Tag Archives: Perfect Pastor

What is My Pastor’s Job?

(an excerpt from Chapter 8 in The Perfect Pastor?)
Winter was exhausting itself in futile attempts to suppress the emerging spring. This March witnessed a rigorous battle of the seasons, but the brilliant hues of the newborn spring won out like a persistent hatchling.  It was Mona’s favorite time of year.

One Sunday afternoon a month the Lee family hosted a luncheon for the new visitors and members. The night before, Melissa, a naturally talented decorator, charmed the usually plain living room with a full bloom of spring.  Mona was elated, but had to work hard to keep her little brood from spreading spring color and cheer all over the place.  Sunday school could not come soon enough.

Warming temperatures and cheerful buds most likely contributed to an especially pleasurable morning.  It seemed everything went well and overall things at church were upbeat.  Two new members were formally received.  By now the grumpy bunch made it a habit of leaving almost immediately after the service, sometimes before.  A couple of the elderly ladies set their watches to ring right at noon.  “Since good preaching should take no more than fifteen minutes,” they expected Dan to be finished by noon.  If he wasn’t then too bad – they would just stand up, shuffle to the aisle and leave.  Thankfully they sat in the back row.  They missed the after church reception for the new members and a special cake afterward to celebrate the new union.

Because the new members brought their friends, and Matt brought a few of his new college mates, the Lees’ living room was filled.  After prayer everyone circled their way around the dining room buffet.  Mona’s expertise was cooking so she was used to hearing admonitions to open a catering business or restaurant.  With brightly colored plastic plates balanced precariously on laps, people sat on the couch, dining room chairs and even on the floor. In the background one could watch Melissa helping Mona feed the children and ready them for their naps.

The format was simple: enjoy the food, get to know each other, and ask the tough questions.  Dan enjoyed the tough or theological questions, but nine out of ten times questions were of a more mundane nature.  Crystal washed the bite of hoagie down with punch before she spoke up.  “I have a question,” she declared almost apologetically and kept her hand raised until Dan acknowledged her.  The stylish twenty-something was a regular visitor and friend of one of the new members.

“Go ahead, ask away.”

“Like, don’t get upset or anything.  I’m not sure I should even ask this.”

“Don’t apologize; just ask the question,” Dan kindly pressed.

“Uhm, what do you do?  Like, I know you are busy on Sunday but what do you do the rest of the week?”

With a very serious face Dan teased, “Sunday is the day I work.  It’s a great job.”

Most laughed, but Crystal wasn’t sure how to take him.

“He’s just giving you a hard time with his bad humor,” Mona apologized, coming down the stairs.  “Dan, shame on you!”

“That really is a good question and I’m glad you asked.  I get that quite often. Sometimes people actually believe the pastor only works on Sundays.  Maybe there are pastors who only work that day.  After all, one could be extremely lazy or a workaholic and get away with it.  In some ways it is like being self-employed.  You have to be fairly self-motivated and organized to get things done unless you are in a church that dictates what will be done.”

“My old pastor, and I mean he was really old — older than you, Pastor Lee — used to say that his job was to study all morning, eat lunch and then knock on neighborhood doors in the afternoons, teach classes and preach on Sunday,” proclaimed a serious college kid.

“I didn’t know thirty-eight was old, Brian.  Yeah, what you are talking about was one popular school of thought.  A few even hold to that today.  So, what do you think I do?”

“I know for a fact that you disciple people one-on-one,” Matt defended.

“Do you do counseling?” asked another.

“Sometimes I offer counsel. Yes.”

“Obviously you have to prepare for sermons and class lessons,” said Matt.

“He teaches then,” surmised Crystal’s other friend looking at Matt.

“Yep.  Keep going…” Dan encouraged.

Melissa spoke up.  “I know he reads a lot.  You should see that library of his!  And he visits people in the hospital.”

Scott volunteered, “He also visits people in their home for a spiritual checkup.  That’s what my cousin told me.”

“True.  Anything else?”

No one offered anything more than the clatter of forks on plates.  In the pause three of the young men went back to reload their plates.

“All these things would take up at least two days. Now, what else do I do with the rest of my time?” Dan questioned with a leer.

Mona jumped in right away. “Well, whatever it is, it keeps you busy day and night practically the entire week.”  Turning to Crystal she added, “I know he’s consumed by the work twenty-four-seven.  It’s even hard for him to take one day off!”  She was a little defensive since she had on too many occasions been the recipient of people’s complaints that her husband did not do enough.

“I really appreciated that page you had in the membership class that showed your average weekly schedule.  It was revealing. You really do work ten hours a day?” asked one of the new members.

“Thanks.  Yes, ten hours is normal, but sometimes it is eight and sometimes it is sixteen.  Depends on the day’s demands.  Jane Rubietta says that ‘Most pastors work in excess of 70 hours a week.  Seventy percent don’t take a week of vacation during the year, and sixty percent don’t get a full day off during the week’ (2002, p. 90). I’m glad I have vacation time that is somewhat mandated by our denomination’s tradition.  All right, I have a question for you,” Dan proposed, scanning the circle of guests.  “What do you think a pastor should do?   And I want you to be honest.”

Again, for a while the only sound was the symphony of the feast.  Matt broke the silence with a dribble of mustard on his chin, “Weddings!”  Everyone broke out laughing. “What?  What’s so funny about that?”

“Got someone in mind, Matt?” one chided.  He threw a pillow at his challenger.

“Funerals!” spoke another which provoked more laughter as they all looked at Matt’s target.

“I know you run meetings.  What’s that called?” Tom queried.

“Moderating,” Dan taught.

“Do you do the finances too?” Rose asked in her Argentinean accent.

“I suppose some pastors do the finances, but it’s not a practice in our church.  Our churches normally have treasurers.  In some churches the treasurer is a deacon.  The only part I have with finances is when the elders review the budget at the end of the year and prepare a new one for the next year.”

“Are you the janitor for the building?” Maria asked seriously.

“No.  Okay, it’s time to let you in on a secret: pastors do many, many different things and wear many different hats.  Because of the varieties of churches and philosophies of ministry you could not formulate one job description for all churches based upon the wide range of views out there.  People expect the pastor to do everything from being the church’s CEO to working as its maintenance engineer.  Some expect him to be the great communicator, a building architect, the master problem solver, and all around jack of all trades.  Excuse me, I’m going to get something,” he said while whisking off to his home office.

Mona and Melissa were just returning from the kitchen with trays of sliced pies and a large ice cream container.  They took count of who wanted dessert or dessert a la mode. Rose and Maria offered to serve the plates around.  Dan returned with some papers in hand.

“A friend of mine once said that many think the Bible says a pastor must be all things for all people, but the Bible says that Paul worked to be all things to all people.  My friend said that because of the unspoken expectations by a host of self-appointed bosses.  Those of us who are people of God’s Book must look to what God says he wants his pastor to do, and downplay the rest,” Dan intoned.

He added, “I remember the time one unhappy man came up to me after I gave a sermon on the roles of a pastor.  He said, ‘Two things: pastors are supposed to be everything we’re supposed to be but aren’t, and pastors are here to serve us.  That means you serve me!’   Writers London and Wiseman said, ‘Churchgoers expect their pastor to juggle an average of sixteen major tasks’ (1993, p. 62).  On a lighter side, let me read you an email that circulated years ago; the author is unknown:

Results of a computerized survey show that the perfect pastor…

  • Preaches exactly 15 minutes, condemns sin, but never upsets anyone.
  • He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also the janitor.
  • He makes $60 per week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car…and gives about $50 per week to the poor.
  • He is twenty-eight years old and has been preaching for thirty years.
  • He is wonderfully gentle and handsome.
  • He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all his spare time with senior citizens.
  • The perfect pastor smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work.
  • He makes fifteen calls a day on church families, shut-ins and hospitalized;
  • Spends all his time evangelizing the “unchurched” and is always in his office when needed.

If your pastor does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their pastor, too.  Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list.  In one year, you will receive 1,643 pastors and one of them should be perfect.  WARNING!! Keep this letter going! One church broke the chain and got its old pastor back in less than three months!

The small group roared.  Matt’s laughing knocked over Scott’s coffee.

“You asked a very good question, dear one.  Jane Rubietta wrote that  ‘Expectations

are the reason 33 percent of clergy leave their pastorate.  Pastors are ‘one of the most frustrated occupational groups in our country…the reason may have much to do with their inability to live up to the expectations placed upon them’ (2002,  p. 57).  I would add that it’s not the expectations so much as the wrong expectations people have, and the undue pressure they place on pastors to fulfill those wrong expectations.  Another author wrote:

The pastoral role now includes an unfocused and expanded range of duties.   The congregation expects the pastor to be in charge of nearly everything (except activities that the powerbrokers want to control).  Being ‘in charge’ here means not only seeing that the activities get done, but also that everyone interested in them is happy with them.  From doing the bulletin, to repairing the furnace, to increasing the pledges and enhancing the congregation’s image in the community, the pastor must see that everything is taken care of (Rediger, 1997, p. 23).

This is some heavy stuff, but it is something we cover in the membership classes.

Just what is a good job description for a pastor?” Dan asked rhetorically.  “The pastor’s job description is derived from his priority to serve Jesus Christ as he serves God’s people in the ways God sets forth.  What people often do is set up their own job description of a pastor, usually unspoken, based on one of three models: a slave, a genie or a junior messiah.  That is what London and Wiseman are referring to when they say:

Most ministers have too many bosses and wear too many hats.  In many cases,             congregations expect their pastors to do whatever task anyone dreams up; after all, no      one knows exactly what a pastor’s real job is.  This may be the primary reason many    churches stand still and stagnant – the pastors are overwhelmed with trivia and have no time left for what matters most (1993, p. 63).

A goodly percentage of denominations outline in a general way what pastors are expected to do.  Ours does.  But it is difficult to put down everything a pastor does because it varies according to the God-ordained roles he fulfills and the needs he addresses.”

