Stinky Garlic and Patience
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
The mortar wherein garlic hath been stamped will always smell of it; so all our actions will savour something of the old man.
The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax, Richard Sibbes, (works p. 62)
I’ve spent a good deal of time in conversation with other pastors in the past two weeks. It’s interesting to hear where everyone’s at. The job of pastoring has a specific burden and requires a unique patience. To boil down the main responsibility of the job, I often go back to Ephesians 4. The pastor’s job is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. And if we were to review Acts, we’d see that this is specifically through the ministry of the word and prayer. Finally, we see that this is a specifically personal thing in 1 Peter: ‘Shepherd the flock among you exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you, not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.’ Pastors are to shepherd the particular people God has given them to care for, not everyone out there.
In the hubbub of life, we often either expect too much or too little of our pastors. We either expect them to fix all our problems at once, answer all our questions as we ask them, agree with us in our opinions, etc., or we expect too little, thinking they do nearly nothing in their job but talk for an hour on Sunday. Some don’t actually entrust themselves to any pastors and don’t trust the decisions pastors make that they don’t like. As a pastor, I don’t begrudge people their wrong views of the pastorate, but I do try to nudge people to think a bit differently of my role. I hope you continue to remind yourself of the proper place of the pastors God has appointed in your life, and take to heart their proper and biblical labor. The author of Hebrews instructs the church to listen and ‘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.’
Now the thing I’d like to draw out today is that the way God set up the church with pastors to shepherd the church is a very difficult task. To name a few things: pastors can’t change anyone, they don’t know everything, they can’t read your mind. How is a pastor to do anything? How will they lead a congregation anywhere? Because of all this, pastoring requires patience. As a pastor, I always have to recalibrate my sight to remember that the end is eternity and not just dealing with the current issue at hand. Even if I knew all your problems and knew all the ways to fix them, what good does that do? If I were to tell you all your problems and give you a list of your solutions, I’m pretty sure you would go to another church. We’re not built to fix ourselves all at once even if we tried, and when we do start the work, it’s just a messy business. Pastoral patience means trusting the Lord in the patient sowing of the seed of the word in people’s lives. And we can be patient because the Lord himself is patient with us and has given us specific means to accomplish our calling.
One of the things I like about the puritans is their illustrations. I think Sibbes gives us a good one with the garlic and the mortar: ‘The mortar wherein garlic hath been stamped will always smell of it; so all our actions will savour something of the old man.’ I’m afraid all too often in our impatience, we think we can scrub out all the filth of the old self. Especially if you’ve come from a law-based household, you can easily imagine (although wrongly), that we can essentially perfect ourselves and get rid of that garlic stench. By God’s grace though, we will only fully have it removed in the bath of the second resurrection. What we need to do today is to patiently labor to urge each other on into love and good works. One step at a time.
And honestly as a pastor, I don’t always know where God is at work pruning someone in their lives. I mentioned to Ami how it is hard to know how specific to be in application. She said that oddly enough if I’m too specific, it actually gives us an excuse not to listen. We can more easily say, ‘Oh, he’s not talking about me.’ When in reality, most application can be applied to each of our souls any day. We just have to lay down our pride and be willing to do the work of excavating our rough hewn selves and let the Spirit work through his word and church in our lives. And so, pastors are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry especially with the word in prayer, I think in part because God will continue to use my equipping in the life of the believer and church even after I’m gone. Someday within the next 75 years, I’ll probably be 6 feet under, yet by God’s grace, he will be continuing to use what I’ve said and how I’ve lived to impact those I’ve served with the word.
You hear so often of CEO style pastors, and I think that’s all a sham. Pastors should more look like farmers tending the soil or shepherds keeping the flock bringing them to green grass. I am a firm believer that everyone should have a literal plot of soil to tend to teach us this patience. It has taken me years to work on growing watermelons. I’ve failed thus far, but 2022 might just be the year, a little more patience, a little more care, and a little more labor. I remember once driving in a bus from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and seeing a shepherd leading the sheep across the dry Judean desert, there was no grass or water in sight. I guess he knew where to lead them so that they wouldn’t die. But if they just stayed there on the side of the dusty road, there wasn’t going to be any hope for them. Pastors must lead the church to streams of living water and the good green grass of God’s word. And pastors must slowly urge the congregation to go outside of their bubble to live faithful Christian lives, to witness to the truth of God’s glorious salvation to the dying world. We toil, and we wait patiently. So remember, your pastors are only human, but that’s ok. And find hope in the humble feeding that God provides to you through their simple efforts.