Giving Honor and Love to Pastors
In the past few months many of us in the ministry have had the opportunity to get to know one another all over again as we have attended conferences here in Pasadena (and we have a few more conferences to look forward to this summer!). What a joy it has been to pray, worship, fellowship and share meals with men and women who labor for Jesus Christ, and who sacrifice that the gospel might be taught and understood. Thank you all for the undying love and commitment you have to God, as we all labor together for the unity that we can have in Jesus Christ.
We have all been through what seems like a prolonged warfare. Members and ministers alike have felt the sting of wounds and experienced casualties among friends and families. We know that our adversary, the devil, is active to deceive and destroy. He does not want people to learn and grow in the truth.
I praise God that he has intervened to lead so many of our spiritual leaders out from under the veil of blindness that remains when anything but Jesus is the centerpiece of our lives. When I use the term "spiritual leaders," my mind thinks of members and ministers who are not ashamed to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. I have thanked the members several times in letters and videotaped sermons and will continue to do so. In this letter, I want to focus on those leaders who are salaried by the church and labor in the pastoral ministry.
I'm reminded of what Paul told the Thessalonians, "Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, and are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other" (1 Thess. 5:12-13). As I have been giving thanks for the dedicated men and women who are in full-time ministry, I have been giving more thought to what Paul was saying. I have also reflected on this same passage in The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English, by Eugene H. Peterson:
"And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love! Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part."
Please give me a few moments to share a few insights about these three key thoughts Paul expressed: 1) honor, 2) overwhelm with appreciation and 3) get along.
Our fellowship has endured a time of division and hostilities. We have seen spiritual pain, hurt and wounds. Our pastors and wives have been in the middle of this "hand-to-hand" combat. They have been unable to leave the field of battle, for it has followed them everywhere.
Families have broken up over the biblical teachings we have come to see and accept. Friendships have ended because of the grace on which we now see we stand. And there have been ugly scenes of hostility and animosity played out, with emotions fractured and nerves frayed. Walking among us, all the while, have been our pastors and their wives. Comforting, soothing, encouraging, uplifting, directing and gently admonishing.
It is fitting that we consider the humility that our pastors have had in coming to the realization that they had to "go back to school." Those who are not pastors should imagine if they suddenly discovered that much of what they had learned in their profession was in error, and they needed to go back to school. I have joked with others that at times it seemed like we should contribute to writing a book, Everything We Knew, Was Wrong. Of course, the title would be an exaggeration, as everything was not wrong. But much was.
Pastors have had to face those to whom and for whom they worked/taught/preached/ministered and acknowledge the fact that much of what they had done was in error.
It is not an easy thing to face this reality. Some of us, like Jonah, initially tried to run from what God was showing us. Each of us, of course, has our own specific story. But needless to say, it has not been easy to face the fact that we all have many things to learn. And pastors have to stand before congregations and teach. We thank God that so many men and women have yielded to the lead of the Holy Spirit and have not allowed pride, vanity and ego to cloud their judgment. I thank God for faithful men and women who have taken care not to inflict their own uncertainties and difficulties on the flock.
Along with you, our pastors, elders and wives have taken a stand for truth. And, of course, in some cases our lay members have taken a stand for truth when the former pastor did not. I think of the symbolism of that old favorite hymn, "Faith of our Fathers." In many cases we have all continued to stand up for Jesus "in spite of dungeon, fire and sword."
As I believe we have all experienced, it is not easy to be ridiculed, or to held up to be shamed because you believe in and accept Jesus Christ. It is not a pleasant experience to hear that you are the object of vicious rumors and slanders simply because you believe that grace makes us free from man-made legalism and traditions as well as the old covenant. It is not easy to be characterized as a permissive, antinomian liberal. It is not easy to be blamed for abuses, dysfunctions and unbiblical practice and teaching, especially when you were not directly responsible.
Peter reminds us that such suffering is Christ-like, part of the Christian calling. "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this end were you called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Pet. 2:19-21).
Therefore it is entirely fitting that we honor our Christian soldiers who have displayed courage under fire. A big "Thank you" to all of our members, men and women of God, and especially our pastors and wives who have endured criticism because of the cross of Christ. We salute the bravery and the humility, the love and the dedication of the men and women who stand for Jesus Christ in the face of opposition. We honor you.
Overwhelm With Appreciation and Love
We know that the work of pastors is often compared to that of shepherds. Shepherds lead, prod, take care of, watch out for, nurture, rescue and direct the sheep. As shepherds, we work directly for, and under, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25).
A shepherd's work can be hazardous and grueling. The powerful story of rescue and salvation in Luke 15, of leaving the 99 to find the one who is lost, motivates all men and women of God. But we must always remember to give thanks and appreciation to those who sacrificially give of their lives so that others might be saved.
"Pits" are an oft-used metaphor in the Bible. Salvation is often pictured, in both the Old and New Testaments, as rescue from a pit. The region was filled with both natural and man-made pits, some of which were used as cisterns to capture rainwater.
Joseph was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers. Daniel was placed in a pit with a den of lions. Jeremiah found himself in a cistern and narrowly escaped death in a muddy mire.
There are many present-day pits into which the people of God may fall. There are the pits of drunkenness and drug addiction. There are pits of unemployment, illness and disease. There are pits of immorality, of anger and hatred, of lying, deception and greed. There are pits of self-pity and victimhood. There are pits of depression, despair and discouragement. Many of us have even described our condition, when we are asked how we are doing, as being "in the pits."
God lifts us out of those pits. God saves us. Jesus walks among us, as our Shepherd, to lift us and carry us away from the pits into which we fall. Pastors and ministers constantly find themselves ministering around the edges of pits, into which the people of God have fallen. We need to thank those who courageously and self-sacrificially give of themselves that we might be pointed to the One who can lift us out of the pit.