Dan read another excerpt from The Cross and the Christian Ministry:

Those who follow Christian leaders must recognize that leaders are called to please the Lord Christ – and therefore they must refrain from standing in judgment over them. In other words, if it is important for the leaders to see themselves as servants of Christ entrusted with a magnificent commission, it is also important for the rest of the church to see them as ultimately accountable to the Lord Christ, and therefore to avoid judging them as if the church itself were the ultimate arbiter of ministerial success (Carson, 1993, p. 98).

“What does this church’s denomination have as your job description?” asked one of the college kids.

“I don’t have our Book of Church Order with me, but I can get you a copy later.  Let me see if I can recall: watch over the lives of God’s people in his care with regard to their doctrinal beliefs and morals.  Exercise church discipline, visit people in their homes, especially the sick.  Teach, comfort, nourish and guard the children.  Be a model of Christ.  Evangelize and disciple.  Our book says that these things are done in concert with the other elders.  The pastor also ministers the Word of God through preaching, baptizing, and serving the Lord’s Supper.”

“What roles are you talking about?” Matt asked, still sponging clean his spill.

“What does the word pastor mean?” Dan asked.

“Shepherd?” Scott replied hesitantly.

“Exactly! Think of all the things attached to the role of a pastor. What are they?”

“Feed sheep,” remarked Michael.

“Guide,” added Scott.

“Protect,” said Maria.

“See, you’ve got it.  Now, can we write up an exact job description that details how the pastor shepherds God’s sheep?”

“No,” came a chorus.

“Another very important role, perhaps even more important than the role of the pastor, is that of a servant.  Again, he serves the Lord first and foremost, and then serves people according to God’s directives.  Just like Jesus did.  Like other believers he is a priest who intercedes, and like other believers he is a peacemaker or reconciler.  Paul says he is like a father and a mother, an athlete, soldier and farmer.  He is also a professor or teacher, a preacher, a mentor or disciple maker, a model and an evangelist.”

“Wow!  That’s a huge list,” exclaimed Melissa.  “No wonder you were going all of the time.”

“Still is!” Mona added.

“I’m really glad you asked this question.   It is so important for God’s people to understand and encourage their pastor in the duties and roles God has for him and not to add superfluous extra-biblical requirements.  It is most important that God’s people not expect their pastor to be their personal slave, genie or junior messiah.  It is also very helpful to your pastor to correct false assumptions, views and expectations by fellow members.”

Melissa started clearing away the table.  Others got up to lend a hand. Some of the young men went back to finish off the dessert or refill their mugs.  After thirty minutes, the living and dining rooms were cleaned.  Crystal and Rose washed the serving platters, while Matt took out the garbage.  He was still embarrassed for spilling coffee on the braided rug.

Dan invited people to stay and relax.  He pointed to the cabinet of games.  Jake, awake from his nap, was six steps from the landing when he yelled for Scott to play a game with him.  Some expressed heart-felt gratitude for the time and left, but a few people took up the offer to stay while Dan excused himself to take his short Sunday nap.

 

Later that evening Dan and Mona related to each other how encouraging the day had been.  “Wish the Dumpletons and some of the others were here this afternoon,” begrudged Mona.

“Wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Might have angered them.  They want what they want and they want control.  John Maxwell is right when he says that people with big problems often cause problems.  In some ways they are to be pitied.”

Hearing the baby crying, Mona hiked the stairs to check on her.  Meanwhile, Dan went into his office to journal the day’s events and reflect on the matter of his duties.  He had a file folder on the subject of a pastor’s job description.  In his heart of hearts he knew he was fulfilling the vocation to which he had been called.  He identified with London and Wiseman’s comment as pastors that “Our legitimate discontent centers around playing church, coddling emotional infants, worrying about personal security, preaching arid doctrinal scholasticism, baby-sitting trivia, being controlled by spiritual pygmies and living by savage schedules that leave no time for prayer, study or outreach” (1994, p. 201).

It was a hard challenge for one who hated conflict and hated confronting others even more.  Dan kept a plaque by his desk that read,

“Five Reasons to Glory:

1.            God has entrusted you with the pastorate.

2.            You have the high privilege of being identified as an undershepherd of

the Chief Shepherd.

3.            Sheep respond to a shepherd.

4.            You are privileged to watch God’s sheep be born, grow, and mature.

5.            You experience unspeakable joy unknown to anyone else” (Wagner, 1999, pp. 176-183).

In his more sour moments he would add, “and experience unspeakable pain and discouragement unknown to most.”  “Whether real or assumed, expectations choke the vitality out of a pastor’s spirit.  Then what others think or what they want tortures him with worst-case scenarios of what might happen.  As a result, disquieting fears nag every expression of ministry, and pastors become so spooked that they can’t see the difference between a pesky mosquito and a ferocious lion” (London and Wiseman, 1993, p. 72).  For Dan those fears came true in his previous pastorate.  Those were pesky lions buzzing around after all!  The question Dan could not get a handle on now was, “What do I do with people like Irma and Mr. Strenk, and especially with Bernie and the elders?”

Dan knew he often feared and treated the antagonists like idols in his life.  He was constantly repenting of that.  He also recognized that he tended toward an over-inflated sense of his importance, caught up from time to time in the self-expectant role of junior messiah, much like what Leighton Ford wrote: “Sometimes we think that God’s work depends so much on us that we become feverish, compulsive and overly involved – workaholics of the kingdom rather than disciples of the King.  This kind of hyperactivism does not come from the obedience of faith but from the anxiety of unbelief,” (1991, p. 92).

London and Wiseman again nailed it with their diagnosis:

Pastors are facing a juggling act as they deal with mushrooming expectations the congregation, denomination, community, spouse, children or even self. In the Church, for example, members sometimes say straightforwardly, ‘Pastor, you are paid to do the church work, so you unravel the problems and care for the details.’  Even emotionally robust pastors find it takes energy and patience to cope with whining traditionalists, demanding visionaries and lethargic church members all at the same time.

To confuse the issues even more, the expectations often conflict with each  other at church, at home and in the greater community.  As a result, dehumanizing fatigue becomes a way of life for pastors, so even the strongest  feel their stamina wearing thin…As a solution, he suggests, ‘Expectations, like cataracts, must be removed because there is no way around them,’ (1993, p. 44).

The authors also provided a prescription:

        A miraculous cure for unrealistic expectations is to provide distinguished  ministry especially in highly visible areas such as preaching, worship or pastoral   care.  Word then gets around that you do your work as well as or better than any  previous pastor.  Excellence means doing the work God has given His Church well and in an exciting, interesting manner.

Such an excellent expression of ministry can give you a line of credibility that you might need to weather tougher times.  Many congregations overlook a pastor’s faults when they know he serves competently in other important phases of ministry (p. 78).

            Dan’s lust for approbation tended to ooze a self-destructive poison in his soul.  He learned he too easily catered to others’ wants and wishes.  Jesus never did that because he was always about his Father’s business (Luke 22:29; John 5:17-47; 9:4; 10:35-38).  Neither his father, mother (Luke 2:48-49) nor brothers could dictate the agenda God set for him (John 2; John 7:1-10).  The pressure of the great crowds always calling him to do what they wanted was not enough for him to cater to their desires.  Even in their excitement when Christ miraculously supplied a meal of bread and fish for thousands and they wanted to make him a king, he did not give in (John 6:1-15).  His disciples pressured him to rescue his dying friend Lazarus, but he only went when the time was right (John 11).  They were constantly trying to persuade him to do their bidding.  Then there is the time when Peter was harshly rebuked as being Satan when he tried to pressure Jesus to circumvent God’s redemptive plan through the cross (Matt. 16:20-28).  And of course the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees were persistently trying to impose their Spirit-less, legalistic program on Jesus.  His rebuffs and righteous rebukes contributed to their growing hostility toward Him.  The man who would never bend or conform to their image of a good teacher paid for it with his life.  Dan knew he had not suffered like that.

He was just as London and Wiseman described.

One pastor opens windows of grace for others while criticizing himself: ‘To a great

extent, I’m a victim of expectations, my own and others.  Many of us who preach

grace as a way of life do not practice it in a relationship to our ministerial tasks.

We’re more eager to please the people than we are to rest in the fact that God wants

to use us the way we are.  We preach grace, but we practice a theology of works (pp. 73-74).

            Pastor Dan’s conundrum was placed before his pastor-friends, as well as his mentor, Kent.  He emailed with a very explicit question: How do I handle the pressure of unrealistic or unbiblical expectations from people in this church, especially the elders?

 

Dan deliberately avoided his email on Monday, so he was not aware that some solutions were waiting for him.  He spent the morning on honey-do chores, including cleaning up winter’s mess in their backyard.  When Jake got home from school, Dan decided to take the boys to a matinee while Mona and Hannah attended a baby shower.  After the movie the boys played freeze tag in the park across from the theatre.  The playground equipment got a good workout too.  The park was located in a large roundabout.  The theatre anchored the north side, an old fashioned drugstore complete with a soda fountain was posted on the eastern entrance, the Dumpleton hardware store secured the south, and a row of small shops, including Ben’s favorite reptile store, gated the western side of the street.

It was while swinging the boys on the swing set that Dan noticed Irma glaring at him through her sign littered window.  Dan’s first reaction was to feel a knot in his stomach, but then he stopped and asked God’s forgiveness for fearing man (Prov. 29:25; Matt. 10:22ff), well, in this case a woman.  What can she do to me? he applied Hebrews 13:6.  After much study and meditation, Dan came to believe that fearing others was due to a lack of a proper fear-revere of God, and such a wrongful fear caused him to abdicate his responsibilities as an authentic, loving pastor.  It contributed to his discouragement, defeats, depression and unwillingness to take calculated, Scripture-inspired risks.  He had to think long and hard on what John wrote in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love casts away fear. Doing the righteous thing before a fearsome God out of love for others is the power and antidote to fearing others.

