I believe the Lord is jealous to raise up multiple pastoral servants within the realm of local Christ-centered communities. These servants will have foundational attributes, and a grace-formed ability to serve as shepherds in the lives of the saints. There is a great deal of pastoral work in modern times that is very much in keeping with the spirit of what I’m communicating here, but by and large I’m convinced that there is still a major need for a new wind of pastoral grace to blow upon the Church.
It is remarkable to see what is going on under the surface of our congregations in America. If you have engaged anything beyond a “handshake” relationship with fellow saints, then you know that the Body of Christ is in great need of true pastoral laborers. If you have only superficial relationships within your assembly, let me tell you what could be your discovery if you aim to go deeper in real fellowship. You will be shocked and flabbergasted to see the moral compromises, marital strife, prejudices, idiosyncrasies, quirks, jealousies and strange doctrines that still fester in the secret lives of the people of God. Only a true pastoral ministry, where the servant/leaders are a real presence among the “sheep”, will have the power, authority and character sufficient to break those strangleholds and to free the saints into a revelation of God and His purposes. Every member of the Body is a gift to the saints, and only a consistent pastoral ministry of encouragement and edification will help to unearth the gifts and callings of God in a group of souls who are mostly timid, fearful, and insecure. The pastoral ministry will point the saints back to the cross in a personal way, and help them to come into a more vital revelation of sonship.
We need to see that God has placed specific souls within the Church to serve in this fashion, and that ministry, in the first and last analysis is a suffering that releases true glory. “Death works in us, so life in you…” (2 Cor. 4:12)
We need to be freed from a professional idea of ministry, and get back to the nit and grit of true life. I believe Paul used the word “shepherd” simply because there need to be men who have the time, love, patience, and boldness to be among the saints in the realm of real life. This is something beyond what a man can perform in the setting of a “service,” especially if the atmosphere is marked with an attitude of external piety, and is not fluid enough in God for the Spirit to have His way. If the meetings are driven by a ‘busy’ spirit, and the great majority of souls are focused on how the meeting should run in a mechanical way, there will not be room for openness to the Lord, or vulnerability with one another. This is the antithesis of a true pastoral engagement with the saints. If the saints are not waiting on the Lord in their spirits, and are not in a place of vulnerability, true pastoral service becomes an impossibility. I am afraid that this is the condition with a great majority of American Churches.
We need men who are themselves before the Lord, lock, stock, and barrel, completely consecrated to Him. From there, with a consciousness of mercy, as Isaiah in his 6th chapter encounter with the Lord, they will be able to hear and speak rightly to the saints who are in need of heavenly counsel.
This will require a certain quality of a man, and that is why Paul gave standards for the overseers and elders in the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus). If you have a self-driven agenda, are concerned for your reputation, consider ministry that is not on a platform to be a waste of time, you are disqualified from true pastoral service. The pastors that God is wanting to raise up will be men of stature in God, and they will have their sights set on eternity. They will labor from house to house with much prayer, extending the nature of God’s love and righteousness to individuals and families. They will possess the “gift of hearing” (Bonhoeffer’s phrase), and will often be required by the Lord to graciously listen to the spewing out of fleshly paradigms and opinions without religiously responding in impatient subjectivity. They will know how to respond with authority and love, having placed “the sheep” above themselves through a radical identification with Christ. Having heard the hearts of the saints (even in immaturity and error), they will have the grace and power to give counsel and correction to the building up of the Body in the context of real life. After all, real life is where the greatest struggle occurs for all of us, isn’t it? If we haven’t got the abiding life with Christ there, do we have it anywhere?
It is crucial that we see to the formation and appointing of a plurality of pastoral servants in every church context. The idea that one man carries oversight in congregations numbering in the hundreds or thousands seems not only unbiblical, but unsuitable. I am convinced that a plurality of elders is in the mind of the Lord for the church. I’m not making a law out of it, but from my own experience of over 7 years in community, I believe it is difficult for one pastoral servant to function adequately among more than 15 or 20 saints (unless those saints are seasoned and mature, in which case they will likely be engaged in some manner of leading service themselves). There are too many issues that need to be addressed, too many souls that need to be encouraged, too many situations that need the presence of a loving, honest, Spirit-empowered vessel. Expecting one or two men to pastor hundreds or thousands of people is an unrealistic ideal, which puts strain on the lives of the leaders and leaves many in the Body unengaged.
We need laborers who are in relationship with other pastoral friends to be experiencing “life together” with the newer believers in smaller settings (undergirding the larger gatherings). I believe the Lord wants to form this in the Church, and we need to begin crying out for the emergence of these servants, while encouraging the ones who feel so called. (Chances are, many of our larger congregations may have a dozen or more servants who -without much more training- could be recognized and released to function in a pastoral way among the congregation. Some may be supported financially and some may not. But we leaders need to ask the Lord for wisdom to provide a context for that life-flow to be unstopped.)
The Inward Formation of a Pastor
In pastoral formation, there must come a time when the servant realizes his utter inability to alter situations or salvage the saints. He must reach a point of realization wherein he sees that his silent suspicions don’t convict, his judgmental rebukes don’t provoke an awareness of sin, his flattery doesn’t impregnate the saints with a consciousness of sonship, and his humanistic encouragements don’t produce a revelation of the Father. He must be brought to the place where nothing in his humanity will suffice; where every exterior trust has been cast to the sea; where the ministry of the interior becomes the dominant reality. He must long and believe for a timely and panoramic release of the word of the Lord; which is to say, a word that levels the field and flattens the lies and distortions that have devastated the lives of the saints. A ‘how-to pastor’ book can’t provide that, but a true union with the Lord will. The Chief Shepherd put it like this: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” -Jn. 6:63
The people of God do not need our opinions or clever ideas. They need servants who have come out from the holy place, and whose lips have been touched with the coal of God’s altar. Unless we realize that our own lips are unclean, we’ll not be fit to speak life into the community who is in need of cleansing or healing. We’ve got to come from the presence of God, carrying a sense of the fear of the Lord, a love for His ways, and a burning consciousness of mercy. They need to encounter Christ in us, and the greatest tragedy in pastoral ministry is that men have assumed positions of leadership, but they’ve only learned to present their professional efforts to the people. Humanism ends up dominating the tenor of the Church, the word of the Lord diminishes, and pastor and pew-dweller alike are only in it for their own benefit and pleasure.
Too often, men functioning as pastors are forced into a corner by their own self-sufficiency, and the pressures of modern ministry. They have not cried out for mercy as the prophet did, hence they go to the people prematurely and deliver words that heal falsely. When we set aside our own ministerial striving and come into the life and love of God Himself, then we are on the grounds of pastoral grace, whereby the saints have opportunity to hear from us, and by that, receive from Christ Himself.
“I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” -1 Cor. 15:31
Father, raise up these servants! How we need Your wisdom to break in, for the building up of families, for foundations to be laid, for the inner-man of the Church to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. God, give us the Spirit and context that will be conducive to this reality. Let not your people settle any longer for a superficial mode of relationship. Release the Spirit of the Great Shepherd in Your house, that Your people may become whole in real life. In Jesus’ name.
Psm. 23; Jn. 10:11-17; Acts 20:28-32; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4