Well, it is October. And along with being the month of headbands and infinity scarves and pumpkin spice lattes (Yes, I pastor in the suburbs), it is also pastor appreciation month. And although that very reality makes this post appear to be a desperate grasp for attention and plea for appreciation, I assure you it is not. But a friend of mine, who is also a pastor, is posting this month on his fb account appreciative notes about pastors he knows. Thanks, Gordon. And it got me thinking. And the thinks I was thinking seemed to stir a wind that disturbed the dust lying so prettily over this blog o’ mine. So, here I write, and here you read, and we will get to the end and decide together whether one or both of us just wasted our morning.
What a strange opening. All of that to say…
I realized recently that in the 34 years of life before ordained ministry, I was a member of a total of three churches: 18 years at a church on the west side of Cleveland, where I was born, raised, and first understood the grace of the gospel; 6 years at a church on the north side of Baltimore, where I was trained and discipled in the doctrines of that grace; and 10 years at a church on the north side of Raleigh, where I both cut my teeth on and was the chew toy for the transforming power of the grace of God in and for real life.
In those 34 years and three churches I have had… wait for it… three senior pastors (After working on the idea of this post I remembered that my pastor in Cleveland retired when I was a sophomore in high school and there was a new pastor just before my family moved to Baltimore in the middle of my senior year. But, for all intents and purposes, the starting pastor gets the win in the game of this young man’s life and the relief pastor just needed to make sure there were no walk-off home-runs by the enemy (which is not to say that this second pastor did not have his own ministry, but in the story of ‘pastors in my life,’ he gets more of a parenthetical mention (which means with the addition of this realization, I get to close this thought with not one, not two, but three closing parentheses!))).
Yes, I know, waste of your time has taken an early lead… let me start that paragraph again…
In those 34 years and three churches I have had a total of three senior pastors in my life (shoot… I suppose I should also say that the associate or assistant or youth pastors during those days had as much, and in some cases more, impact on my life and faith (I had two… one in Westlake and one in Baltimore), and this is not to diminish the importance of faithful men in those supportive roles, and perhaps one day the wind will blow and the dust will stir and I will wax long about associate pastors and waste another morning for you. But not today).
Today, I want to publicly appreciate my three pastors. Two of them have fought the good fight and finished the race and have received their commendation from God himself. One, though still active in ministry, is no longer pastoring a local congregation. And While I say that I want to publicly appreciate them, I have decided to leave their names out of this. Some of you who know my history will know one or two of these men. A very few of you might know all three of them. So here are three things I am particularly grateful to these men for teaching me. This is certainly not all that I learned from these three men, but then, this is a blog not a book.
Commitment to God’s Word.
Commitment that showed itself through a commitment to expository preaching and preaching through whole books of the Bible.
These three men were three very different pastors. But one thing they had in common was a commitment to feed God’s people the whole counsel of God. All three of my pastors were committed to preaching the Word of God. Expository preaching is preaching a passage of Scripture and the message of that passage rather than a topic or a theme with supporting Scripture attached. It means a commitment to studying God’s Word, knowing God’s Word, loving God’s Word, and giving God’s Word to God’s people. Their commitment to God’s Word did not stop at expository preaching, but also extended to preaching through whole books of the Bible, chapter by chapter. Because of these men and their commitment to faithful expository preaching, I have learned to love God’s word and value what God wants to say to his people more than what I might want to say to God’s people.
Love for God’s Church
Again, that love showed itself in very different ways. One pastor was tickled whenever the bulletin announced a week full of different activities a member could get involved in at the church. One pastor was committed to training up elders to be the partners with the pastor in shepherding and caring for the spiritual needs of the church. One pastor was committed to training church planters and starting new churches even if it felt like it was at the expense of his own church’s size and reputation. These men loved Christ’s Bride and considered their callings to be that of caring for her and preparing her for her returning Bridegroom.
Dependence on God’s Grace
These men taught me the absolute necessity of God’s grace for God’s people. They taught me that a pastor must be the first to show grace to others, especially to the people God has entrusted to his care. As one of them frequently said as a reminder to both himself and me about the challenges of pastoring any congregation, “But you know what? I didn’t have to die for them.”
These pastors also taught me that a pastor never outgrows his own need for and dependence on the grace of God. Pastor’s can feel snubbed and underappreciated (except in October, obviously). They can be misunderstood and challenged in their leadership. They can fight against depression and anxiety, and ego and anger. Their families can be sources of strength and comfort, and they can be sources of pain and sorrow. The day a pastor forgets that he is the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15), the least of all the saints (Ephesians 3.8), and insufficient in himself to shepherd God’s people (2 Corinthians 2.16), is the day his ministry begins to die.
So, thank you to my pastors. You were faithful to God’s Word, faithful to God’s church, and faithful to God’s grace. Maybe not perfectly, but then, even (and especially) through your weaknesses, Christ shined through. I pray that my own ministry is a reflection of what I learned from you, heard from you, saw in you.