Now, Dan wondered, how am I going to do the righteous and loving thing for this miserable woman?  His first proactive step was to stop, face her and wave with a smile. Even though she quickly turned away, he showed an undeserved kindness.  The second thing he did after the boys were clearly tired of the park, was to walk over to the store and track down the woman.  Directed to her office upstairs, holding his boys hands, he walked into the open office.  “Good afternoon, Ms. Dumpleton.  Business going well for you today?”  She was obviously startled and tried to brush off her unexpected guests.

“Who’s dat?” Ben asked of the woman smartly dressed in a grey suit.

“That is Ms. Dumpleton and she owns this place.  She’s made this business very successful, you know.  Practically every contractor in this county comes to her for supplies and tools.” Dan could literally see the winter thawing from her.  “Do you have time to give the boys a tour of your place?” Dan asked.

“I’m too busy.  I can have Max help you.”

Not to be put off, Dan decided to press his good fortune, as it were, and insist she show the trio around.  She tried to protest.  “Aren’t you supposed to be at your office, Mr. Lee?”

“This is my singular day to recharge so I can go hard at it the rest of the week.  I like to spend it with my family.  Surely you know that, don’t you?”

She scowled.  A hard, self-driven perfectionist herself, she rivaled Mr. Scrooge’s work ethic.  Surprisingly she relented.  “Oh, all right.  I only have a couple minutes, but I can show you what we have here.”

The tour lasted twenty-five minutes as she provided the history of the store, especially from the moment she inherited it.  She explained the various departments, ways she made her clients happy, and the challenge of keeping just the right inventory.  When she began to digress on the minutia of invoicing the big contractors, Dan had to excuse himself and his boys.  They were getting pretty restless, and Dan’s warning that the little one was having a hard time keeping his hands to himself was enough for Irma to grant them leave.  She had Max show them to the door, and dismissed them with no more than a proper “Good day.”

Dan pitied her all the more and determined to pray daily for her, especially as an enemy (Luke 6:28).  He also determined to find ways to bless her and thereby “heap hot fiery coals on her head” (Rom. 12:19-20).  It was a commitment to do the loving thing, a very difficult commitment.

At home, the boys told their mother about their afternoon venture.  Mona was very surprised to hear about the escapade at the Dumpleton store.  Dan had to explain his change of heart and tact.  He told her that he wasn’t going to hold his breath for change, but still prayed for change to come.  Instead he was going to do what God called him to do.  That was in his job description.

 

Dan had already outlined a pastor’s job description in the class materials for new members (see Appendix J).  However, what would he do to communicate that description to long term members with personal and preconceived notions about what he should do?  They were not about to go through another membership class.  And what of the elders who should know better but also had their own ideas?  It was time to seek the wisdom of his mentor and other pastoral friends.  But Dan would force himself to wait until Tuesday.  That night he and Mona decided to go out for a movie.  Dan was in the mood for a comedy.   Melissa volunteered to baby-sit.

 

Early the next morning, he switched on morning pot of coffee, and then checked his email.  Dan had twenty-three messages.  First, he deleted the spam and junk, quickly checked the five humorous ones his cousin sent, read through emails by the elders about church issues, and finally got to the posts he sought.  He went back to the kitchen for his first cup of coffee.  Back in front of the computer he opened and read the relatively short emails.  None of them offered anything surprisingly insightful or gave advice he had not already considered.  Still, it was good for Dan to receive confirmations that he was on the right track.

 

The energized father coached his boys to finish the oatmeal and toast Mona had prepared.  Ben wouldn’t eat it without lots of syrup.  Hannah had no trouble with the porridge at all; in fact she had lifted the pink plastic bowl and buried her face in it, licking as much of the sweet cereal as she could.  It was an uproarious scene of grunts and slurps followed by the display of an oatmeal-framed head.  This was one of those Kodak moments, so Dan snapped a picture.  Mona was not as amused since it meant a morning bath and shampoo.  Perhaps Hannah conspired for the bath, an event she relished?

Jake left for school, Ben played in his room, and Hannah headed for the bath tub.  Dan took his time getting ready, but was in his office by 9:00 A.M.  Usually, Tuesdays were a little more difficult because he had to assume the secretarial duties Melissa once did.  That meant sixteen additional hours a week of clerical work that robbed him of essential tasks.  Dan’s protests and pleadings to the elders went unheeded since they argued that for more than forty years the church went without a secretary and previous pastors did all the clerical work.  It wasn’t an issue of finances, for the little church was now in a position to hire a full time office worker.  Dan argued that while tradition might explain why some things are done, tradition alone does not mean some things should be done.  Dan also pointed out that he would have to cut back on other things or just let the administrative things suffer.  “Giving me more non-essential things to do robs me of the time I need for studying, counseling, and discipling.”  They countered with a charge that he would be derelict in his duties and that he had more than enough time to fulfill their demands.  Dan seriously wondered if this was a ploy to pressure him into leaving or if they were that ignorant of his tasks.

Because Dan was unable to put together the monthly newsletter, that only provoked Bernie and another of the elders.  Here was the occasion Dan was looking for to discuss his job description.  This would be one part in his overall strategy to broadcast the job description he had formulated from Scripture and from a mound of books and articles.  Along with presenting the study on the responsibilities and duties of a pastor to the elders, he would teach the subject at both the leadership class and the officers’ training.  When the time was right he would also interject a topical sermon series on the various Scriptural roles for a pastor, which incidentally applied to elders too.  At that time, sermon notes or supplemental materials could be inserted into the bulletins as he worked through each of the main themes, and the outline would be posted on the church bulletin board.  Time or not, Dan determined to work hard to have a series of newsletters speak to the subject.  At least now the newsletter would have a more focused purpose than merely fulfilling tradition.

“This paper is well and good, but you are not limited to doing only these things,” announced elder Frank at the elders’ session.  Dan usually placed a study or hot topic for discussion at the bottom of the agenda in order to accomplish normal business items first.  Often times the discussions were unfinished because Dan believed 10:00 P.M. was a bewitching hour, a time when tired minds and bodies were ill-suited for a wise discussion and ripe for irritability.  Therefore, he would stop the meetings at 10:00 P.M. and put the unfinished discussion as old business on the next agenda.

Quite surprisingly, Bernie agreed with Dan’s job description.  “I have no problem with this paper.  But, these are the basic things a pastor does.”

“I might underscore again that these are also biblical responsibilities and duties for all elders, not merely for the one dubbed pastor,” Dan challenged.  “Obviously the Bible doesn’t spell out in specific detail how we are supposed to accomplish these things, but it gives us God’s mandate and priorities for service.”

“I don’t agree.  This is your opinion.  These are things you are being paid to do,” Bernie fired back.

“So you are going to argue with the clear teaching of the Bible on this subject?  And argue with dozens of pastors, biblical theologians and scholars too?”

“You can make the Bible say anything you want it to!” Bernie snapped back.

“Then you also disagree with our Confession of Faith and our denomination’s Book of Church Order?”

“No.  I think all they do is give a skeleton for what a pastor’s duties are.  There is nothing that says the elders can’t formulate their own job description for a pastor, and nothing that says we can’t add to other lists.  Besides, so much of that is outdated and doesn’t even touch on things the pastor should do in this day.” Bernie pronounced.  This was a surprising contradiction to Bernie’s previously stated position.

“Bernie, are you arguing against the Bible, our Confession, and Book of Church Order on the grounds that they are out of date?  But you are the one who advocates for the traditions established in our church.  What – a tradition that dates back only forty years?  Come on!”

“What is your point in all of this?” Joe interjected.

“To bring clarity and some objective standard to my work as elder-pastor in this church,” Dan replied.

“Are you confused about what you should be doing?  Because if you are, we can draft a job description for you,” commented another elder.

“That’s a good idea!” declared Bernie.

“I agree,” added Frank.

“No.  The point is that the very priorities for ministry found in Scripture should determine what I do and what all the elders should do.  Other things such as planning youth activities or doing clerical work or mowing the lawn are secondary, even tertiary, to the very essential ministries I am called to do.  My recommendation is that you adopt this outline as this church’s job description.  In fact, I so move,” Dan said.  Though nobody seconded the motion, Dan explained that it was very problematic for any pastor to try to fulfill all of the spoken and unspoken demands and expectations of members, including the elders.  “On many occasions, you men have made it clear that what I do around here is either not enough or not good enough!  What is also clear is that I am not doing much of what God says I should do because our priorities are wrong.”

“Whose fault is that?” Bernie snapped.

After a ten-minute debate, the vote was cast against adopting Dan’s outline.  It supposedly limited elders from asking or requiring other tasks of the pastor.  Dan told them that he planned on teaching this material and preaching on the Biblical roles of pastors and elders.  The elders told him he could not preach on the subject, but if he wanted to he could teach it in classes, and warned him that if he did preach on the subject he would be charged with insubordination, refusing to submit to the will of the elder board.

They also decided to put together a committee of three elders to draft a job description for the pastor.  Obviously the meeting did not go as well as Dan had hoped.

 

“So what do I do now?” he asked Kent the next morning.

“Look, here’s the thing: you are not what they want in a pastor.  No matter what you do, unless you conform to their paradigm for a preacher and pastor, they will never accept you.”

“But Pastor Rick said that I should put up a good fight; take the men to the presbytery.”

“That’s one way to approach it, but let me ask you a few questions:  Do you believe you are ever going to change their minds?”

“Doesn’t look like it. They haven’t changed so far.”

“Do you believe you can push this issue and gain support from the vast majority of the church?  Or would it cause a split?”

“There would definitely be some sort of a split.”

“So what are your options?”

“Stay and deal with it or leave.”

“If you stay, you should know that it would likely take a long time to see the kind of changes necessary to bring your church into a greater conformity to Scripture.  The other option is to conform to their paradigm for ministry.  To see change you will not only have to outlast the antagonists, but you will also need to build up a new and strong base of people who agree with a biblical vision and mission for the church.  It could happen, but you’ll need to commit yourself for the long haul, ten to fifteen years perhaps,” Kent advised.  “Two books that might be helpful to you…”

“Okay, I’m always ready to read more.”

