pastor when he was 17. He said, ‘I was called to a church of godly and praying people. Someone said, ‘I didn’t vote for you, but I’m going to pray for you.’’ Of course, a 17 year old is going to be really rough as a pastor. But the church prayed for him in his rough teaching and all that. It is my joy to serve among you, and I have been grateful for your patience with me even though I didn’t start at 17. And by God’s grace, we are seeing together many of us grow into faithfulness through God’s word. And by God’s grace we continue to look for continual evidence of this growth in ourselves and through us to the waiting world around us.