The other day I was asked if I wanted to be called “reverend”.
“No!” was my quick and nearly four decade old answer. I want no part of “honorific” titles. I am, and many of my compatriots in ministry feel totally unworthy of honor. We are servants of a King who is so high above us that our hearts are saturated with the mystery that God would use any of us for His purposes.
“So what should we put on the program?” or
“How do you want to be introduced?” or
“What would you like us to tell people about you?”
“Tell them I’m a pastor.”
“Tell them I’m a sinner who loves Jesus.”
“Tell them I’m humbled to be here.”
I’ve always preferred the word “pastor” because it describes a task. A pastor is a shepherd. His task is to protect and feed the flock. But it is also to suffer.
That is one of the reasons that John Piper’s words resonate with me.
“God ordained the sufferings of Christ for the redemption of the church (Acts 2:23; 4:27–28), and He ordains the suffering of Christian ministers for the application of that redemption. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). Christ’s afflictions lack nothing in atoning worth. What they lack is a personal presentation in suffering human form to those for whom He died. This is what pastors and missionaries “complete.”
This is a sobering thought but also a comforting one. On the one hand, it means that the fabric of a pastor’s life will be laced with dark threads of pain. But on the other hand, it means that every affliction he must endure is designed not only for his own good but for the good of his flock. Our suffering is not in vain; God never wastes the gift of pain (Phil. 1:29). It is given to His ministers as He knows best, and its design is the consolation and salvation of our people.
No pastoral suffering is senseless. No pastoral pain is pointless. No adversity is absurd or meaningless. Every heartache has its divine target in the consolation of the saints, even when we feel least useful.”
Piper, J. (2002). Brothers, We are Not Professionals: a Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry
(p. 140). Broadman & Holman Publishers.
My years as a pastor of a particular flock have ended. Today my job is to care for pastors who are in the midst of the heartache and joys of caring for the flock of God. Some of them are carrying heavy burdens for the people they love. Many of them are facing withering criticism from recipients of grace who sometimes are graceless when it comes to their own shepherd. It should not be but it is. And part of my job is to gently encourage them when they want to “throw in the towel” that Jesus and the gospel are worth every sorrow and that we were destined for this (see 1 Thess. 3:3).
God brought you here today. You are are one of maybe a couple of thousand this month that will read this. Would you stop right now and pray for pastors in America and around the world. Pray that encouragers will step into their path and brighten their day. Pray that they would not grow weary of doing good. Pray that they would be honest, and pure, and compassionate, and diligent, and courageous, and sensitive.
And pray for me.
Pray that I would be all those things as I minister to the ones that God places in my path.