“The first is Red Light Green Light by John Cionca (1994).  It’s basically a book to help you decide with some objectivity whether to stay where you are or to leave.  The other is Craig Larson’s Staying Power (1998), which argues for staying and making a difference.  If you can get them in time you could read them during your trip to Oregon.”

 

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A Prayer for a Conflicted Church

This is a prayer by a fictitious elder of a fictitious (but could be a familiar) church. Nevertheless, it is one prayer that ought to be prayed in many of Christ’s churches today:

“Lord, we’ve been a terrible church.  We’ve not only offended our pastor and his family, we’ve not only failed to protect them, encourage them, love them and lift them, but we have failed you too.  We have been cranky and mean.  We have allowed the sins of gossip and slander, grumbling and complaining, hiding or fighting to take over us.  We’ve been a disgrace to your name, O Lord!  We put up with the cranky and the crabby too long.  Allowed the goats to hurt the sheep, the tares to smother the wheat, our wayward brethren to weary our body.  Forgive us, Lord!  May you change our souls and the very soul of this church!  We want to live by your heat and light; to be willing clay pots in your mighty hands.  We want to be a people gripped by the Cross, grasped by the Spirit, grounded by your Word, and gladdened by your joy.  Help us, O Lord, to be a Gospel people who live by truth and grace and love. In Jesus’ awesome name!”  And with him came a chorus of amens.

Taken from the last chapter in The Perfect Pastor? (Xulon Press; 2007).

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The Perfect Pastor? The introduction to the book

          Twenty-nine-year-old Paul served as a youth director before taking on his first pastorate.  He, his wife and three little children entered the small town church with high hopes and abundant enthusiasm.  The little church was started by a conservative group who had broken away from a mainline denomination.  Initially, they maintained their denominational name, style of worship and form of government.  Paul, at his core a Baptist, agreed to take the call since many of the members were comfortable with his theology.

However, only a few months into his ministry he encountered the first real challenge.  During a regular board meeting, Paul was informed that he was not fulfilling his duties.  Without a formal or written job description, the board, nevertheless, had particular expectations of Paul as the sole pastor.  Paul, too, had expectations largely informed by the pastor of the church in which he grew up whom he considered his mentor.  With his seminary training still fresh on his mind, he was operating on the assumption that what he had been taught was indeed the right and biblical way to minister.  He was also enough of an idealist to think that the congregation and the board would follow his lead because he believed he was operating on biblical principles.

The board was composed of business and retired military men and women.  Some were charter members.  A few of them had purchased the acreage and built the facility with their own generous funds.  They liked their old Southern denominational roots and church traditions.

In the minds of these board members, the pastor was an employee of the board, a submissive servant hired to do their bidding.  Any job description would be determined by them and adjusted as they saw fit.  This young man’s recoiling at their demands  surprised and angered them.

Paul was baffled and became frustrated with the board.  How could they insist that he was failing to measure up? After all, they had failed to communicate their expectations, and he was working very hard as the new pastor. It was an even greater challenge for him because previous pastors willingly submitted to the board.  A precedent had been set and the board liked what they had before. Now he was kicking himself because he did not ask more probing questions during the interview process.  How could they ask him to do all that a pastor is to do and also serve as the youth minister, church custodian and groundskeeper?

After wrestling through these issues, Paul and the board were able to come to a workable solution.  A man was hired part-time to clean the church and different people signed up to take care of the lawn.  The rest of the facility maintenance would take place during workdays.  But the initial conflict was not without a cost.  Paul’s refusal to keep house and mow lawns led most of the board members to believe that he lacked humility and was lazy.  Sadly, the tension between the two parties lasted the entire three years Paul served in the church.

Paul was the first pastor with whom I developed a friendship.  My wife and I entered the church a couple of weeks after he and his family started at the church.  Though I was still in the military, Paul came to treat me as his very part-time, unofficial and unpaid assistant.  I was more of a confidant, gopher and yes man than anything else.  The role was easy because we shared a heart and service for the Lord, biblical convictions, youthful idealism, and  a philosophy of ministry.  Paul provided me with many opportunities to gaze into the world of pastoral ministry.  Upon sharing his first ministerial challenge, I was likewise angered.  The trouble was, neither of us comprehended the heart of the matter.  It was not so much about who was in control, though there was some of that to be sure.  Rather, both parties were operating on different presuppositions and paradigms.  Both sides defined and described ministry differently.  What’s more, each board member had in mind his or her own personal perspective as to what a pastor is and does, which at times in conflict with the other members.  The board seemingly lacked an objective or absolute standard upon which to define and describe the person and role of a pastor.

Over the years, in many different churches, I have observed and experienced this dynamic again and again.  Conflict between members in the congregation and the pastor or between the governing body of the church and the pastor has often times resulted from divergent expectations.  People place expectations on the pastor and the pastor places expectations on the people.  Most often these expectations are unspoken or at least poorly communicated.

Most church members have good intentions toward their pastor.  However, their often unrealistic understanding of what a pastor is supposed to be and do is based on an ignorance of the Bible’s teaching.  Thus, I resolved to research the Scriptures’ teaching on the relationship and role between a pastor and his people.

The purpose of this book is not merely to address conflict between people and pastors, per se.  Other books and resources are available to help resolve conflict between pastors and church people.  The purpose is not even merely to define and describe the qualifications and work of a pastor.  There are many good books which speak to that subject too.  My purpose is to provide a tool to improve relationships between church members and their pastors, and bring them into greater proximity to God’s purposes.

Such a tool is not only useful, but necessary.  This conclusion is borne out of thirty-six years as an active member in various churches (independent, Baptist, and now conservative Presbyterian).  This includes two years as a church board member, one year as youth director, four years as an elder, and ten years as a pastor.  In other words, God has blessed me with many years on both sides of the proverbial fence.

Before becoming a pastor, I had a strong admiration for a few pastors, was ambivalent about a few, and also had little trust or respect for a few.  The latter were those with whom I had some conflict.  Hindsight has taught me that the conflict was often  because they disappointed my expectations.  Admittedly, most of those expectations were at best, personal, or at worst, unbiblical.

After I became a pastor, I encountered people who were disappointed or angry with me.  Why?  Some of the time I missed the biblical mark as a pastor, but most of the time I had disappointed their expectations.  For them, I failed or violated their personal preferences.  Time has taught me that a significant portion of the interpersonal problems and conflicts between a member of the church and me as pastor, centered upon misguided or even sinful expectations we had of each other.

There is much written about pastors, particularly their role and duties toward God’s people.  Yet, nearly all of it is addressed to ministerial students or pastors.  On the other hand, virtually nothing is written about the member’s role and duties toward the pastor.

The Bible is the God-given authority for all matters pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 3:1-11).  Since this is true, the Bible is the standard against which to evaluate a pastor’s call, character and competency.  It is also the authority on a congregant’s service to his pastor and other church members.

So, this book is designed to be a tool.  Church members will be better equipped to choose a pastor, to relate to him and to support him.  Pastors, likewise, will find ways to relate to the varieties of people in their church.

This book is also a story.  It’s about a fictional pastor named Dan, and his family.  It tells the realistic, practical, humorous, exasperating real-life experiences of a pastor.  Dan attempts to apply the Bible’s requirements, roles and responsibilities of every pastor to his own strengths and shortcomings and to a diverse, and sometimes difficult, body of believers.

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A Guide for Making Wise Decisions (as a godly leader)

A. Proverbs 3:5-8 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

1.  There are several principles regarding decision-making can be seen

from this verse as well as from other verses (Prov. 14:12; 18:12;

28:26; Jer. 17:9; James 4:13-16; Gal. 6:7-8; John 15:5):

a.  God wants his people to be humble and to approach him

humbly.

b.  He wants us to realize that we must consider who we are

before him and recognize just what our abilities truly are.

c.   And even when we think everything is right, trusting in our

ways or methods will fail.

2.   Keep your priorities in sight.

a.  Your primary priority is your relationship with God.

b.  Your secondary priorities can be organized by determining:

(1)  What is required?

(2) What gives the greatest return?

(3) What will be the reward? –  John Maxwell

I was forced to re-evaluate my priorities.  What did God want me to

do on earth?  What was He seeking?  Educated Christians?

“Successful” pastors?  Popular writers?  No.  At least, these are not number

one on His list.  He was seeking worshippers!  He was looking for men

and women who knew Him.  “The people who know their God will

display strength and take action” (Daniel 11:32).  In fact, the Scriptures

teach, “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that

He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His”

(2 Chronicles 16:9).

– Irwin Lutzer in Failure, the Backdoor to Success

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

B. Proverbs 4:26-27 tells us to “Make level paths for your feet and take

only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or to the left. Keep

your foot from evil.”

1. A principle that can be derived from this is:

a.  Pursue realistic courses or options, and pursue those paths

that seem to be firm.

b. Don’t be distracted by wrong goals, motives or pursuits.

2.  Some questions you can ask:

a.      Are my options realistic?

b.      Are any of my options unrealistic?

c.      Is my heart’s motive pure in this?

d.      Will this choice further my relationship with the Lord

or hinder it?

e.      Which choice will give God the greater glory, if any?

f.       Do any of my options violate Scripture?

C. Make your plans by seeking advice. (Proverbs 9:8-9; 11:14; 15:22;

20:18; 24:6)

1.   A principle here would be:  Look to those who can offer advice

(biblical, with common sense, etc.) and give guidance, such as elders

and those who have gone through a similar experience (and learned

from it) (Eccles. 5:1-7; 9:17-18).

Warning, as Pastor Robert Needham has said, “Do not make

you decision one the basis of the experience of others! It is

absolutely impossible for you to know all the hidden variables

that entered into their circumstances and decision(s). This is

not meant to invalidate the counsel of parents and others in

authority, but to avoid the trap of assuming that other’s

experiences are a suitable model for your decisions (2 Cor.

10:12; Eccles. 7:10).”