You may remember the words to a song that was popular about 15 years ago:
Love lifts us up where we belong,
on a mountain high,
where the eagles fly.
Love lifts us up where we belong,
from the world we know,
up where the clear wind blows.
When some say, "what's all this love-stuff you are preaching?", we should remember that it is God who first loved us. And his love should flow through us. We need to lavishly express our appreciation to those who express this love toward us, possible only because they know that Jesus has saved them. As Bill Leisner expressed, "Most pastors are not looking for rewards here on this earth, but they need to know we are behind them in what they are doing. A little help from you can go a long way in telling your pastor that you are grateful for all he has done for you."
We want our pastors to know that we appreciate and love them. We here at our denominational headquarters hold up our pastors in prayer constantly. We appreciate them and pray that God will richly bless them and their families. Dedicated pastors who are in love with Jesus are valuable resources to any denomination, and God has seen to it that we have our share. Thanks to each and every one of you. We love you and admire you.
Beyond Getting Along
I think that we get along with each other fairly well. But we all need occasional reminders so that we can continue the good work, and even improve in the areas in which we sometimes fall short.
We are all members in ministry. We now know that God has given us all gifts, and that we are a priesthood of all believers. That is why we are instructed: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4).
We are given gifts in order to minister and to serve. That means it is not appropriate to "inflict" our gift on someone else. We should not think ourselves superior or better than someone else because that person doesn't have our gift (at least in our estimation). We should, above all, honor and look up to one another. Treat every believer as the child of God that he or she is.
Of course, it should go without saying that our fellowship has had a long history of falling into pits. In addition to the personal problems that beset us all, we have fallen into many spiritual pits of unbiblical practice and teaching.
We have seen what legalism can do and how it traps and enslaves. We have experienced the fruits of despair and bewilderment of prediction addiction. We know about the arrogance and vanity that results from exclusivism, thinking that we are the "only true church." We have seen what false doctrinal understanding does, ranging from the nature of God, to the atonement of Jesus Christ, to justification by grace through faith. We have experienced the disillusionment of being taught a false view of history, majoring in conspiracy theories and fables.
A small number of our members are now beginning to fall into the pit of experiences, feelings and manifestations. We do not wish to condemn these brothers and sisters, but we must point out that many of these manifestations do not edify. Instead, many of these "gifts" can become a new legalism. Some members are told that they are inferior, they are not as deeply converted, they are not walking as closely with God as they could, simply because they have not had a particular experience. Such teaching is not biblical. I have given a video-taped sermon in Pasadena (tentatively titled "Myths That Make Us Miserable") to help pastors and members understand what the biblical teaching is about this phenomenon, not so new, but new to some of us. We hope to have this sermon available by early July for those who need it, otherwise it is scheduled for one of the last two weekends in August.
The Bible tells us to get along. We are not in the business of exalting ourselves or our own gifts. We exalt Jesus Christ. He is the one who lifts us up out of the pit into which we have fallen. In order for us all to "get along," the pastoral ministry must point out the "pit-falls" of the word of faith teaching and all that goes with it. We do this not because we wish to criticize or condemn, but in order that we all get along.
Members are not required to attend the congregation that is closest to them. While we do not wish to encourage "floating" from church to church, as it inhibits the commitments that members can make to help a congregation, we want members to be free to make decisions about which congregation (in those areas where there is a choice) they will attend.
This means that we as pastors will have to avoid being territorial. It is hard for a pastor when someone decides to attend any other congregation, whether that be of our denomination or another. We usually take this as a loss, and we naturally take it personally. But we must understand that individuals can have appropriate reasons for moving to another congregation. Sometimes individuals move to another congregation of the same fellowship, or to another denomination, for good reasons — and sometimes not so good reasons.
If members are moving to an unhealthy church that does not preach Jesus as central to the gospel, then we as pastors should be rightly alarmed. If individuals are moving away from a church that preaches from the Bible and are moving to one that (for example) discourages prayer in order to emphasize manifestation and experience, then we as pastors are obviously concerned.
As Christians we all need to be reminded that there have always been many different forces at work against the church. In whatever era or age that Christians have lived, there have been plenty of controversies competing with the gospel.
Worship music is a hot button for some. Spiritual gifts is controversial for others. Some like to debate the Hebrew calendar, as if it is relevant for today. Others feel that it doesn't matter which day you worship on (as long as the worship service is held during the daylight portion of Saturday). There are many reasons that can cause us not to get along.
I suppose that we could all contribute to what would be an endless list of reasons that we should not get along. But Jesus has called us to peace. He has called us to get along. We are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens (Eph. 2:19). One in Christ is an apt description of the church of God in the world.
Our most singular distinctive as the church of God is that we do not stand for secondary distinctives. We stand for the plain and main teachings of Scripture. And one of the major identifiers that Christ gave for authentic Christians is our love — "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples."
As we get along, let's remember both to honor our pastors, ministers and wives, and to overwhelm them with love and appreciation. Let's remember our brothers and sisters in other denominations. Let's also pray for those whose growth is restricted by legalism.
We here in Pasadena love you all, and we pray without ceasing for you all. We are here to serve you and want to hear from you about how we can more effectively do that. And thank all of you for the love and appreciation that you send to all of us. We are all one in Christ, and we thank God for what he has done in our lives collectively and individually.
We hope that you are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior as the days and weeks go by. Let's be diligent about being the men and women of God that he has called us to be. Let's labor to make our fellowship a healthy and dynamic church, one that is filled with the love and excitement that Jesus Christ gives to his body.