 

2. The best advice, of course, is from the Lord. Seek him through

prayer and ask for his direction. (Matt. 7:7-11; 21:21-22; John 14:14;

15:7; Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 3:17)

3.  Some questions you can ask:

a.  What does God say from his Word about the question(s) at

hand?

b.  Who do I know that can offer straightforward advice?

c.   What elders can I seek out who can make some wise

suggestions or give insight?

d.   Are there others who have gone through the same kind of

experience or have had to make the same kind of decisions

that might have “hindsight wisdom?”

D.  The way of a foolish person is right in his own eyes, but a wise person

listens to counsel  (Proverbs 12:15)

1.  A  Principle:  Seeking to be wise, I will consider the advice I have

been given, and will listen intently, even when it goes against what

I want.

2.  A few questions to consider:

a.  Am I seeking the advice of others in order to find someone

who will give me what I want to hear?

b.   Am I listening intently to the advice of others and seriously

considering what they have to offer?

c.  Am I listening intently to the advice of Scripture and the Holy

Spirit?

d.  Am I willing to take risks or make changes if this is God’s will

for my life?

E.  A person who lacks judgment enjoys his foolishness, but one who is filled

with understanding keeps a straight course (Proverbs 15:21).

1.  A Principle: Bliss or feeling happy about something doesn’t make a

decision right.

Being a biblically wise person (seeking to think God’s thoughts after

Him) will help me keep a good course of direction in a diligent

manner. Wavering is a pleasure for the fool.

2.  Some questions you could ask:

a.  Do I find more comfort and security in not making decisions

than in making one?

b.  Am I seeking to think God’s thoughts about this matter?

c.  Have I searched the Scriptures to see if there is anything that

speaks to these issue(s)?

3.  It is wrong to have a mind that nearly always wavers back and forth,

or is indecisive. This is especially true of a leader. Leaders who

cannot make decisions are not leaders at all.  (Rom. 14:5; James

1:5-8; 5:12)

.

Be decisive.  A leader is a decision maker, not a consensus seeker.  If you are going

to introduce significant innovations, know that you will have to make some tough

calls and will probably offend some good people by virtue of your decisions.  Be

sensitive and flexible, yes, but be firm in pursuing your convictions. George Barna,

edit, Leaders on Leadership p. 208

In 1 Kings 18:21 Elijah cries out, “How long will you go limping with two different

opinions: if the Lord is God follow him; but if Baal then follow him.” A leader

cannot be paralyzed by indecisiveness. He will take risks rather than do nothing.

He will soak himself in prayer and in the Word and then rest himself in God’s

sovereign as he makes decisions, knowing that he will very likely make some

mistakes.  John Piper from an article The Marks of a Spiritual Leader

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

4. James 3:17 gives you direction for making decisions. Notice how

this verse can provide you with a seven-fold decision making process:

a.  Is the decision pure. Does it separate me from sin and evil?

Does it promote moral holiness?

b.   Is the decision peaceable? That is, does it promote peace?

This does not mean that just because you feel peaceful about

the decision then it is a right decision. The emotion of peace

can mean that you are relieved that you have found the

means to shirk responsibility. It can mean that you have

found a way to absolve you for doing something you did not

want to do. It could mean that you are pleased you have

decided to do something you wanted, but your conscience has

been seared sufficiently enough to repel any conviction about

a bad or sinful decision.

On the other hand, you should not make any decision if your

conscience is troubled. Now this means that your conscience

should be informed as much as possible from God’s Word.

Sometimes your conscience is bothered because making a

decision requires making an uncomfortable but needed

change; or because it goes against the culture you were

brought up in. If your conscience is bothered, then continue

to look into the matter and seek as much information and

counsel as you can before making a decision. As Robert

Needham has said, “If this principle (of conscience) is

violated, the end result is seldom a happy one…” The old

statement is often true, “If in doubt, don’t.” (Eccles. 1:18;

Rom. 14:13-23; 1 Cor. 8:7-13; 10:23-31)

c.  Is it gentle (forbearing, considerate)?

d.  Is it reasonable (willing to yield)?

Dr. Robert Stuart makes the following recommendation for

trying to figure out the reasonableness of the matter:

(1) Divide a page in to two sides and label one side “pros” and

the other side “cons.”

(2) List all of the pros and cons as you can possibly think of.

(3) Go back and label all of the pros and cons with “A” for critically

important, “B” for  important, and  “C” for not that important

(4) Put the list away and take time to pray for guidance and

wisdom.

(5) Go back and change all of the “B’s” into either “A’s” or “C’s”

(6) Now throw all of your “C’s” away and consider only what you

have left.

e.  Is it full of mercy or compassion?

f.   Is it something that will produce good fruit? Will you get a good

return, is it of value or profitable (not necessarily in terms of

monetary rewards)?

g. Is it without favoritism or prejudice?

h.  Is genuine, sincere or without hypocrisy?

F.  Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that

prevails (16:33; 19:21).

1. Principle: No matter how hard I plan to do things, ultimately it is

God’s Sovereign plan for my life that succeeds.

2.  A wise leader will recognize God’s authority, presence and power

in everything. He will understand that only God can bless anything

and everything at all (Psa. 37:4-5; Matt. 6:19-34;  Jn 8:31-36; 15:1-7;

Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 3:17; James 1:5-8).

3.  Some helpful questions you could ask:

a.   Have I committed this decision to the Lord? (In other words,

have I told Him that I will rest in the knowledge that He is

control ultimately, no matter what decision I make?)

b.  Have I purposed in my heart not to worry, but rather to give

thanks for the process and for the outcome?

c. Have I made the commitment to do what is right before the

Lord?

G.  There is great counsel and sound wisdom in God and His Word.

Seeking God’s wisdom is understanding and great power for success

(Proverbs 8:14).

A Principle: Success is always linked to godly wisdom and good counsel.

The person who plans well will often “win” or succeed.

 

(c) D. Thomas Owsley

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The Perfect Pastor (a worthwhile read)

 The Perfect Pastor? by D. Thomas Owsley, D.Min.., is an engaging new book about the realistic, humorous, and poignant life experiences of a fictional pastor. More than just a wonderful story, the book is a tool for church members and pastors alike. It equips laypeople with the insights to relate to and support their pastor while providing pastors with a solid understanding for how to address the various expectations of church members.  Dr. Owsley draws upon four decades of church experience, as both a member and pastor, to clarify the biblical requirements, roles, and responsibilities of a pastor. He taps into this wisdom to reveal what the Bible illuminates as a healthy, balanced relationship between pastor and church members. Through compelling anecdotes and profound observations, The Perfect Pastor? improves relationships between church members and their pastors and drives both groups to a greater proximity to God’s purposes.  Humorous and poignant, this engaging book uses Biblical insights to illuminate the relationship between pastors and church members. It is a must-read for any churchgoer, ministry leader, or student.

The Perfect Pastor? by D. Thomas Owsley, D.Min.., is an engaging book about the realistic, humorous, and poignant life experiences of a fictional pastor. More than just a wonderful story, the book is a tool for church members and pastors alike. It equips laypeople with the insights to relate to and support their pastor while providing pastors with a solid understanding for how to address the various expectations of church members.

Dr. Owsley draws upon four decades of church experience, as both a member and pastor, to clarify the biblical requirements, roles, and responsibilities of a pastor. He taps into this wisdom to reveal what the Bible illuminates as a healthy, balanced relationship between pastor and church members. Through compelling anecdotes and profound observations, The Perfect Pastor? improves relationships between church members and their pastors and drives both groups to a greater proximity to God’s purposes.

Humorous and poignant, this unique book uses Biblical insights to illuminate the relationship between pastors and church members. It is a must-read for any churchgoer, ministry leader, or student.

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BOOK: The Perfect Pastor?

This engaging book focuses on the realistic, humorous, and poignant experiences of a fictional pastor.

More than just a wonderful story, this book uses Biblical insights to illuminate and improve the relationship between pastors and church members.

Filled with solid teaching and practical helps, it is a must-read for any churchgoer, ministry leader or student.

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Is He a Servant?

The ringing was coming from some distant and remote place.  It was persistent and grew louder, until he realized it was the phone on the nightstand. With his mind muddled from deep sleep he picked up the phone more out of habit than cognition. “Hello,” Dan said weakly.

“She’s only got an hour or so to live.  Please come.  Our family needs you here,” he vaguely heard.

Without even thinking he agreed.  “I’ll be over as soon as I can.”  He forced himself to sit up, rubbed his face with his hands, and tried to crawl out of his dreams.  Grabbing his robe, he practically stumbled down the creaky stairs and into the kitchen. The mug came off the rack and was placed under the running faucet. Dan shuffled over to the microwave and zapped the container for two minutes.  He threw a slice of bread in the toaster and then made his way back to the sink to wash his face with cold water.  The mental mist was beginning to dissipate when the microwave beeped.

He took two caffeinated coffee bags, dropped them into the bubbling water and added a touch of sugar.  Leaving the coffee to steep he practically jogged up the steps.  It took him five minutes to dress and make it back downstairs.  A scribbled note was promptly stuck to the white fridge.  Dan then snatched the unbuttered toast and braced it between his teeth while grabbing his mug on the way out the kitchen door.  The stove’s clock read 2:30.

He stepped out into the warm sultry air from his air-conditioned house. It was oppressive, yet fit the occasion.  Intermittent dollops of fog especially thick where the four-lane road cut through meadows put a drag on his time.  The snail’s pace gave him time to inhale his toast and guzzle the black ink.  Parking near the three-story building was easy. Dan double-timed his way around to the emergency room entrance.  No one stopped him as he charged through the closing elevator doors.  The ride up two stories seemed to take as long as his drive out.

When the noisy old doors pulled, open he turned immediately left and fled down the corridor to the fourth room on the left directly across the hall from the nurses’ station.  With the door nearly shut, he gently knocked and entered a dimly lit room.  The stuffy room with the scent of the hospital’s medicinal potpourri was overpowered by a putrid urea.  The haunting melody and rhythmic beat of clicks, hisses and beeps from the various machines pulsated in the background.  Wires and tubes draped here and there monitored her breathing, pulse, and blood pressure and regulated drips of morphine and sedatives to ease the pain and panic.

Marilou’s tall husband tearfully shook Dan’s hand and thanked him for coming.  The two daughters stood to the right of their mother.  Jane, the oldest child held holding her mother’s right hand.  Lydia was backed up against the large window, her husband seated to her right.  Jane had obvious command of the situation from day one.  It helped that she was a nursing supervisor at her hometown hospital.  Even this night she was well put together, dressed in a silver halter top blouse, charcoal grey slacks and dressy black sandals, which coordinated with her salt-and-pepper hair.  Tears had washed her navy blue mascara and most of her rose-tinted blush away.

Jane acknowledged Dan and explained that her mother had lapsed into a coma around 1:00 A.M.  Although the doctor gave her several more hours, Jane had a confident sense that it was a matter of minutes.  Jane recounted for him the previous day’s events and the last words her mother uttered in the early afternoon.

Marilou’s breathing was as weak as her skin’s grayish-yellow undertone.  As did Jane, Dan sensed the sixty-seven-year-old rested on the precipice of another world.  From the day the doctors confirmed their diagnosis, Marilou fought the breast cancer courageously but the beast had come upon her with a treacherous swiftness.  She refused to surrender to her beast until three weeks ago; and she refused to return to the hospital until she could no longer bear it.  On his regular visits Dan could literally see both cancer’s daily possession and death drawing the life from her.  He gently encouraged her to give in to heaven’s call and assured her that her husband, daughters and grandchildren were in good hands.

Marilou had made a profession of faith at Grace and was baptized shortly after her first round of chemotherapy.  Although Dan was willing, he had never been trained for this kind of ministry.  At seminary he and his classmates received an hour’s worth of lectures on this kind of mercy ministry.

Jane asked Dan to lead the little group in prayer.  He agreed and kindly ordered everyone to gather around the bed.  Mack held his wife’s left, cold, limp hand.  Dan stood at the foot of the bed in between the sons-in-law and reached for their hands.  “Let’s pray,” he softly commanded.  He could hear Marilou take three short gasps each followed by three long pauses.  The very moment he said “Amen” she gasped one last deep breath through her parched and peeling lips and then exhaled her last.

A machine’s hushed beep of her erratic pulse now softly whined.  Mack and Lydia broke down.  Jane and the men remained silent.  Two nurses quickly entered the room to check on their patient.  One immediately left the room and summoned the doctor on call. In five minutes he arrived and officially pronounced her deceased.  The attending nurse wrote down 3:24 A.M. as the official time of death, and then shut off all the machines. She told the pastor she would give the family as long as they needed before returning.

After tearful reminiscences, around 4:15, the family decided it was time to leave their beloved wife and mother.  Mack stopped at the nurses’ station to sign a few forms before joining his family in the vacant cafeteria.  Jane did most of the talking, explaining the funeral plans and other essentials to Dan.  When the family became too exhausted, they hugged and promised to gather the next day at Dad’s.  They thanked Dan profusely for his service.  Dan committed himself to be available whenever they needed him, and with that, he walked out into Saturday’s rising sun.

This was one of the most difficult weeks in Dan’s life.  The previous Sunday started quite well, with the blessing of a baby’s baptism.  The infant girl’s parents were relatively new members at the church, having given a credible profession of their faith in Jesus Christ about the time their child was conceived.  They understood that the baptism did not confer a guaranteed salvation upon Madison’s soul, but rather it was a sign and seal that pointed to the sacrificial death of Christ for sin.  Her parents vowed to love and nurture her and to call upon her to apply a saving faith to the meaning of her baptism, trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior from her sin, guilt and God’s wrath.  That afternoon was spent celebrating the baptism with the parents and their extended family at the baby’s new home.  Dan and Mona left their two sons at home with a babysitter, but brought their own little newborn with them.

He was unable to take his normal Monday off because of another crisis: a middle-aged woman made a surprise visit to the Lees’ home to talk with the pastor about leaving her husband.  The thirty-seven-year-old minister and his sweet wife listened to the frantic woman’s story of neglect, verbal, and emotional abuse.  The meeting lasted over two hours.  Dan was able to get her to commit to counseling, but she said she could not ask her husband to come for counseling because he would explode in a rage and that would only make things worse for her and the children.  She was a member of the church, but her husband never professed faith in Christ.  The story was uncannily familiar.

That afternoon at the hospital, he extended his visit with Marilou.  His evening supper was interrupted with a frantic phone call from one of the long-term members.  She was crying so hard that at first he understood her to say that her husband had died.  Dan’s heart sank.  He immediately took off for her home only to discover her husband standing with her at the door and to find that it was her husband’s father who had passed away.  Obviously the two were grieved and quite upset.  For Dan it was a big relief on the one hand seeing her husband alive, but also sad to share their grief.

Dan also discovered mid-week that a deacon and several families had been meeting privately to discuss “the issue with the pastor.”  When the pastor asked the deacon he admitted there was a gathering, but it was an informal fellowship that had nothing to do with the pastor.  Knowing full well this deacon’s friendship with the Dumpletons and Deacon John who had left the church, Dan urged the man to follow Matthew 18 – to talk with him directly about concerns or Dan’s apparent sins before talking with others.  He also warned him that if the rumors were true and he was involved in gossip and slander, Dan would have to proceed with formal discipline against him.  The deacon acted as if there was nothing wrong and assured the pastor he would come to the pastor if he had any grievances.

Wednesday afternoon Ellie May’s family asked him to visit her in the nursing home.  She was an eighty-one-year-old member with Alzheimer’s disease whose health was also failing.  She did not recognize him or remember his visits, but the family appreciated them.  Irma was always quick to remind him it was his duty to check on her, and Bernie would scold him if he missed a week.

These were unexpected events that fought for Dan’s normal schedule of the regular Tuesday morning Bible study, a pastoral visit that night, a luncheon appointment Wednesday, a care group meeting on Wednesday night, the bi-weekly prayer meeting in the church’s basement on Thursday night, the Friday morning prayer gathering with some of the elders and deacons, Friday afternoon discipling with Matthew, Friday night youth activities, and the Saturday morning breakfast and leadership training after the hospital ministry.  Dan was finding it very difficult to finish his sermon and the Sunday bulletin.  The pastor had to get the hymns to the pianist and finish the bulletin in time to run it over to the printers.  He also had to prepare for Saturday afternoon’s presbytery committee meeting to investigate charges against one of the pastors in the region for supposed abuse.  He hadn’t finished his assigned homework on that either.

Then very early Saturday morning he received the dreaded summons to the hospital. No one, not even his mother, told him there would be weeks like this.  Nevertheless, as his military brother would remind him, this is what he signed up for.  It was.  He was called to serve.  From the moment he became a committed Christian, and got involved in the life of a church all the way through seminary, he had a romantic vision of serving as a pastor.  The school of life often has a habit of teaching masterful lessons through strong doses of reality.

It took Dan more than four years of pastoral service before he understood that his priority was to serve the Lord before serving others (Acts 20:19; Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4; Eph. 6:6-7; Col. 3:22-24), and to serve the Lord by serving others.  It also took that long for him to catch on that he was to serve the Lord’s agenda, but not any other agenda that deviated from his most vital mission.  Not until he learned that hard-won lesson did he run across Brian Dodd’s statement: “Bob Schaper, a seminary professor of mine, taught me a motto that has helped me keep the balance between obedience to Christ and a servant-like posture towards people: I am your servant, but you are not my master” (2003, p. 57).  Dan had a friend take the professor’s statement and make a framed calligraphic wall hanging for his office, not so much for visitors to the office but for him to keep this cogent and balanced truth always before his eyes.

Various opinions abound about the nature of pastoral service.  Even scholars, theologians and pastors differ.  Some say the primary role of a pastor is as a priest and worship leader.  That was a predominant view of the medieval church and is a pronounced feature in certain hierarchical churches.  Others declare that the primary role of a pastor is as preacher.  The Reformation period emphasized this role, and various traditions still hold this position.  In the Reformed tradition the pastor is preacher, declaring the will of God to sinners and saints.  In some Baptist or other like churches the pastor is preacher who preaches an evangelistic message of salvation to the sinners sitting in the pews.  Certain independent Bible churches see the role of the pastor as teacher whose purpose is to teach the church solid doctrine whenever it gathers.  Such churches were quite popular in the 1960s to late 1980s, though several exist today.   Their model for church is taken from the classroom.  In the era of megachurches pastors are perceived as chief executive officers who oversee a large staff who, in turn, direct and run the many programs.  Recently there have been many books calling for churches and pastors to see the pastoral role as primarily that of a biblical shepherd, which, of course, is the meaning of the term pastor.

However, the overarching model in Scripture for a pastor which ties all other roles and duties together is that of servant, just like Jesus the grand Servant.  Christ declared that anyone who desired to be great in his kingdom must be a servant, just as he had come not to be served but to serve, even to the point of sacrificial death (Matt. 20:26-28).  That was God’s mission for him – the eternal Son of God came to be a man, and in a radical reversal of human proclivities became a lowly slave in order to accomplish the high purposes of God (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 12:1-2).  He was and is the perfect prophet, priest and king, the wonderful shepherd, teacher, healer, and savior, but he executed all those roles through God-ordained, God-directed service.  Jesus was and is the consummate humble servant (Isa. 49:5; Luke 22:27; Heb. 3:1-6), the One who was self-sacrificing (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).

Jesus made it clear that the manner in which his disciples were to function, rule, lead, and shepherd the citizens of God’s kingdom was in the form of a willing servant and a humble slave.  That was the object lesson the Master taught in Luke 22 when he said that while he sat as the premier one at the table he really sat as servant.  Then, when he wanted to summarily demonstrate what he had been teaching all the while about the nature of his disciples’ role and position in the Kingdom, he dressed down and acted just like a common slave washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).  This living parable was punctuated by Christ’s own teaching:  “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13 ESV).  In other words, they were right to address and treat him as dignified royalty. Yet though this King of kings and Lord of Lords had every right to claim his place and title he does something dramatically profound, once again a reversal to humanity’s sinful nature – he declares himself an honorable servant: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14)!  And should his disciples be as dense as many of us, he explains exactly why he said and did what he said and did: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15-17).   “[S]ervant leadership must be humble because proud people serve only for what they get out of it.  Humble people serve for the sake of those being served, not for their own sake” (Lawrence, 1999, p. 88).  Christ’s people are servants, and leaders in Christ’s church are servants of servants.  A reversal from the natural world.

That’s the nature of Christ’s kingdom – a topsy-turvy world as John Gilmore tells us about Jesus:

Hans King writes: ‘For those who supported law and order, he turned out to be a  provocateur, dangerous to the system.  He disappointed the activist revolutionaries by  his nonviolent love of peace.  On the other hand, he offended the passive world-forsaking ascetics by his uninhibited worldliness.  And for the devout who adapted  themselves to the world, he was uncompromising.  For the silent majority he was too noisy, and for the noisy majority he was too quiet, too gentle for the strict and too  strict for the gentle’ (2002, pp. 53-54).

To understand how radical and also how degrading was Christ’s self-imposed position and the place of his disciples we must understand the nature of the ancient slave.

There were several Greek terms for servant or slave (Bauer, 1979; BibleWorks 5, 2002; Brown, 1979).  The first, more common word was doulos which identified the person as being on the opposite side of the class spectrum of freeman or citizen master-owner.  A doulos-slave was owned either by the government or by a personal master.  The public doulos-servant had no rights, but could control a city’s treasury and, as such, wield considerable influence.  The doulos-slave owned by a personal master was the more common type of servant.  As a non-person he or she had absolutely no rights: no right to marriage, to children, or to protection as a slave, but merely protection as the master’s property.  The slave existed for the master’s purposes.  The will and desires of the master were to be obeyed and fulfilled.  Anything the master wanted of the slave he got – anything (BibleWorks, 2002; Cowell, 1980, pp. 95-107; Davis, 1912, pp. 90-97; Frame, 2006; Gill, 2006; Glancy, 2006; Stark, 2003, pp.295-300)!

The Romans had over a dozen different terms which defined the nature of the slave’s duties: a cook, farmer, footman, gardener, messenger, prostitute, steward, storekeeper, etc.  In other words there could be specialist slaves and those might include the role of teacher or physician.  A doulos-slave could be given the responsibility to oversee the finances and run the household, in which case he was a household steward who had control over the master’s other slaves (Matt. 8:9).

There was the pais or paidos, which described someone of a child’s status (Matt. 2:16; Luke 8:51).  When these terms referenced an adult it was to identify a servant or slave who would most likely always remain in that status of a “boy” unless some gracious circumstance emancipated him and brought him to the legal status of a man.

Another type of servant was a diakonos who rendered service, help or aid to another, many times voluntarily.  Usually the tasks were of a necessary, but mundane or menial, nature.  The very term itself did not necessarily mean he or she was a slave; but he or she served or ministered in some capacity.  The individual could be a waiter at a special function or a household servant.  The diakonos-servant may or may not have been paid.   Those godly men specially gifted and filled with the Spirit of God whom God called to serve alongside the apostles in order for the apostles to dedicate themselves to the tasks God had ordained for them were called deacons (diakonos) (Acts 6).

One other Greek term the Bible uses is the huperetes-servant.  This was an assistant or helper who was given the task of carrying out the expressed will and explicit orders of another.  He could be a court officer (Matt. 5:25), an officer in the Jewish Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:58), a king’s attendant (John 18:36) or an attendant in a synagogue (Luke 4:20).

Of all those above the most contemptible, despicable position of that day was that of a doulos-slave.  Yet, it is that very classification Jesus, Lord of the universe, took upon himself (Phil. 2:6-8).  Jesus, was God’s master servant who came to serve and not be served (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27).  He is the glorified paida-servant of God (Acts 3:13; 3:26; 4:27, 30).  Jesus fulfilled the model of doulos-slaves Moses (Deut. 34:5; Ps. 105:26; Mal. 4:4; Rev. 15:3), Joshua (Josh. 24:29) and King David (2 Sam. 3:18; Ps. 78:70; Luke1:69; Acts 4:25) exemplified in the Old Testament.  Jesus came not only as God’s slave but came to be a diakonos-servant to Israel (Rom. 15:8).  Like a perfect slave, Jesus put his life subordinate to the cause of the Father’s will.

As the steward-slave, Jesus was and is the overseer of God’s other servants or slaves. He told the disciples that if anyone would serve him that person must follow him, and wherever Jesus would go his servant would also be there.  But not only that, those who serve the Christ-Servant will be honored by the Master-Father (John 12:24-26).  Later Jesus identified another position disciples have, and that is as his friends (John 15:15-27).  His point was not that they were emancipated from serving their Father-God, or Christ, or one another, but that they were now privy to understand the will of the Master in a way similar to Jesus.  But the specific will they were to understand was the inevitability of being persecuted and suffering just as their fellow doulos-servant Jesus (John 15:20).  All true disciples of Jesus Christ are doulos-slaves of their Master.  And therefore all disciples hold that same level status with all the other doulos-slaves of God.

Jesus, the master servant, orders his subordinate servants to minister just like him (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20).  That means Christ’s disciples, who would be given the Spirit, be empowered as apostles to lay the foundation for the New Testament people of God, who had Christ’s delegated mandate and authority, were to administer their positions first and foremost as servants (1 Cor. 4:1-2; Tit. 1:7).  After Christ’s death and resurrection this rag tag group of class-inferior men was elevated to a remarkably high and lofty position in the eternal body of Christ. Nevertheless, they and all those who immediately followed in their footsteps had the mind of Christ in them.  That is, since Jesus set aside his rightful place as God and lived for others as the Servant of servants (Phil. 2:3-7) they did too.  If he did, and they did, so should we.

In the New Testament the term that most frequently classifies one in the role of oversight and administrative rule in church government, is not “pastor.”  For that noun is used only once, in Ephesians 4:11 and the verbal form “to shepherd” is used in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2.  The overwhelmingly most popular terms are the doulos-slave or diakonos-servant.  The person in this position is a serving minister.  However, today the word minister tends to pack baggage that escapes the lowly, humble service role of a slave.  Perhaps the pastor should be labeled slave or steward-slave?  Yet again, he is a slave to Christ and of God, who sacrificially serves others (John 10:11, 15; cp. Luke 10:34, 35).  Other slave-disciples are not masters, even over the specially called and ordained minister.

The identities given to the apostles, elders and pastors in the New Testament fully illustrates this.  They are all classified as doulos-slaves or diakonos-servants that do specific ministries (Acts 6:4; 2 Cor. 3:3).  Peter, James, John, Jude are doulos-slaves of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1; James 1:1; Rev. 1:1; Jude 1:1).  Paul uses doulos-slave and diakonos-servant at least as often as the title apostle.  This is because more than anything else he is called to serve God, the saints (Rom. 15:25; 2 Cor. 8:19), and even Gentile unbelievers.   He is a doulos-slave in Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10, Phil. 1:1; Ti. 1:1, and a diakonos-servant in Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25.  At his conversion, God abruptly called and appointed Paul to be God’s huperete-servant (attendant, assistant who carries out the explicit orders of his master) of the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-18).   Paul labels what he does service or ministry in Acts 20:24, Rom. 11:13, 2 Cor. 3:1-6; 4:1-2, and 1 Tim. 1:12.  Luke later says that he received his information for the Gospel record he wrote from the eyewitnesses and huperete-servants of God’s Word (Luke 1:1-2).

These apostles were not the only slaves or servants.  Paul’s young protégé and fellow-servant Mark, author of the Gospel, was useful for diakonos-service (2 Tim. 4:11), as was Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:5).  Phoebe, a godly woman and friend of Paul’s was it (Rom. 16:1-2).  Other men, often recognized as church planters or pastors were diakonos-servants, translated ministers: Archippus (Col. 4:17), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), and Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7).

The ways in which God’s slaves or servants minister vary.  They are to serve as slaves to God (2 Cor. 6:4; Tit. 1:1, 7) and of Christ (Phil. 1:1; 2 Tim. 2:24).  These ministers must understand along with others that their lives and ministries are living sacrifices to God (2 Sam. 24:24; Acts 20:24; 21:13; Phil 2:7;  3;7-8; 2 Tim. 4:6).  Through love they serve one another like a doulos-slave (Gal. 5:13), using whatever gift(s) God gives in order to doulos-serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10).  The Corinthian church, fellow-saints and servants with Paul, did this when they ministered to the saints in Jerusalem through their financial gifts (2 Cor. 9:1, 2, 11, 12).

All believers in Christ are equal as humble slaves (Acts 2:18; 1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6; Col. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:24).  They are called to do God’s bidding, serve Christ, and minister to one another.  Yet, as we have seen, some of these slaves have been called, gifted, trained and ordained to be steward-slaves in a special office ordained by Christ (2 Cor. 3:9; 4:6; Eph. 4:11ff).  These stewards administrate and oversee God’s household by means of God’s Word through love (Matt. 28:18-20;  Mark 6:34; Acts 20:20; 1 Cor. 12:28, 31; Col. 1:28; 1 Tim. 1:3;  3:2, 16; 4:11-12; 6:2-5; Jas. 3:1 Rev. 7:17) and serve in the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).  Performing service in Christ for God’s people (2 Cor. 4:5) ministers do so with diligence (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15).

These servants, placed in their respective roles and particular office, are answerable to God.  They are to live for Christ, never ashamed of him (2 Tim. 1:8-11; 2:11-13), always focused upon Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 2 Tim. 2:8-13) and always ready to suffer for Christ (Luke 21:19; 2 Tim. 2:3-7; 3:10-12).

Therefore, the pastor and elder are called to train and discipline their lives for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-11) so as to become and serve more and more like Christ the perfect servant (Matt. 20:25-28; 23:11-12; Mark 10:43, 44; Luke 22:26-27; John 13:1-20; 2 Cor. 3:10; 1 Tim. 4:14-15; 6:11; Tit. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:4).  After all, the pastor or elder is to incarnate and model Christ (2 Cor. 12:18; 1 Thess. 2:10-12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).  The pastor and elder are also to put to use the good gift(s) the Lord has placed upon them.  Indeed, they are called upon to fan the flame or rekindle the gift(s) of God in his life (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6).

These ministers are to serve God’s people as Christ’s stewards, neither aiming to cater to or please people (Gal. 1:10), nor fearing people (Deut. 10:12; Eccl. 12:13; Ps. 118:6; Isa. 12:2; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:17).  No judgment is to be leveled against them by fellow servants of Christ based upon the personal preferences or desires they might have (Matt. 20:20-28; Rom. 14:1-4).

While the slave or steward is the all-encompassing paradigm for those who have been gifted, called, tested and ordained to the office of pastor or elder they minister primarily through God’s Word (Mk. 6:34b; Jn. 21:15ff; Col. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1ff; Jas. 3:1) and through the various roles identified by God in his Word.  The roles include serving as a shepherd (Jer. 3:15; John 21:15ff; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:12), a professor-teacher, a preacher, parent, a peacemaker, a mentor and model, and as an evangelist.  The servant-minister is also described in roles as an athlete (1 Cor. 9:24-25; Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1), a farmer (2 Tim. 2:6), messenger (2 Cor. 8:23), a soldier (Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:3-4), and a good worker (2 Cor. 6:1; Phil. 2:25).

Ultimately, Jesus’ ministry provides the model for all his ministers. London and Wiseman report one such way:

The life of Jesus provides a wonderful pattern.  He modeled spontaneity of service. Wherever He went, He had time for the person in front of Him.  I can’t remember one  time in Scripture where He told a needy person to take a number or make an appointment.  When we don’t make room for margins, the person in front of us is an obstacle we have to get around to get to our next appointment.  But what if the person      in front of us is the exact expression of ministry God has planned for us next?  Jesus provided a model of caring for the need of the person in front of you (1993, p. 225).

Marilou and her family were at the front of the line.  The abused wife was there too.  Other incidentals at the top of Irma’s and Bernie’s and the deacon’s lists were incidental, and in the grand scheme of eternity insignificant.  They had no right to dictate their preferences or command their desires to Daniel.  No fellow disciple-servant does.

God’s providential work was exerting a transforming pressure upon Pastor Dan to teach him in a mild way what Paul had to learn in a tortuous way when the apostle wrote:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So then death is working in us, but life in you.  And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.  For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor 4:7-18).

While the pastor had gone through the most challenging week in his pastoral ministry, he did not come close to Paul’s “light afflictions”:

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness –besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:24-28).

Everything Paul did after his conversion, call and commission was in the service of Christ to serve Christ’s Church.  Furthermore, Paul was living out biblical servitude as described for us in Isaiah 50:4-6 and 53:7, by enduring beatings, mockeries, and spittings without retreating in fear or retaliating in fury.  Dan was certainly humbled when he read these verses during his morning devotions.  Some of the pressure he had been feeling was self-imposed.  He was allowing intruders to stress him out.  So what if he did not finish the bulletin or completely resolve people’s problems or lead the studies perfectly or unintentionally offend demanding, self-absorbed, self-appointed masters?  What mattered was that he was to serve with Christ’s priorities by grace, mercy and love.  As John Frye says, “Compassion, Christ’s activated love, received and given away to harassed and helpless people, is the heart of empowered pastoral ministry” (2000,  p. 95).

At the top of the list in need of Christ’s compassion were Marilou and her family.  So too was the woman in crisis. Yet also preparing Sunday’s message from God was a top priority.  All else could be done another time.  If the critics did not like it, then so be it.  Neither Paul nor the rest of the apostles would cater to the selfish preferences and whims of the emotionally and spiritually immature.  Why should Dan, or any other minister?

Paul made it clear that his ministry was empowered by God through the Gospel treasure in his own body (2 Cor. 4:7).  He went through great trials as he bore the cross of Jesus for others.  In Christ Paul took up his own cross, dying to his wants and ways so that the redemptive, reconciling life of Jesus would be brought about in others.  That is the nature of true Christ-like, pastoral ministry.  In fact, that is the core value of all true church ministries.  Paul was often down, but never out.  He later defended the ministry of the Cross which he and his co-workers were engaged in against the many different accusations hurled at them.  He wrote:

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.  But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Cor. 6:3-10).

Pastor Dan was learning more lessons in humility and of seeing things from a heavenly perspective.  Pastoring was indeed hard and challenging, but nothing compared to what he might be called to do for Christ.  His ministry in Christ was difficult but relatively easy compared to Paul’s and others like Paul who gave all their lives for Jesus in service to his Church.

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:3, was not claiming that the antagonists (and he had many) were not offended.  They chose to take offense, unreasonably and sinfully so.  What Paul was saying was that no matter what his enemies were saying, he had a clear conscience because from God’s assessment of things his ministry was not offensive.  From this passage Daniel was beginning to really grasp the nature, the core of a true servant’s ministry.  A far cry from what so many want of a pastor’s service!

Lest any Christian conclude that only Jesus and his ordained pastors are servants who humbly serve, we have seen that this call to Cross-centered, Gospel-possessed ministry applies to all true believers.  Many within the church seek power, position or praise.  The ones who seek to obtain it the most are the ones who are the least in Christ’s estimate (Mark 10:43, 44).  These also tend to be the most obnoxious and abusive.  It is time God’s people recognize such arrogant evil for what it is and call for genuine repentance or for excommunication.

All of God’s people, regardless of their position in life or in the church are called to serve God for his glory (Exod. 7:15; 8:1; 9:1, 13; 23:25; Deut. 10:12; Josh. 24:14; 1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 34:33; Rom. 7:6; 12:11; 1 Cor. 15:58; Eph. 6:7).  We are all called to serve God

  • in love with all our hearts and all our souls (Deut. 10:12)
  • with sincerity and truth (Josh. 24:14)
  • with fear and trembling (Ps. 2:11)
  • with gladness and singing (Ps. 100:2)
  • with goodwill toward others (Eph. 6:7)
  • acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28)
  • with humility (Matt. 10:42; 25:23, 37, 47; Mark 9:41; John 12:3; Acts 20:18-19)
  • and with joy (Ps. 40:8; Ps. 100:2; Luke 10:17)

In Christ we are also called to use the liberty we have to serve others (Gal. 5:13). In

fact, if we are truly the Lord’s then we will serve others (John 13:14; 2 Cor. 4:5; Gal. 5:13; Phil. 2:3-8).  Pastor Dan recognized the importance of self-sacrificial service for the good of the Body of Christ  and therefore taught new members how biblical service is manifested through the New Testament’s one-another commands:

1.  God’s people serve by praying for others in the church. Indeed God commands it of his servants (Acts 13:1-3; Jas. 5:15; Eph. 6:18-19; I Tim. 2:1-4).  We see examples in Jesus’ prayer for his own (John 17), Paul’s prayers for believers (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-19; Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 1:9-12; 2:2-3; I Thess. 3:10-13; 2 Thess. 1:11-12).

2. God’s people serve by sharing the Truth of God’s Word with one another:

a. By edifying or building up one another (Acts 20:32; Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 4:12-13; 1 Thess. 5:11)

b. By exhorting and encouraging one another in Christ (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11)

c.  By teaching one another in God’s Word (Deut. 6:4-9; Col. 3:16; Heb. 5:11-14)

d. By admonishing one another. To admonish means to train by word through reproof. (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 10:11; Eph. 6:4; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Tit. 3:10)

3.      God’s people serve when they demonstrate true love and Christian community with one another (John 13:34-35; 15:12; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 1:5). They do this when they:

a.  Seek the good welfare of others (Rom. 15:2), this is a self-giving, sacrificial demonstration of the goodness and grace of God

b.  Refuse to have ill will toward anyone (Rom. 13:8-10)

c.   Seek to do good to all people, but especially toward those that are of the household of the faith (Gal. 6:10 cp. 1 Cor. 13; Col. 3:12)

d.   Show authentic affection to one another (Rom. 12:10; 16:16; 1 Cor. 13; 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet. 5:14)

4.  God’s people serve because they have Christ’s servant’s attitude (Rom. 12:10; Eph.5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).

5.  Servants will practice hospitality toward one another (Rom. 15:7; I Pet. 4:9).

6.  Christ-like servants will care about the needs of others (1 Cor. 12:25; Gal. 6:2).

7.   God’s servants will exercise spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11ff; 1 Pet. 4:10).

8.  Believers will serve each others with humility, gentleness, patience, and bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2).

9.  Christ’s people will submit to one another in the fear of the Lord (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).

10.  God’s servants will build each other up (1 Thess.5:11).

11.  His servants will forgive each other in Christ (Col. 3:13).

12.  God’s people will serve by finding ways to stir each other up to love and do good works (Heb. 10:24).

13.   Servants of Christ, among other things, will be careful:

a.  Not to condemn others in Christ about matters of personal conscience (Rom. 14:13)

b.  Not to destroy the character of others (Gal. 5:14, 15, 26), nor speak evil against others (Jas. 4:11-5:9)

c.    Not to lie to one another (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9)

d.   Not to allow bitterness, wrath, anger, angry shouting, blasphemy or slander and malice to be expressed toward one another (Eph. 4:31)

e.  Not to sue one another in a secular court of law (1 Cor. 6:7)

The things God put Dan through to teach him that he was first and foremost God’s servant, were potent and difficult lessons.  Nevertheless, he was grateful to the Lord for them.  As he drove home from the hospital that sultry morning he was able to ruminate upon the week’s crises, but more importantly, upon God’s tutorials.  Wearied physically and emotionally, it did not stifle that sense of liberty that was welling up within him – a true liberty to serve God’s people in God’s way.

The question that loomed over him was whether this particular church was willing to change according to a more biblical model of servanthood or if not, should he exert his energies in another church.

(a chapter taken from my book, The Perfect Pastor? See http://noperfectpastor.com/)

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